by Chaim G.
Today is Independence Day. Guess this is one of those quirky years when it coincides with July the 4th. It is a day when we grill the flesh of bovines in our backyards and our own epidermis’ on beaches. Somewhere, deep in the hidden strata of our collective societal subconscious, we also exult in breaking the shackles of tyrannical monarchy to enjoy the diverse blessings of liberty and democracy.
The eternal question though is; is it good for the Jews?
Hobbes wrote that “the sovereign ruler is by definition above the law” and Jean Bethke Elshtain’s added, “laws take the form of his untrammeled will.” Without a doubt this puts all of his/her subject as at a vulnerable disadvantage. Yet the absence of sovereign monarchs from the world stage puts us at a distinct disadvantage in terms of our relationships with HaShem. Lacking kings claiming “the Divine Right (to rule)” we are short of living breathing metaphors for the right of the Divine King. Every brakha containing the phrase Melekh HaOlam= King of the Universe, every Avinu Malkenu, rings hollow without any sense of the majesty, sovereignty and POWER of Princes.
All brakhos are phenomenological. While saying “Blessed are you HaShem, King of the Cosmos, who created the fruit of the vine” is always a true statement it’s a brakha l’vatala= a brakha in vain unless one is about to imbibe wine/ grape juice. Still, by and large, brakhos are opportunistic. We seldom find a halakha of striving to come in contact with a phenomenon that forces a brakha. The brakha pronounced over kings is a notable exception. The Gemara in Brakhos states that one should exert themselves to see kings, even gentile kings. Also IIRC this is the only brakha in which hearing the phenomenon is sufficient and seeing is not required. IMO the brakha over Kings is exceptional because it is so essential for us to forge an authentic relationship with HaShem.
It is striking that King James I claimed for himself the right “to exalt low things, and abase high things, and make of their subjects like men at the Chesse.” It resonates with our liturgy in describing HaShem as a “mashpil geyim and maggbihah shefalim”. It is also extremely apt because it implies that although, in theory, the absolute Monarch could make up the rules as he goes along, there is, in fact, a game with certain immutable rules that cannot be flouted. Try as he might a sovereign monarch playing chess cannot move his Rooks as he would his Bishops. This speaks to HaShem’s “willingness” to abide by the “limitations” of “midah k’neged midah”= quid pro quo, in dealing with His chess pieces. Re HaShem although “He make-uh da game, He play-uh by da rules”
And while Adam Kirsch wrote in a recent NY Sun Review of Ms. Bethke Elshtain’s book Sovereignty: God, State, and Self that “natural law, history shows, has an unsettling malleability: It tends to become an honorific for prejudice and custom” the current era of the sovereign self, the logical conclusion of the French revolution and July 4th 1776, has culminated in “a self conceived in terms of total autonomy and absolute will — … a monster of egotism.”, in Ms. Elshtain’s view and the expressions of this egotism include radical feminism, sexual license, abortion rights, eugenics, stem cell research, and cloning.
So here’s my dilemma: While a Merciful Providence micromanaging history replaced monarchies with parliamentary democracies and directed a large chunk of His nearly shattered people to these shores in the years following the Holocaust, shores where we breathe free and enjoy religious liberty unprecedented in our long and bitter Galus=Diaspora, did He do so at the expense of His own “prestige” and, concomitantly, at the expense of our own ability to relate to Him in a real and authentic way? To wax metaphoric, did He “raise us on the wings of eagles” and take the hunters arrows for us yet again? And in so doing are the eaglets and chicks now orphans with warped views of their own Parent?
The article that inspired this post is here. Click on the link and read this provocative review. It alone is worth the price of admission!
First Published 7/2008