Joe Paterno: Right or Wrong?

Thursday, 10 November, 2011 - 4:00 pm

America is stunned by the shocking revelations of tragic sexual abuses to minors that allegedly occurred at Penn State University. According to sworn grand jury testimony, several individuals at Penn State University, including now-former head football coach Joe Paterno, were informed of an alleged assault on a child on campus. But no one called the authorities.

Since that revelation, several arrests have been made. The board of trustees at Penn Sate subsequently fired the president of the university and the head football coach.

The facts are not all in yet, so there is still a lot to discover about who knew what and when. Everyone should be given the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.  But one thing is evident: there are those that knew children were potentially endangered, yet they failed to act upon it.

The debate rages on campus whether legendary Joe Paterno should have been fired. What would you have done in his shoes? Did he fulfill his legal obligation? Did he fulfill his moral obligation? What does the Torah have to say about situations like this?


In this week’s parsha of Vayeira, we read about Avraham’s exemplary hachnasat orchim, hospitality. The Torah attests that, “he lifted his eyes and saw, and behold, three men were standing beside him, and he saw and he ran toward them from the entrance of the tent, and he prostrated himself to the ground.” The Torah continues to recount that Avraham begged them to come into his home (or tent) to eat and relax.

This occurred on the third day after 99-year-old Avraham was circumcised. Impressive hospitality, no doubt. And the prefect role model.

But one thing troubles me about this verse. Why does the Torah need to state the obvious – that Avraham lifted his eyes and saw the three men? It could have easily stated succinctly that Avraham saw three men. Instead the Torah uses a double expression – “he lifted his eyes and saw.” Not only that – the Torah repeats in the next phrase, “and he saw and he ran…” Why is the Torah obsessing with Avraham seeing the three men?


The Baal Shem Tov taught that everything a person sees or hears is a lesson in life. Nothing is coincidence. If I am at a certain place at a certain time – it’s because I have a personal mission in that moment and spot.

Every occurrence must cause me to ask myself, “Why am I here right now? What can I do to make this world a better place based on the circumstance that I am in?”


This message was exemplified by the first Jew, who continuously looked at his surroundings – and acted upon it.  Avraham recognized the responsibility and privilege that we continuously carry.  If we look at ourselves as being on call from G-d at every second and in every location, we stand a better chance at heeding our divine mandate and making the right decision.

Undoubtedly, many potential victims may have been spared if the people of College Station had taken a cue from Avraham.

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