"Who is a hero? He who conquers temptation."
Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides)
Nelson Mandela died, and the mainstream media is once again indulging in one of its boring rituals, bestowing on him the secular equivalent of a Catholic sanctification. In time, as it always happens, less conformist minds will begin to chip away at the myth, revealing the man behind the statue – a man made of patches of light and shadow, like all men. Yet despite that, I believe that the legend of ‘Madiba’ will endure through decades and centuries, up there with the likes of Churchill, Ben Gurion and Gandhi, in the secular pantheon of leaders who almost single-handedly shaped the course of human history.
I am not – as you surely have picked up by now – given to sanctifying mere human beings. But by rising above all that, by finding the strength of soul to conquer justified indignation, by finding the incredible generosity of seeing humanity even in those who questioned his, Mandela showed himself to be above the vast majority of mortals.
And there is something else that’s remarkable about Mandela: his unflinching, almost super-human loyalty to democracy. Sure, while faced with the mind-numbing atrocity of Apartheid, he seemed to flirt with Communism. But his soul knew right from wrong. Again, it would have been so easy to become 'president for life'. So many other ‘revolutionary leaders’ succumbed to that temptation! Didn’t he dedicate decades of his life to his country? Didn’t he risk everything? Did he not succeed overwhelmingly? Did he not know best what was good for the country? But Mandela conquered that temptation – if his righteous soul even allowed him to contemplate it. He stepped down. But that was not the end of his trials. Revered as father of the nation, his every word carried the significance of a decree. How did he find the strength of keeping silent while lesser men seemed to squander his legacy? It would have been so easy to succumb to that temptation; a public word of criticism from Mandela would have resounded louder than a slap in the face. Privately, he expressed such criticism in bitter, unforgiving terms; but publicly, he abstained – understanding that democracy required him to hold his piece even in the face of outrage. What a man!