25 February 2017

Jewish Government - Part 3

27 Shevat 5777

Part 1Part 2

Obviously, an earthly regime of limited human scope is needed, one that enforces law and order on a daily basis. Yet, precisely as the people, themselves, who stand above the flesh-and-blood leaders elected to govern them, are subject to the ultimate authority of Torah law, so, too - how much more so - is the people's government subject to this authority. Surely their status is beneath that of their electors. Even if we say that the mundane regime has the standing of a father vis-a-vis his family, it clearly cannot achieve a status higher than that of an individual father, regarding whom it says, "Every person must revere his mother and father, and keep My Sabbaths. I am the L-rd your G-d" (Lev. 19:3). The Talmud derives from this (Yevamot 5b), "I might think honoring one's parents should override Sabbath observance. It therefore says, 'Every person must revere his mother and father, and keep My Sabbaths.' You are all obligated regarding My honor." Rashi adds, "Although I have admonished you regarding revering one's father, if your father tells you to violate the Sabbath, do not listen to him, and the same applies regarding all other mitzvot."

It is the same with the Jewish People's government, that same government whose origin is the Torah, and whose chief task is to maintain internal order and defend the people from external enemies so that we can fulfill our duties to G-d in peace. Our duty to honor and obey our mundane government depends on the extent to which that government honors and obeys Torah law, the Kingdom of Heaven, the ultimate authority of both the Jewish People and their elected government.

I have already noted above that the source for the Jewish government is Deuteronomy 17:15: "You must appoint a king whom the L-rd your G-d shall choose." Rambam brings this mitzvah down as law (Hilchot Melachim 1:1), as quoted, and he clearly defines the authority accorded to the king and the honor that he deserves:
We treat the king with great honor, and we imbue his fear and reverence in the heart of all people.... If someone rebels against a king of Israel, the king is allowed to kill him...and the same applies to whoever denigrates or curses him" (Ibid., 2:1; 3:8).
The reason for this is that a citizen who refuses to obey the law or who takes the law into his own hands for personal reasons, destroys the foundation of society and ushers in total chaos. He has no right to decide what law he will or will not obey. G-d placed the ruler in charge and gave him rights and powers, and no citizen can object. (See Rambam, Hilchot Melachim, Ch. 4).

Indeed, the powers of the king - or government - and his rights are clear, yet so, too, are the restrictions:
When the king is established on his royal throne, he must write a copy of this Torah as a scroll.... It must always be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life. He will then learn to be in awe of the L-rd his G-d, and carefully keep every word of this Torah and these rules. He will then also not begin to feel superior to his brethren or stray from the mandate to the right or to the left. He and his descendants will, thus, have a long reign in the midst of Israel. (Deut. 17:18-20)
The people are obligated to honor and revere their government, yet their government must learn "to be in awe of the L-rd" and "not to stray from the mandate." The Torah literally remains with the king, lest he forget for even a moment who his own Ruler and King is. 

As Samuel told the people when he anointed their first king: "If you behave wickedly, both you and your king shall be swept away" (I Sam. 12:25). The king - with his regime - forfeits his right and authority to rule when he violates G-d's word. As we find, "Then came the word of the L-rd unto Samuel, saying, 'I regret having set up Saul to be king, for he has turned away from following Me and has not performed My commandments'" (Ibid., 15:10-11). Samuel said to the king, "The L-rd has rent the kingdom of Israel from you this day" (Ibid. 15:28).

The powers of the king and his regime depend on the assumption that he will obey the higher authority. Once he rebels, his own authority is no longer valid. Our sages taught this explicitly (Sanhedrin 49a):
It says, "Whoever rebels against your commandment and does not hearken unto your words in all that you command him shall be put to death" (Josh. 1:18). I might think this applied even to the Torah [i.e., if you command him to violate the Torah]. It therefore says, "Only be strong and of good courage" (Ibid.) [to keep the Torah].  --(Source)
Part 4