Elections are tricky. More often than not, a little under half of the people are bitterly disappointed in the outcome. For some, the grim reality of the person you most despise, becoming your leader, is almost too much to bear. Unsurprisingly we tend to question the very idea of democracy if it produces a result we don’t like. There may even be those who would do away with the vote altogether and keep a former leader in power indefinitely; a king of sorts.
In a world that now sees many leaders remaining in power for decades rather than years, it seems we are becoming more and more comfortable with appointing “kings” to rule over us. This is not a new challenge for the Jewish people. 3000 years ago the Israelites lamented their lack of an all-powerful ruler for whom the trivialities of the rule of law do not apply. The Israelites begged the prophet Samuel to have a king like all other nations, rather than the representative assembly they had been using up until that time. Samuel’s warning is as true then as it is to us today; be careful what you wish for.
Samuel reminded the Israelites that when we appoint powerful kings, who by definition are not answerable to the people, it may seem appealing at the start, but they will always take more and more power for themselves. “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you.” He will take your sons and daughters for his armies. He will take the best of your fields, vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his people. He will tax you for his own glory.
Indeed Samuel’s prediction rang true. King Saul went mad with power, King David at times used his power for personal gain and King Solomon expanded the empire on the backs of slaves and his sons’ squabbling led to a divided nation. Today, the lesson we take from this period, is that those who are appointed to rule, do so harshly. Yet those Jewish leaders whose roles saw them humbly serve the people, are remembered as the heroes of our nation: the reluctant leadership of Moshe Rabeinu, the vision of Ezra and Nechemiah, the practicality of Yohanan ben Zakai. Most recently, the tragic passing of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has been met by a palpable sense of loss throughout Jewish world. Rabbi Sacks is remembered so fondly not because of any power he wielded or control he held, but for his compassion, his appeals to unity and the respect he earned, but never demanded. His role as Chief Rabbi did not make him a leader, being a leader made him a Chief Rabbi.
Over the last two months at Bialik, we have witnessed the exceptional initiatives of our new Mazkirut (Year 12 student leaders). Their hard work has ensured students’ returning from Covid lockdown have done so in a warm and supportive environment, filled with fun activities and learning. Perhaps this is not so surprising, given that the word Mazkirut, does not mean captain or prefect or leader, but rather secretariat (a word borrowed from the kibbutz movement). The word actually means ‘to serve the needs of the people’, not to lead them.
It is important to heed the lessons of our history. While at times we may wish for a leader demonstrating tremendous power and gall in the face of opposition, we must remember that if it is done so contrary to the rule of law and against the will of the people, it is fraught with king-size danger.
Assistant Principal (Jewish Life)
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