Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Eulogizing Joe

When thinking about the passing of Joe Paterno, my thoughts strangely enough turned to Halacha and one of its compendiums the Arba’ah Turim. The Arba’ah Turim, also known as the Tur, was a halachic code written by Yaakov ben Asher in the 13th century. In it Yaakov ben Asher wrote the following:

“It is an important mitzvah to eulogize a person in a fitting manner. Anyone who is negligent in eulogizing a good person, deserves to have his days shortened and should be buried before his time. It is a commandment to raise ones voice in the eulogy by saying things that will break the heart (of the listeners) and inspire tears (in those who hear them). One should praise the deceased but one should not do so inordinately. Rather, one should mention the person’s good qualities and add a bit to them, but one should not exaggerate too much. If the person did not have good qualities, don’t make them up. When speaking about a wise or a pious person one should mention the person’s wisdom or piety. If one attributes these qualities too much or exaggerates these qualities, he causes evil to himself and to the deceased. One should eulogize a woman among the people and among the sages appropriately. A poor person should have at least two flutes and criers for his wife’s funeral.” Yoreh Deah 344:1-2 (http://oceansidejewishcenter.org/tabletalk/5767/1_05_Chaye_Sarah.htm)

I was thinking of this because so many have come out to overtly praise Mr. Paterno and his amazing career. They credit him for the numerous young lives he helped to mold and his generosity especially with regards to his beloved Penn State. Mr. Paterno in essence put Penn State on the national collegiate map.

However lost in all this, or at least nominally mentioned is the scandal involving Jerry Sandusky. I mention this because if we are to praise and even perhaps slightly exaggerate Mr. Paterno’s life of significance, we should also be conscious of the moments when he failed to live up to all we hope he would be.

It is one of our great society failings that we either expect our heroes to be perfect or that we willingly overlook their imperfections so they can continue to be heroes in our minds. It is this striving for perfection that in some ways was sadly Mr. Paterno’s undoing. At the moment young men needed him the most; Mr. Paterno failed them and thus diminished himself in the eyes of many. This does not diminish his many amazing accomplishments, but just proves sadly that Mr. Paterno, like so many, is human.

So if there is something we can take away from this is that we do have the power to stand up for those victims of abuse, which I feel is a great legacy and lesson we can learn from Mr. Paterno, even if it was a lesson he may not have meant to teach.