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Authority

11/13/2020 01:22:53 PM

Nov13

One of the questions the medieval commentator Rashi asks is why the Torah begins with creation.  He points out that the majority of the Torah is a law book, so should it not begin with the laws?  His answer to the question is that we start with creation to show that God created the whole world.  However, he also offers another explanation for beginning with the story of how people came to be:

Our Rabbis explained: God created the world for the sake of the Torah which is called (Proverbs 8:22) “The beginning (ראשית) of His (God’s) way”, and for the sake of Israel who are called (Jeremiah 2:3) “The beginning (ראשית) of His (God’s) increase’’. 

Through this teaching we can see that Judaism believes that the foundation of creation is the linking of people and rules.

As we have gone through the process of elections, many articles have been written decrying our election process.  I have read many articles in the past week articulating how this past election damaged the reputation of the elections in the United States around the world.  However, I choose to look at the elections differently.  Instead of exposing faults in our system, I believe these elections have demonstrated how strong and free of corruption our democratic election system actually is in reality.   As Winston Churchill said of democracy, “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

On Thursday night during our last “Jewish Perspectives series” we discussed diplomacy.  One of the aspects of diplomacy we discussed was the difference between power and authority.  Power is the ability to act.  Authority is the power one group gives to another group or person to be in charge.  American democracy is predicated, at least in principle, on bestowing authority upon people.  The philosopher and sociologist Max Weber posited that there are three types of authority.  While none is perfect, history tends to favor the democratic form of authority as the most enduring.

The three types of authority are:

  1. Legal-rational authority: In this type of leadership or governing model, those who are in charge and bestowed authority by established rules and laws that have been agreed on by the majority of the population. 
  2. Traditional authority:  In traditional authority power is bestowed from customs, social norms (i.e. heredity), and communal configurations that are the result of historical traditions.  An example of this is monarchy.
  3. Charismatic authority: is authority that is bestowed based on strength of personality.  A charismatic leader is bestowed authority because they can get people to follow them simply by virtue of how compelling they are as a person.  Moses and Martin Luther King Jr. would be examples of this.

 

What history has found is authority that is bestowed through traditional or charismatic authority is tenuous at best.  It works, until it does not.  Legal-rational authority with its focus on the people seems, for the moment, to be the most enduring system of authority.  Thomas Jefferson wrote, “No government can continue good but under the control of the people; and … their minds are to be informed by education what is right and what wrong; to be encouraged in habits of virtue and to be deterred from those of vice … These are the inculcations necessary to render the people a sure basis for the structure and order of government.”

These past elections do not have to reflect a country in turmoil.  They do not have to speak of a country in chaos.  Our elections in this country can and should send the message that our system is strong.  It is stronger than any one individual because it puts its power in laws and rules and the people.   More importantly however, unlike other systems of authority, our legal-rational system of voting increases the relationship between laws and people which serve as the bedrock for creation.

Thu, December 3 2020 17 Kislev 5781