Torah Thinkers Forum

'Not My President' - The Torah's Perspective

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We are now living through the aftermath of the most contentious, divisive presidential election campaign in many years. The result was wildly unexpected and came as a shock to those who supported the losing candidate. For at least five days afterwards, protesters took to the streets , some of them violently damaging property and injuring policemen. A common chant by the protesters was 'Not My President', in denunciation of the winner of the election whom they personally detest.

Yesterday I heard a shiur from Rabbi Shay Schachter, taped a few days ago, in which he gave various examples of governments and rulers of the past, and what the Torah taught in explaining how people were expected to react to them. One example that seemed to fit the current situation was that of Rav Chanina the 'Sgan Kohanim' - Deputy to the High Priests. Rav Chanina is quoted in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) 3:2,  "Pray for the welfare of government ...."

Rabbi Meir Shapiro, the Lubliner Rav (1887-1933), who is famous for his promotion in 1923 of the ongoing Daf Yomi  program (in which Jews from around the world study the same page of Talmud every day, and complete it in 7 1/2 years) asked an interesting question about Rav Chanina - Why is he called the Sgan Kohanim which is a plural form, instead of Sgan Kohain, the singular form of Deputy to the High Priest? The Deputy had many administrative functions and ritual duties in the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple in Jerusalem). But he was mainly appointed to be able to fill the shoes of the Kohain Gadol if the high priest passed away or was incapacitated. So he traditionally would serve one Kohen Gadol, not many, and therefore he theoretically should never be the deputy to many Kohanim Gedolim . So why was he referred to by that appellation?

The Lubliber Rav answered that Rav Chanina lived during the Hasmonean dynasty, toward the end of the Second Temple Era. The Talmud (Yoma 18a) teaches that during that period, the office of Kohen Gadol was auctioned off by the despotic occupying  Roman rulers to the highest bidder. Many grossly unqualified people bought the august position and died prematurely (as Divine punishment) during their terms. Rav Chanina, who was learned and righteous, was really the most qualified to assume the position, but was constantly barred by the Romans from ever ascending to that most lofty role so that the Romans could continue to sell the privilege and maintain their control as they increased their wealth. So Rav Chanina became the deputy to many Kohanim Gedolim.

One would think that Rav Chanina would turn bitter and despise the ruling government for their injustice. Instead he is known throughout Jewish history by his quote 'Pray for the welfare of government'. For while the government indeed treated him badly he wanted to pass down a message to all of us.

The message is that no matter how we feel about the government in charge, we must realize that they hold our fates in their hands. We can and should indeed try our best to influence government policies, to stand up for those who may be unjustly treated by the government, and if possible try to make sure that future governments are more in tune with our political views. 

But first, we must pray that the government turns out to be one that lives up to our expectations, and not down to our fears.

With Hashem's help and blessings, may we look back in four years and say that our fears were unfounded, and that the current government acted way above our expectations.  

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COM_EASYBLOG_GUEST Thursday, 14 December 2017
Last updated on: 12/14/2017
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