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October 22, 2014 / 28 Tishri, 5775
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Petraeus: Did a Great Man Have to Fall?

An American hero like David Petraeus who served his country with distinction and honor deserved better than to leave his post in humiliation and ignominy.
General Petraeus

General Petraeus

Did General Petraeus have to resign? He opened himself as head of the CIA to blackmail, which is a major security breach. So the argument goes. But surely once he admitted the affair, he presumably couldn’t be blackmailed any more. And yes I know there are many facts as yet unknown, like this mystery second woman who complained about email harassment. But for now, Petraeus seems to have resigned over marital infidelity. And if so, did he have to leave his position? Why, because he displayed personal weakness? But this was a public, as opposed to a private, position. And years of counseling unfaithful husbands and wives has taught me that private failings do not necessarily indicate public faithlessness.

Those who say that a man who cheats on his wife will cheat on the country forget how many privately moral men have been publicly immoral, and vice versa. As an example, there was never a suggestion that Richard Nixon even looked at a woman that wasn’t his wife. Neither did Jimmy Carter, and he was the worst president in memory. Conversely, my issue with Bill Clinton’s presidency was not Monica Lewinsky, which does not interest me in the slightest, but rather his moral failure to stop the Rwandan Genocide, which is utterly unconnected with his marriage. Thomas Jefferson was one of the great public men of the past thousand years, but he was replete with private moral failings, as was FDR, JFK, and LBJ.

It is my own opinion that an American hero like David Petraeus who served his country with distinction and honor deserved better than to leave his post in humiliation and ignominy, even if his own immoral actions brought it upon himself.

A few weeks ago, at the height of my campaign for Congress, a fellow Republican candidate got into hot water locally for comments she made about Martin Luther King whom she criticized a few years back as a womanizer. Two days later I gave a speech in which I explained that Christian morality demands perfection because Jesus is perfect. But Jewish morality is based on the idea of struggle, that people are human, have many failings, and their righteousness rests in the courage they show in wrestling with their nature to choose the good amid a predilection to do otherwise. Not one person in the Hebrew Bible is perfect. That and the Jewish emphasis of communal redemption over personal salvation – that what we do for others matters more than how personally virtuous we are – would have us acknowledge Martin Luther King as the greatest American of the twentieth century despite his personal failings. No other American did more to restore this great nation to its founding ideals of the equality of all of G-d’s children than King.

Similarly, few men have done more to combat terrorism and save human life in our generation than Petraeus. As the author of America’s counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq and commander of the surge, he took a war being waged by terrorists that was claiming the lives of thousands of civilians, and humiliating the world’s foremost force for good in the world, the American military, and reversed the situation. As someone who proved that terrorism could be defeated when so many Americans had given up, he is owed a debt of gratitude by this and every other civilized nation.

Still, there are important lessons from the Petraeus tragedy.

The first is the admonition of the ancient Rabbis’ on the need for a certain alertness in even the everyday interactions between men and women, a notion that is scoffed at in modern society that wants to pretend men and women have melded into some sort of unisex gender. In an interview with Jon Stewart of The Daily Show this past January, Petraeus’s biographer and the woman he is alleged to have had the affair with, Paula Broadwell, said that the general had helped her in what she described as a mentoring relationship and that, given their shared passion for fitness, he took her running from time to time in Kabul. “That was the foundation of our relationship. For him, I think it was a good distraction from the war.”

Now, take a soldier who is away from his wife for lengthy periods of time, put him around an adoring female fellow member of the military for long stretches, and you have a potential problem. The same seems to have allegedly been the case with Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower and his British driver Kate Summersby during the Second World War. Men and women can, of course, be friends. But that presupposes they respect the natural attraction that adheres in most situations and safeguard against conditions that foster inappropriate intimacy. As the sage Hillel said, “Do not believe in yourself until the day you die.”

Then there is this: having counseled many men who were unfaithful to their wives, I discovered that the principal reason men cheat is the desire to be desired, to feel special and extraordinary, to counter the effects of a broken ego and low self-esteem by feeling wanted, especially by an admiring woman. How would this apply in the case of someone like Petraeus who was so universally admired? I’m not sure and it might not.

But all the biography now appearing about the General says he has always been driven, always been highly ambitious, and more often than not, ambition is fueled by the need and desire to prove oneself. The New York Times reported that Petraeus wanted to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff but the Obama Administration, afraid of a high profile rival, pushed him in the direction of the CIA posting, with the concomitant lower, more secretive profile that was out of the press limelight. The same New York Times says that the affair began in earnest after he had taken his new posting. Did he miss the public acclaim? Did he begin to feel somewhat overlooked amid the immense power of his lower-profile role? Again, this is all mere speculation.

But the lesson for the rest of us mere mortals is that if someone of such iron discipline as General Petraeus can err this big, we all need to be on our guard – men and women alike – to get ego boosts from those things which are wholesome, holy, and healthy, rather than what is harmful, however hot.

Originally published on Rabbi Pruzansky’s blog, Rabbipruzansky.com.

About the Author: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 29 books, including The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.


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23 Responses to “Petraeus: Did a Great Man Have to Fall?”

  1. Yehuda Cohen says:

    The CIA is full of sexual perverts (homosexuals); so, his resignation is NOT due to sex. The full file is not out on this case yet and we don't know if the woman he was with got sensitive information for him or not. It could be a big box of worms in terms of national security.

  2. Yehuda Cohen says:

    The CIA is full of sexual perverts (homosexuals); so, his resignation is NOT due to sex. The full file is not out on this case yet and we don't know if the woman he was with got sensitive information from him or not. They shared emails which could have opened his computer to a high tech spy. It could be a big box of worms in terms of national security.

  3. Kenny Hilliard says:

    Yes he must fall because he is a threat to the Obama administration as was John Roberts. The United States is now under one rule govenment through executive order. Anyone that opposes the actions of the elite will be destroyed. Israel can no longer depend on the United States. There a many here who love Israel and support the Jewish state but we know hat those who voted for he president, did vote at all and the fraud in our voting system help to keep the anti-Israel goverment in power. We will not be the same country in 4 years and may not have another election.

  4. Marc Prochello says:

    There is only one thing I take issue with in the Rabbi's words, and that is that Christianity demands perfection. That idea is a human misrepresentation. You say that no one in the Hebrew Bible, leaving open the implication that there are those in the Christian Bible who may be. Other than Jesus, the New Testatment is filled with less than perfect characters.

    Christianity does NOT demand perfection. It is the Deity that is Jesus who came to fulfill the law and FORGIVE our imperfections, so that IN HIM we are perfect. Demanding perfection simply results in the human condition better known as hypocrisy. We are told that His forgiveness is a gift freely given, that we know we do not deserve.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I commented here a short while ago, and already I see that I can't view what I wrote and sent. Looks like censorship to me. This "General" Petraeus is hardly great, except in the sense of GREAT ARROGANCE and CRUELTY in carrying out the mass killings of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and the devastation of two countries infrastructure, IRAQ and AFGHANISTAN without provocation by either of them. You can be assured that for whatever reason he was "brought down" the real reason is NOT any sexual perturbation, as one can easily tell from reading THE FRANKLIN COVERUP, authored by ex-Senator John de Camp, which shows that many many congresspeople and political leaders in the USA, all the way up to, and including, BUSH JR were committing pedophilia on a national scale, all covered up, even by the FBI. The USA is a literal cesspool of evil people ruling the country, where nothing is beyond them, and ALL are above the LAW, which doesn't really even exist there any more, except as a means to control the sheeple. Certainly NOT the rich and powerful.

  6. Jim Reed says:

    BO/BS and his gang of thugs have done it again — gotten rid of a potential rival by dredging up a sex scandal — It truly is amazing that this group of liars have used the Saul Alinsky "Rules For Radicals" to perfection — please, valiant soldier — expose this group of traitors and frauds — Tell The Absolute Truth When You Testify — reveal every deception and misdirection that BO/BS's coterie has been able to pull from their lower orifices — Petraeus must step down and suffer the humiliation he deserves — he well knows about men/women alliances — he is a smart man who, knowingly, became stupid and weak — I hope that his indiscretions were less harmful that Bill Clinton's proved to be as he gave away our secrets to the Chinese who were alleged to have intercepted BJ's calls to his "daughter's aged" paramour — Be honest and forthright General Petraeus as you seek to set your life right once more — We The People need you more now than at any other time in your service to our Constitution and the Citizenry, your mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, neighbors and friends, of The United States of America — Jim.

  7. Anonymous says:

    What a crock. Like virtually all AMERICANS, this idiot buys the propaganda stream, and accepts that mass-murdering hundreds of thousand of innocent Iraqis and Afghanis, and destroying both countries' infrastructure based on LIES to go after supposed terrorists, is a "GREAT GENERAL" thing to do. This is exactly why AMERICA is falling. No LAW, no CONSTITUTION, no moral or ethical fiber left. No freedom, no democracy, no nada except criminal leadership. Petreuas destroyed the world's perception of what a truly NOBLE and JUST government should do, and he certainly represents the most despicable and vile aspects of the IMPERIALIST countries' attacks against other nations and peoples, despite propaganda efforts to display themselves as bringing "freedom" and "democracy" to the world—– pure hogwash and lies as usual.

  8. Liad Bar-el says:

    Don’t forget porn star Mary Carey was invited to a White House dinner with President Bush.

  9. Liad Bar-el says:

    Jim, you want someone like Jefferson Davis so that the South Shall Rise Again?

  10. Jawaralal Melvin says:

    comment on report that Broadwell is Jewish, please.

  11. I just heard the General resigned so he didn't have to testify about Benghazi at an upcoming House intelligence meeting.
    The FBI kept the affair secret in case of an emergency. The affair is like a football screenplay.

  12. Anonymous says:

    When I researched General David Petraeus on WIKI, I realized that this man was tremendously talented, intelligent and extremely well decorated. He constantly sought to advance his knowledge, his abilities and his capabilities, of which he had many. To be fair, I have to say he WAS GREAT in many ways, but it's just very sad to me that his greatness was used in the conspiracies of very evil men ( BUSH, CHENEY, RUMSFELD, RICE, ASHCROFT) to conduct an aggression against two sovereign countries, resulting in massive loss of innocent life and much destruction of the respective countries' infrastructure. It's also disturbing that a brief affair would be the cause of "bringing him down", when it had nothing really to do with what he was capable of giving to the CIA, and the imperialistic aims of the USA.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Paula Broadwell is a MOSSAD Agent.

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