web analytics
August 29, 2015 / 14 Elul, 5775
At a Glance
Judaism
Sponsored Post


Home » Judaism » Parsha »

Arbiter of Checks and Balances

Rabbi Avi Weiss

Rabbi Avi Weiss
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Built into an open democratic system of government is the idea that too much power should not be invested in any one individual. Such a policy leads to dictatorship. Hence the concept of checks and balances, in which individuals in government invested with power are checked and balanced out by other individuals.

Indeed the principal of checks and balances is basic to the American political system. This idea is also found in the wisdom of the Torah. Each individual in Torah leadership has unique tasks and, in the end, limits and checks the power of the other.

For example: the navi (prophet) serves as the bearer of ethical standards; the melech (king) heads the executive branch; the Sanhedrin is the judiciary. And, as our parshah points out, the kohen serves as the ritual model for the am (the people). When a leader assumes more than one of these roles it leads to devastation. This type of devastation actually occurred in the time of the Maccabees who became not only the executive heads of the people but also the ritual leadership.

The Torah takes the concept of checks and balances a step further. Built into the respective roles of Jewish leadership is the recognition that each of these powerful and important leaders is subservient to a higher power, to God. In the end, God is the ultimate check and balance.

The navi never speaks without the imprimatur of God. Unlike the Christian model where a man-god speaks in the first person, our navi speaks with the refrain, “Thus says the Lord.”

Similarly, the melech must carry a Torah with him at all times. He does this so that he constantly understands that he does not dictate the law; rather, the Torah dictates the law to him. Even the judiciary has its limits, for the highest court can only offer the law based on the foundations and principles set forth at Sinai by the Almighty.

It is not only the role definitions that convey limitation of power. Even the clothes worn remind the leaders of this message. Around the head of the priest is the tzitz (a plate of pure gold), upon which the words “Holy to the Lord” are stated (Exodus 28:36). In contrast to the ancient priests who so often abused their power, our kohen is reminded constantly that whatever his power, it emerges from the Almighty.

In this sense the priest in the Tabernacle is a fixing of the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. There, in the beauty of Eden, they disobey God’s words. Here, in the mishkan, a kind of Garden of Eden within the larger world, the kohen is mandated to follow the word of God. It is not a coincidence that in Eden God made clothes for Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21). In the fixing story the priest also wears clothes (Exodus 28:4). Here, however, the priest, unlike Adam and Eve, follows the word of God.

In contemporary times, when politicians feel so entitled they often act as if they are superhuman, the roles and messages presented in the Torah teach us that in the end, each person, no matter her or his stature, is human and fallible. Only God is infallible and stands alone as the ultimate check and balance.

About the Author: Rabbi Avi Weiss is founding president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. His memoir of the Soviet Jewry movement, “Open Up the Iron Door,” was recently published by Toby Press.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Arbiter of Checks and Balances”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Swiss Amb. to Iran Giulo Haas presents his credentials to Iranian Pres. Rouhani
‘US and Iranian Cartoon Doves’ Shown Defecating on Bibi by Swiss Amb to Iran
Latest Judaism Stories
Torat-Hakehillah-logo-NEW

The common translation of the opening words of this week’s parsha, Ki Seitzei, is: “When you go out to war against your enemy.” Actually the text reads “al oyvecha” upon your enemy. The Torah is saying that when Israel goes out to war, they will be over and above their enemy. The reason why Bnei […]

Rabbi Avi Weiss

The love between Gd & Israel is deeper than marriage; beyond the infinite love of parent for child

Q-A-Klass-logo

Question: When a stranger approaches a congregant in shul asking for tzedakah, should the congregant verify that the person’s need is genuine? Furthermore, what constitutes tzedakah? Is a donation to a synagogue, yeshiva, or hospital considered tzedakah?

Zvi Kirschner
(Via E-Mail)

Taste-of-Lomdus-logo

Since giving the machatzis hashekel will not change his financial situation, he is obligated to do so even though it is more than a fifth of his income.

Today, few people fast during the Days of Selichot, but the custom is to rise early to recite Selichot.

Each month is associated with a particular tribe. The month of Elul is matched up with Gad. What makes Gad unique?

Sanctions and indictment of the Jew, holding him to a higher standard, is as common and misplaced as ever.

To allow for free will, there are times when Hashem will allow a person the “opportunity to be the messenger.”

“There is a mitzvah to pay the worker on that day,” answered Mr. Lerner.

Be happy. Be grateful. God knows what he is doing. It is all happening for a reason.

We get so busy living our lives, handling our day-to-day little crises that we forget to go that one step deeper and appreciate our lives.

The promise for long life only comes from 2 commandments; What’s the connection between them?

Mighty Amalek deliberately attacked enemy’s weakest members, despicable even by ancient standards

If we parents fail to honor responsibilities then society’s children will pay the price for our sins

Consider how our Heavenly Father feels when He sees His children adopting all other parents but Him

More Articles from Rabbi Avi Weiss
Rabbi Avi Weiss

The love between Gd & Israel is deeper than marriage; beyond the infinite love of parent for child

Weiss-082115-Apple-Tree

Torah teaches that trees must be protected for the trees themselves, sake of man, & for life lessons

Parshat Re’eh discusses our obligations upon entering Israel, Yerushalayim & our covenantal mission

3 Jewish rituals–family purity, ksahrut, and Shabbat-help us understand that mitzvot are our benefit

Devarim often parallels the stories in Bereishit but in reverse & can be considered as a corrective

When living in Israel, how can we be a light to the world’s nations if we don’t live among non-Jews?

With Ruth, The Torah seems to be stating that children shouldn’t be punished for the sins of parents

Halacha isn’t random; it’s a mechanism guiding individuals and society to a higher ethical plateau.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/arbiter-of-checks-and-balances/2014/02/06/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: