Adam and Eve ate the forbidden apple.

Cain killed Abel.

Abraham and Sarah abandoned Ismael and Hagar.

Jacob was Blessed in a cruel move by Rivkah.

Joseph was arrogant and his brothers left him almost to die and then sold him to slavery.

Moses married a non Jew (Hebrew at the time) and Moses sinned by failing to obey God's instruction.

David sent Batsheva’s husband to get killed.

Samson had lust to a non Jew while being a monk.

Esther married a non Jew (Purim).


Unlike Christianity that portraits Jesus as a “perfect” saint in the “new” testament, the heroes of the Tanach mostly sin in some way or the other.

I personally haven’t read the New Testament, but that is pretty much my understanding from 3rd party articles. (Please feel free to modify, however I just made the comparison to show a different philosophy)

What is the deeper meaning of such observation according to the tradition, and what can we learn from it?

Example: should we even pursue being perfect (knowing that it is pretty much impossible) ?

As a follower should I not strive to be perfect and just accept my flaws ? Whether I am a notorious liar, thief ... , if the great heroes did it, why should I even bother with trying to be a Tzadik (perfect)? Not only my heroes did it, it also doesn’t seem they were out of favoured by hashem? –

  • I wouldn't have called Cain a hero fwiw. There are plenty of Bad Guys (Jews and non-Jews) who it's not surprising sinned. Only when the good guys sin is it notable.
    – Double AA
    Commented Feb 11, 2021 at 1:35
  • judaism.stackexchange.com/a/114390/16706
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Commented Feb 11, 2021 at 4:12
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – msh210
    Commented Feb 11, 2021 at 6:46

2 Answers 2


In his commentary to Genesis 12:10 R. Samson Raphael Hirsch writes:

Yet even if we were incapable of explaining the strange events in this story; even if we were forced to conclude as the רמב"ן concludes -- אברהם אבינו חטא חטא גדול בשגגה, "Our father Avraham committed a grave sin by placing his virtuous wife before a stumbling block of iniquity because of his fear of being killed... His leaving the Land, about which he had been commanded, because of the famine was another sin he committed (עון אשר חטא)" -- nevertheless, none of this would perplex us. The Torah does not seek to portray our great men as perfectly ideal figures; it deifies no man. It says of no one: "Here you have the ideal; in this man the Divine assumes human form!" It does not set before us the life of any one person as the model from which we might learn what is good and what is right, what we must do and what we must refrain from doing. When the Torah wishes to put before us a model to emulate, it does not present a man, who is born of dust. Rather, God presents Himself as the model, saying: "Look upon Me! Emulate me! Walk in my ways!" We are never to say: "This must be good and right, because so-and-so did it." The Torah is not an "anthology of good deeds." It relates events not because they are necessarily worthy of emulation, but because they took place.

The Torah does not hide from us the faults, errors, and weaknesses of our great men, and this is precisely what gives its stories credibility. The knowledge given us of their faults and weaknesses does not detract from the stature of our great men; on the contrary, it adds to their stature and makes their life stories even more instructive. Had they been portrayed to us as shining models of perfection, flawless and unblemished, we would have assumed that they had been endowed with a higher nature, not given to us to attain. Had they been portrayed free of passions and inner conflicts, their virtues would have seemed to us as merely the consequence of their loftier nature, not acquired by personal merit, and certainly no model we could ever hope to emulate.

Take for example, the ענוה (humility) of Moshe. Had we not known that he was capable of flying into a rage, we would have assumed that his humility was an inborn trait not within our capacity to emulate. It is precisely his outburst שמעו נא המורים (Bamidbar 20:10) that lends his humility its true greatness: We thus infer that he acquired humility through hard work, self-control, and self-refinement, and that we are obligated to emulate him, since it is within our capacity to do so.

Also, the Torah relates no sin or error without telling us of its consequences .

Let us learn from our great teachers of Torah -- among whom the רמב"ן certainly is one of the most outstanding -- that we must never attempt to whitewash the spiritual and moral heroes of our past. They do not need our apologetics, nor would they tolerate such attempts on our part. אמת, truth, is the seal of our Torah, and truthfulness is the guiding principle of the Torah's great teachers and commentators.

(Feldheim translation, my emphasis)

  • @Dr.Shmuel Interesting, though the Ramban is hardly the only source in rishonim that is critical of the behavior of biblical heroes.
    – Alex
    Commented Feb 11, 2021 at 3:18
  • What I've heard about Ralbag and your skillset with his texts is what I assume you are referencing. But perhaps the Ramban is simply a more popular choice of study, among those circles especially.
    – Dr. Shmuel
    Commented Feb 11, 2021 at 3:22
  • @Dr.Shmuel While Ralbag is certainly a prime example of a rishon willing to say certain things (his comment about Reuven and Bilha is possibly the harshest critique of a biblical hero written by a rishon), there are others as well. This and this are but two examples taken from answers that I have posted on this site.
    – Alex
    Commented Feb 11, 2021 at 3:32
  • @Alex Ramban equally criticized Abraham when he sent Hagar and Ishmael away and when he told Sarah to lie to the Egyptians that she was his sister.
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Feb 11, 2021 at 4:20

Good question. The Hebrew Bible doesn’t try to hide the faults of the patriarchs. Like all people, they were humans, and, like all people, they made mistakes. No one is perfect. The patriarchs were humans. Yet, since the vast majority of people needed heroes to exemplify, many later tried to conceal their wrongs in the Tanakh. For example, despite the Torah showing David's adulterous relationship with Bat Sheba, the Talmud insists that David did no wrong.[1]

In addition to your list, we might add how Abraham lied to the Egyptians that Sarah was his sister and for when he sent Hagar and Ishmael away. Nachmanides criticized Abraham for these acts.[2] Arguably, Jesus made mistakes,[3] but why would we want to read about extraordinary people to whom it is impossible to relate? Isn't Jesus and Mohammad efficacious as fairies? Rather than accept superheroes, the faults of biblical figures serve as examples for us to improve and learn from their mistakes.

[1] Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 56a

[2] Despite these critiques, I think the stories adds validity to the tales of Abraham. For example, the Bible says a prostitute (Rahab) was instrumental in helping Joshua by saving the Israelite spies. If the book was a fake it would not have mentioned this.

[3] When he cursed a fig tree.

  • 1
    I don't think I need to say this answer is mistaken, since the Talmud says anyone who makes the claims that you are making "is nothing other than mistaken". Commented Feb 11, 2021 at 2:30
  • @Salmononius2 Good point!
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Feb 11, 2021 at 2:31

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