Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry Potter and Da'as Torah

One of the themes of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the fallibility of Dumbledore. His competence is first challenged at the end of book six, when he is murdered by Severus Snape, someone whom he trusted despite universal doubt about his worthiness. The questioning continues throughout book seven, with gossiping childhood friends and a tabloid biography published about him. Is this man, the wise professor who so often gave advice, truly as righteous as he appeared or was he a fraud? (Warning: minor spoiler ahead.)

The conclusion is that he was not perfect. He had made mistakes, from which he had largely learned but not completely. In fact, his ultimate demise came from the same mistake to which he had succumbed as a youth. However, generally he was a wise and kind person whose overall character was not diminished by having flaws. Despite living in an "ivory tower", he was active in the trenches, learning what was transpiring and trying to personally solve problems. His judgement was spot-on, his guidance worthy of being followed, and even when he failed to give Harry all of the information it was for good reasons that would eventually become evident.

In other words, in the view of the book's author, Gedolim need not be perfect. Dumbledore was perhaps the greatest wizard of all times, despite having minor personal weaknesses. Rather than dismiss him as a hypocrite, one should learn what one can from him and take his counsel very seriously. He may have not been infallible, but he was wise and one would be foolish to ignore the guidance of a wise man of his caliber. I believe that this is consistent with R. Aharon Lichtenstein's view on Da'as Torah (link).

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