In this week’s reading, G-d explains to Moshe how his successors will be chosen. Hashem Himself will choose the leader, “who will go out in front of them, and who will come in before them, and they will go out and come in, and the congregation of G-d will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”
If you ask most people what they think is the ideal form of government, they will probably choose democracy. When compared to communism, dictatorships, monarchies and oligarchies, we see their point. But is it really such a great choice? In the United States, tens of millions of dollars will be wasted this year to convince millions of people, most of them woefully ignorant of the candidates, issues, and policy choices, to pull one lever versus another — based entirely upon advertisements which willfully distort the opponent’s record and glorify the candidate’s own, and “news” reports whose partiality is obvious. If that is insufficient to give you second thoughts, one word: Egypt. That’s the country that just selected the Muslim Brotherhood, a “suspected” supporter of terrorism according to the US, to lead it. Gaza similarly elected Hamas, a murderous gang unquestionably in the same category. And for that matter, Hitler ysv”z was elected democratically as well.
In spite of the quote above, this “morning meditation” isn’t particularly about politics. In fact, it’s related to a question I asked just yesterday about just how “Jewish” the Jewish King will be upon his return?
In the U.S., we’re not that fond of kings. In fact, our nation started when we rejected a King and “taxation without representation” in favor of a Republic (technically, our nation didn’t begin as a Democracy). While some kings can be benign leaders and have the best interests of the citizens at heart, most royalty, when they wield real power (as opposed to say, the Monarchy in the U.K.), have a tendency to become despots and to virtually enslave the populace of the Kingdom.
That’s why it’s so interesting that we tend to be eager to rely on human leaders, since invariably and even under the best of circumstances, most of them will fail us (but, of course, what choice do we have?).
Rabbi Menken’s commentary on Pinchas illustrates this very well and provides a compelling metaphor.
Interestingly enough, the Mishnah [Sotah 9:15] says that one of the signs of the “footsteps of the Messiah” is that “the face of the generation will be like the face of a dog.” There are many explanations as to what this means, but one of them is that the leadership will lead in the manner that a dog leads its owner. The dog bounds ahead, but is limited, leashed by the owner. When they come to a street corner, the dog may choose to go in one direction, only to find the owner choosing a different one. Moments later, where is the dog? Out in front of its owner once again, “leading” in the new direction. That’s what democracy looks like!
The Avnei Azel explains that in order to be a true leader one must lead, rather than being driven by polls. The Jewish Nation must be a meritocracy, with a leader capable of uplifting the people, rather than being dragged down by them. He must “go before them” and lead the congregation, rather than looking over his shoulder to see which way people want to go, and then fulfilling their desires. Look how much abuse Moshe had to put up with because he wouldn’t do whatever the congregation wanted! And that’s what made him, although he was “the most humble of men,” also an unparalleled leader.
The one thing Rabbi Menken didn’t mention was that, in the ancient past, Israel was the only fully functioning Theocracy that ever existed on Earth; a nation whose only King was God. But when Israel demanded a human King so that they could be like all the other nations, Saul was anointed first and then David. Both were human and, for all their greatness, both were flawed.
Now it’s the inheritor of David’s throne we of the nations are all waiting for, not just Israel, for he is the only just King, the one from God, the Messiah. He is the King who not only leads and who we will all follow, but the only King who leads with fairness, justice, and mercy, not favoring some party’s or organization’s political or social imperatives, but the just rule and law of the One who made us, the Author of existence, the lover of our souls, and the Creator of all life and light.
That Author even signed His creation.
When He had finished His world, complete and whole, each thing in its place, the earth below and the heavens beyond,
…it was then that the Artist signed His holy name, with a stillness within the busy movement, a vacuum in time, so that the Infinite Light could kiss the finite world and enter within. And He called it Shabbat.
In each thing there is a Shabbat, an opening that allows life to enter, a desire to receive from Beyond. In each being there is a sense of wonder, of knowing that there is something greater. Of knowing something it will never truly know. And with that perception it receives life, as it opens itself for the Infinite to enter.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Here’s where I struggle in following the Jewish King. The Shabbat is supposed to be only for the Jews, and yet observing the Shabbat is also an acknowledgement that God is Creator, and a foretaste of the Messianic Age. Both the acknowledgement and the foretaste affect not only the Jews, but all mankind. Should not all humanity recognize that God created the Universe? So how can the Shabbat be only for the Jews? What of the Gentiles who also cling to Messiah?
It’s another mystery. In Messianic days, will the Jews truly rest while the non-Jews continue to labor and suffer in order to maintain absolute distinctiveness between Israel and the nations? That hardly sounds like God’s justice and mercy, but what do I know?
Blessed is the man who does this,
and the son of man who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it,
and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and let not the eunuch say,
“Behold, I am a dry tree.”
For thus says the Lord:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
I will give in my house and within my walls
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.
“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
and holds fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.”
The Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,
“I will gather yet others to him
besides those already gathered.” -Isaiah 56:2-8 (ESV)
But if I’m not to keep the Shabbat (and don’t worry, I haven’t been), even in future days, I must be less than a foreigner and a eunuch. If so, what does the King want with me and why does he say that I am to pick up my cross and follow him? Follow him where? (Luke 9:23) If the Messianic covenant and the writings of the Apostles mean anything, I suppose I’ll find out someday.