web analytics
September 21, 2014 / 26 Elul, 5774
At a Glance
Judaism
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



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 founder and president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale.


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.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
ISIS seized control of Quneitra, at least temporarily, towards the end of August 2014.
Israel Watching Northern Border with Syria, Lebanon
Latest Judaism Stories
Hertzberg-092614

Perhaps the most important leadership lesson Elkana taught us is to never underestimate the difference a single person can make.

Teller-Rabbi-Hanoch-NEW

“he’s my rabbi” the Black painter said with pride, pulling out a photo of the Rebbe from his wallet

Rabbi Avi Weiss, head of theYeshivat Chovevei Torah. Rabbi Asher Lopatin will be replacing him as head of the school.

The Torah notes that even when we are dispersed God will return us to Him.

Rabbi Sacks

Simply, for Rambam the number 14 (2×7) was his favored organizing principle.

One of the cornerstones of our Jewish life is chesed, kindness. Chesed can only be taught by example

Our understanding of what is and what is not possible creates imagined ceilings of opportunity for us.

This young, innocent child gave me a powerful, warm surge of energy and strength.

The Chafetz Chaim answered that there are two forms of teshuvah; teshuvah m’ahava and teshuvah m’yirah.

Question: I recently loaned money to a friend who has been able to repay only part of it. This was an interest-free loan. We exchanged a signed IOU, not a proper shtar with witnesses, since I have always trusted her integrity and only wanted a document that confirms what was loaned and what was repaid. Now that shemittah is approaching, what should I do? Should I forgive the loan? And if my friend is not able to repay it, may I deduct the unpaid money from my ma’aser requirement?

Name Withheld

A Role Reversal
‘Return, O Wayward Sons…’
(Chagigah 15a)

When the Kleins returned, however, they were dismayed to see that the renters did a poor job cleaning up after themselves.

In Parshas Re’eh the Torah tells us about the bechira to adhere to the commandments of Hashem and refrain from sin. In Parshas Nitzavim, the Torah tells us that we have the choice to repent after we have sinned.

As Moshe is about to die, why does God tell him about how the Israelites will ruin everything?

Jonah objected to God accepting repentance based on ulterior motives and likely for short duration.

This week’s parsha offers a new covenant; a covenant that speaks to national life unlike any other

More Articles from Rabbi Avi Weiss
Rabbi Avi Weiss, head of theYeshivat Chovevei Torah. Rabbi Asher Lopatin will be replacing him as head of the school.

The Torah notes that even when we are dispersed God will return us to Him.

Rabbi Avi Weiss, head of theYeshivat Chovevei Torah. Rabbi Asher Lopatin will be replacing him as head of the school.

Simcha is total; sahs is God’s joy in protecting us even when we are most vulnerable.

the test of moral integrity truly presents itself when one faces difficult situations.

Of paramount importance is that both the king and his people realize that while he is the leader, he is still a subject of God.

Rabbinic law is pivotal but it’s important to understand which laws are rabbinic and which biblical.

Israel is the only place where we have the potential to fulfill our mandate as the chosen people.

Rav Kook of blessed memory, who said that no matter where a Jew is born, he is born in Israel.

One must act as if everything depends on us and pray as if everything depends on God.

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: