What does Judaism have to say about our current election cycle in the United States? So much! And I am excited by the fact that ideas recorded 3,000 years ago are relevant today. Here’s some historical context before we shift to the text.
After camping in a rocky desert for 40 years with a few hundred thousand complaining travelers, the Israelites' journey is nearly over. Now anxious to claim the promised land, Moses instructs that they must first learn a few hundred rules and regulations.
At a time when no king yet governed the Israelites, Torah offered instructions on how a monarch was to rule. Anticipating change is a brilliant innovation of Torah that permits our tradition to continue guiding us today. These are the rules (in the order in which they appear in this week’s parasha Shoftim). See if they continue to be applicable.
When you set a ruler over you, no one should be sent back to the land of oppression from which they came (i.e. Egypt). The ruler should not have many spouses. Nor should the ruler amass gold and silver to excess. The leader should keep a copy of this teaching at their side. And the monarch should not act condescendingly to the people.
These lessons are relevant today as they evoke some of the hot button issues of 2016. Do we return people to places of oppression if they have stealthily entered this Promised Land? Do we care if our leaders have stable family relationships or if they have had many spouses? What if the leader has become quite wealthy – will a rich sovereign be as effective or fair? Whatever the law of the land, shouldn’t the ruler be intimately familiar with the constitutional document? Does the ruler respect the people or mock them with taunting phrases and offensive gestures?
[Any similarity between these Torah rules and current political candidates is either purely accidental or divinely ordered, but in any event this is not an endorsement or indictment of any candidate by the Jewish Studio or its leadership - it is just Torah].
Judaism continues to be relevant by bringing the loftiest values to mind and calling upon us and our rulers to act as our finest selves. In this way, our religion even speaks to our hearts and minds in the context of the current election drama. Torah implores us to pursue lives of moderation, caring, and respect. No one is more bidden to be temperate and benevolent than the ruler. What great lessons for our country’s political leaders; ancient as the Torah and still true today.
R’ Evan J. Krame