A Papal slap

blessing of children, pope, religion

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Pope Francis had been making his way to the Nativity scene in Vatican City on Tuesday, New Year’s Eve. When he began to walk away from the crowd that had gathered to greet him, video shows a woman grabbing his hand and yanking him toward her.
He became visibly upset, slapping the woman’s hand in an attempt to extricate himself. Footage of the altercation also appears to show him shouting at the woman.
The striking irony was there for all to see as Pope Francis had chosen to use his New Year message to denounce violence against women, hours after slapping a woman’s hand to free himself from her grip.
Shortly before beginning his traditional New Year’s Day address, the Pope apologized for smacking a woman’s hand the previous day, to free himself from her grip.
“I apologize for the poor example yesterday,” he said, going off-script.
This is not the first incident of its kind. In another clip that went viral in 2019, Pope Francis repeatedly yanked his hand away from being kissed as a long queue of people came up to him. The waiting pilgrims had been attempting to kiss his papal ring as part of a tradition, practised by more conservative Catholics, to show respect to the pontiff.
Reflecting on the incident afterwards, the Pope chose to underline the fact he became impatient the same way that we all become impatient from time to time he suggested. While it is true that to quote Alexander Pope “to err is human and to forgive is divine” or to quote King Solomon “ there is no one righteous on earth who does only good and never sins” and therefore we cannot expect any human being to be perfect, that being said we do not judge people by the same standards. Consider a toddler or even a child they may misbehave make a mess interrupt and we make allowances because they are still young and cannot be expected to know better. However our belief is that as a person ages and matures so their middot their character and behaviour should be more refined. Their actions more considered and their words more measured. .The higher the calibre of the individual the more their actions will be held to account to a much higher standard. Moshe our greatest of leaders who reached the loftiest of levels in terms of his character refinement and prophecy. Yet we know that towards the end of his life he was commanded by G-d to take his staff and speak to a rock through which he was promised water that the people so desperately needed would gush forth. Moshe spoke as commanded to the rock without success he then moved on to speak to several other rocks in his attempt to bring forth eventually he lost his patience and resorted in desperation to hitting rather than merely speaking to the rock. Despite having the purest of motives, wishing to provide for the pressing need of the Jewish people this was seen as a grave sin for which Moshe forfeited his right to lead the Jewish people into Israel. Many have wondered what more could or should have Moshe done to avoid this disaster after all despite speaking to the rock water was not emitted and the people were verging on hysteria in their quest for water. One of the suggested answers to this dilemma is that Moshe was expected to have persisted in continuing to speak to the rock and to have been patient and understanding which are the hallmarks of great leadership. If water didn’t come forth immediately then the job of the leader is not to resort to force but to remain calm and keep talking and eventually he would have seen success. The faux pas is when things don’t go the way a leader wishes or expects and to become impatient eventually allowing ones frustrations to boil over.

For those of us that have been privileged to have visited some of our great Torah leaders one is struck by the long lines of people from all backgrounds each seeking their wise counsel and support. The pressures and demands on their shoulders can be tremendous, yet when in their presence one feels a sense of inner calm and tranquillity that transcends the room. One is made to feel when they speak to you as if you are the most important person in the whole world. This is the patience borne out of a tremendous love and care and concern that our leaders have for each and every one of the thousands that visit them for advice.

Being a leader is seen by many as the highest calling, serving the needs of the masses comforting and supporting as well as offering inspiration. Yet it is accompanied inevitably with tremendous pressures of their followers all who are vying for the time and attention of their leader which can sometime be intense even overwhelming. We can all relate with the challenge of becoming impatient as experienced by the Pope in attempting to withdraw his hand from the determined grasp of the lady in the crowd. Nevertheless our ancient wisdom demands us all to attempt to the best of our abilities to overcome our failings and iron out the floors we all have in our characters. Being pontiff and a leader as he himself expressed does not stop him being a human with the failings we all struggle with, but in the lofty position as pontiff, having failings cannot be used time and again as an excuse but rather opportunity knocks for him to lead in the future by example in overcoming and perfecting that virtue of impatience. The Pontiff may not succeed in always being a saint but he must strive to have the patience of a saint!

Published by Rabbi Piny Hackenbroch

Rabbi Piny Hackenbroch is currently the Senior Rabbi in Woodside Park Synagogue – a modern orthodox thriving community of some 1,400 members. His innate love for people and his empowering brand of leadership make him a well-loved figure in Woodside Park & London.

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