A Torah Spin Consultant for the President- Advice to Candidates
We are only two weeks from these very critical elections. With all the dirt flung, some people might take this as a failure of democracy. Instead, it is the price one pays for a society in which all are free, all are of basic human worth, as distinct from a society in which all the people are tools or objects to be used. It has been defined for us by Churchill:” Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
In a few weeks, we are heading for election, in what must surely be the most bizarre election in modern American history. We probably have to go back to a century ago, when Teddy Roosevelt was selected to be Vice President and the head of the Republican party bemoaned: "Don't any of you realize there's only one life between that madman and the presidency?" Of course, there are always surprises, such as the same madman getting the Nobel Peace prize for ending the Russo-Japanese War of 1905.
The accusations and curses are flung wildly, right and left, but that is how things get done in a democracy. In Russia, they have a better method—Putin’s enemies die mysteriously of radioactive poisons. In North Korea, the ruler has his uncle killed by a missile. Clean, clear politics.
However, every politician needs a political advisor. Both candidates show that they need a better advisor, a better spin doctor. This is the in thing. the spin doctors, for spin control, to keep things from flying off the handle.
So, I will be a spin Rabbi. Every good politician needs a Rabbi for spin control. So, I am offering my services to both candidates. Keep in mind, I make this offer only once in 4 years.
Dear Candidate-Hillary or Donald
I recognize a major issue for both of you in the future administration. You both have Jewish families. You now need an official rabbinic political consultant.
I offer my services as Secretary of Torah Consultation. I recognize that this may infringe on the first amendment but we can deal with that later, since you both have said other things that may infringe on the Bill of Rights.
I bring with me the depth of political advice found in the Torah, the heritage and traditions of the Jewish people. I offer 3500 years of collective experience in government.
First, are you sure you want to do this?
There is, in classic history, the idea of the “ Great Man”. –Now, “Great Woman”. A successful democracy will naturally allow the best possible person to rise to the top. A Washington, a Lincoln.
But I offer you Mashal Yotam!,Jotham’s Parable from the Book of Judges( 9:7-21)
About a century before King Saul, one man, Avimelech, connived to get himself appointed King after he massacred 70 of his brothers. One brother survived and told the gathered notables the following story:
8 “Once the trees went out to anoint a king over themselves. So they said to the olive tree, ‘Be our king!’ 9 “But the olive tree replied to them, ‘Should I stop producing my oil, which is how gods and humans are honored, so that I can go to sway over the trees?’ 10 “So the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and be king over us!’ 11 “The fig tree replied to them, ‘Should I stop producing my sweetness and my delicious fruit, so that I can go to sway over the trees?’ 12 “Then the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and be king over us!’ 13 “But the vine replied to them, ‘Should I stop providing my wine that makes gods and humans happy, so that I can go to sway over the trees?’ 14 “Finally, all the trees said to the thornbush, ‘You come and be king over us!’
15 “And the thornbush replied to the trees, ‘If you’re acting faithfully in anointing me king over you, come and take shelter in my shade; but if not, let fire come out of the thornbush and burn up the cedars of Lebanon.’ This is exactly what happened, as the ruler destroyed his own people.
My dear candidate, are you going to be the “ Great Man “ or “ Great Woman” or be the thornbush?
If you are concerned with image, I suggest you turn to the first Book of Samuel, to the first image candidate, King Saul, who was also the first fallen leader. Saul is tall, and extremely attractive as King, yet Samuel must remove from him his royal authority. God informs Samuel "Do not look upon his appearance or his tall countenance-for I have rejected him, for not as a human sees do I see, for a human sees only what is visible to the eye, but I see into the heart."
Image is not all that counts. The leader must first and foremost love his people.
Moses must confront a people who sinned and betrayed their national trust, in worshipping the Golden Calf. God offers to wipe out this useless and stubborn people; Moses asks to be wiped out of the pages of life and history instead. Moses' people have given up on him, yet he would rather be erased form history than give up on them. (Exodus 32) He didn’t want a legacy—he wanted what was good for his people.
Elijah , on the other hand, is a leader who feels betrayed and let down by his people. He complains to God. "They have abandoned you, your ideals, your teachings. I, only I am left to be loyal. " ( I Kings 19).
Moses, who was ready to fight God and die for his people, is rewarded with 40 more years in office. Elijah, who would die for God, but is against his own people, is fired from office.
Mr. or Mrs. President, are you in your office because you love the office, or because you love your people?
