Casting Call: Leaders Wanted
For the stage, an actor works himself into a role… In this respect, a role in a play is like a position in a game, say, third base: various people can play it, but the great third baseman is a man who has accepted and trained his skills and instincts most perfectly and matches them most intimately with his discoveries of the possibilities and necessities of third base. On the stage there are two beings, and the being of the character assaults the being of the actor; the actor survives only by yielding.
—Stanley Cavell, The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film, 1971
In Emor, we read about how the role of the kohanim makes demands on their (literal) shape as people. Blemishes are outlawed; choice of mate and mourning practices are both intensely restricted. Their personal agency is merged with the role of the priesthood (Lev. 21).
Their leadership renders them as aesthetic objects, similar to actors on a stage or screen.The perfect spectacle of the kohanim, their unblemished bodies and their uniform garb, must have created a sharp contrast between the mundane reality of the Israelite and the spectacular and bloody world of the sacrifice. Like a theater, the Temple had a contrived set and staging, and was cut off from the unrehearsed messiness and non-uniformity of the world. The beautiful men that moved through this strange world with practice and ease must have been admired almost as another race of people.
Today, too, we expect our leaders to be capable of things we are not all capable of.
We expect them to talk and act a certain way. A politician or a rabbi is not supposed to indulge in incoherence or vulgarity, nor should they offer public expressions of doubt or bitterness. This is part of how they are bound to us. Although set apart from us like actors on a stage, our leaders now are connected to us in a way that the kohanim in the Temple never were. Today, we choose our leaders, making them projections of our expectations of ourselves—our better angels—who therefore bear the responsibility of our hopes and dreams. When it’s our turn to make casting choices, we should keep the possibilities and the necessities of the role in mind.