Rabbi Dr Norman Lamm has been a powerhouse. A true intellectual giant, whose books, learned articles, shiurim and leadership at Yeshivah University will stand the test of time, Rabbi Lamm has now retired as Chancellor of YU. Amongst his words of farewell, this section stood out. It shows tremendous honesty and courage. It is a commentary of what was, but is also a statement of what needs to be.
Jacob’s blessing to his son Judah, Yehudah, attah yodukha achekha (Gen. 49:8) literally means “Judah, your brothers will recognize you (as their leader).” However, the word yodukha, they will recognize you, is etymologically related to the word vidui, confession and therefore teaches us that only those who can, like Judah, confess, are those who can be acknowledged as real leaders.
And it is to this I turn as I contemplate my response to allegations of abuse in the Yeshiva community. At the time that inappropriate actions by individuals at Yeshiva were brought to my attention, I acted in a way that I thought was correct, but which now seems ill conceived. I understand better today than I did then that sometimes, when you think you are doing good, your actions do not measure up. You think you are helping, but you are not. You submit to momentary compassion in according individuals the benefit of the doubt by not fully recognizing what is before you, and in the process you lose the Promised Land. I recognize now that when we make decisions we risk, however inadvertently, the tragedy of receiving that calamitous report: tarof toraf Yosef, “Joseph is devoured,” all our work is in vain, all we have put into our children has the risk of being undone because of a few well intentioned, but incorrect moves. And when that happens—one must do teshuvah. So, I too must do teshuvah.
True character requires of me the courage to admit that, despite my best intentions then, I now recognize that I was wrong. I am not perfect; none of us is perfect. Each of us has failed, in one way or another, in greater or lesser measure, to live by the highest standards and ideals of our tradition — ethically, morally, halakhically. We must never be so committed to justifying our past that we thereby threaten to destroy our future. It is not an easy task. On the contrary, it is one of the greatest trials of all, for it means sacrificing our very egos, our reputations, even our identities. But we can and must do it. I must do it, and having done so, contribute to the creation of a future that is safer for innocents, and more ethically and halakhically correct.