There is the other side, of course. A leader must recognize the difference between loving his people (or her people) and pandering to the whims of a fickle public.
Disraeli, that most masterful of politicians over a century and a half ago described the Achilles' heel of democracy."We live in an age of prudence. The leaders of the people now generally follow." Disraeli knew it long before the advent of the Harris polls, the Gallup polls, or the focus groups.
Mr. Candidate, I refer you to some advice found in our Midrash Rabbah, some 1500 years old. The text envisions Moses talking to the seventy leaders, representatives of the tribes, this council which is ancestor to our idea of a Congress
Moshe Rabbenu, the first political liberator, told his council the following fable:
"The snake one day was engaged in a debate with itself. The tail of the snake complained to the head, "Why do you go first all the time. I, too, want to lead for a change." The head gave in to the demand. "Go”, he said .The tail went straight into a ditch, and dragged the head through the mud; it next went through a fire, and scorched the head; it finally went through a thicket of thorns, and scarred itself completely. " This is what happens when the head follows the tail. So it is in politics, when the small listen to the great, all is done well; when the great follow the small, the great fall on their faces." ( Deut. Rabbah)
This may sound undemocratic, but even in our democracy, we have a Supreme Court which is required to be unresponsive to the people.
A great leader cannot allow the fear of losing votes to dictate his decisions. Look back again to King Saul, who began his career illustriously, until he, too, like so many, failed in office. Samuel is ordered by God to remove Saul.
Saul fails to follow Samuel's instructions and lamely replies, "I was afraid that the people were going to leave me" and " I was afraid of the people." That was his great mistake--he followed the polls too closely.
In both cases, the right to rule was taken from Saul, because he was intimidated by public opinion.
Surely, you might suggest, that this is a democracy--doesn't the leader have an obligation to do that which the people choose?
So, once again, on the other hand, this too, is in the Torah, far we are told, "Acharey Rabim lehatot--the decision goes by the majority.
This too, is the rule in Jewish tradition, but there is a caveat: Lo tihyeh aharei rabim leraot-you shall not follow the majority to do evil.. The vox populi, the voice of the people, is vox dei, the voIce of God, only when it is morally correct .
For nearly a century, American democracy accepted slavery. That did not make it correct, and President Lincoln led the nation through Civil War to make that clear.
But, Mr or Mrs. President, you must show even greater courage on your part to be a true leader. It is not enough to not be afraid of public opinion. A true leader must show existentialist courage, the courage to do that which is right, against all odds. Think of a Churchill and the dogged determination to fight Hitler at Britain's weakest moment despite the advice of his fellow ministers.
A true leader will stand up, even to God, if the cause is right.
Abraham stands up to God. Moses stands up to protect his people from God. The prophets too, and the Rabbis.
Don't look for the honor and prestige of the position. It's no great honor.
An ancient midrash informs us that, when God sent Moses to his task of liberating his people, he warned him ."My children are stubborn, rebellious, and troublesome . You must accept that they will curse you and throw rocks at you." (Ex. Rabbah 7:3)
You can be sure that our great leaders, like Washington or Lincoln, could easily sympathize with Moses..
There are the same traits that a true leader must cultivate, traits that may seem to contradict each other. For all the bravado that a leader must display, it is wrong to believe too much in yourself. A Hasidic master, Moshe of Kabrin, once warned "Do not think that God chose you because you are a great man. Does a peg on the wall, on which the king hangs his hat, boast that its beauty attracted the King's attention?"
Mr.or Mrs. Candidate, remind yourself, then, that, at most, you are the peg on which history hangs its crown for the next four or eight years
Finally, even the wisest and most infallible of leaders must be ready to consult the experts for advice. How do we know this?
When God creates Adam, the first human, he says "Naaseh Adam , Let us make Adam. " The Rabbis ask the question "Who is "Us"? To whom is God talking?
They suggest that God is talking to his angels? Why does he need their participation.?
To teach you that, if God, King of all Kings, needs to take advice from others, you ,too , President, Emperor, or Prime minister, had better get plenty of good advice.
Keep one thought in mind and you will never go wrong .The sages of the Talmud warn anyone who wishes to be a fudge, or leader that he must always envision two things: a sword drawn at his bowels, ready to impale him, and the maws of hell ready to swallow him, at the slightest mistake.( Sanhedrin 7a).
Mr or Mrs.. President, with that encouraging thought, as you take upon yourself the mantle of leader of the most powerful nation on this planet, I am at your service to give you all the " on the other hand" answers that you will need. Good luck, and may God bless America.