Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Parashat Shoftim- Keeping The Vision On Track


V'hayah kh’shivto al kisei mamlakhto vkhatav lo et mishnei haTorah hazot al-seifer milifnei hakohanim ha’l’viyim. V’ha’y’tah imo v’kara vo kol-y’mei chayaiv l’ma’an yilmad l’yir’ah et-Adonai Elohav lishmor et-kol-divrei haTorah hazot v’et-hachukim ha’eileh la’asotam.
And it shall be when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he will write himself a copy of this Torah in a book, out of that which is before the priests the Levi’im. And it will be with him, and he will read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear Adonai his God and to observe all the words of this Torah and these statutes and do them. (D’varim 17:18-19)
It is a universal truth that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is also true that people seek leaders, and in doing so, give those leaders power. These are truths that the Torah understands and seeks to balance. It is expected the Israelites will want a king, a head of state, to be like the nations that surround them. More so, as a nation, there must be one individual who can speak to other nations. This is necessary for trade and for peace. Yet, the Torah still works hard to ensure that Israel will not simply be “like all the nations around,” nor will the king be. We have been told that we are to be a nation of priests, where all are holy, and so too the king must be.
To that aim, as a protection, the king is commanded to write out his own copy of the Torah, and once that is done, to read it daily. It’s a good educational model, employing three modalities. The king will experience the oral teachings of the Kohanim and Levi’im. He will personally write his own copy, and he will have to read from it every day. The hope is that using his ears, his eyes, and his hands the king will absorb these lessons so they become part of who he is.
It is an interesting thing to have a job that is also who you are. There are few in the world. If you work in sales, when you go home at night, you can, and should, leave your job behind. The same holds true for most. But if you are a head of state, you can never leave the job behind. Every hour of every day you are your job. Doctors may be on call, but not 24/7 every day of the year. Teachers’ hours extend well past the school day, but once done, they are done, and even get summers off. But some, like heads of state are on call every hour of the day, every day of the year. Even once leaving the position, you never know when you will be called upon to fulfill the role.
I remember a picture of PM Harper early in his term. He had taken his son to school. It was a normal parent thing to do. But PM Harper isn’t a normal parent. He is the Prime Minister. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t at the office. The Prime Minister is never off the clock. The press and political commentators picked apart every aspect of the drop-off, from what he was wearing to how he said goodbye to his son. How does one stay grounded and focused amidst that? The Torah’s answer is to remind the leader daily of who he leads, why he leads, and how he is supposed to live. It is a regular refocusing. Every day the king will be reminded of the compassion commanded by our Torah, of our history, of the limits to his power. Every day he will have to think about the people he leads so they should be real to him instead of abstract.
It’s easy as leaders to think we know what is best. A leader should have a vision. Without it where will s/he lead? But just as important is a connection to the foundation upon which s/he stands and the people s/he leads.