This Shabat we read Parashat Shof’tim, from our Torah; a portion that reminds us of our religious obligation to pursue justice, fairness, and continuous study. Shof’tim also teaches us what to look for when we fulfill our civil obligation of selecting new leadership for our national and local communities. In particular, the portion teaches us:
Deuteronomy 16:18 You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice. 19 You shall not judge unfairly: you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just. 20 Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you…
Deuteronomy 17:14 If, after you have entered the land that the Lord your God has assigned to you, and taken possession of it and settled in it, you decide, "I will set a king over me, as do all the nations about me," 15 you shall be free to set a king over yourself, one chosen by the Lord your God. Be sure to set as king over yourself one of your own people; you must not set a foreigner over you, one who is not your kinsman…18 When he is seated on his royal throne, he shall have a copy of this Torah written for him on a scroll by the levitical priests. 19 Let it remain with him and let him read in it all his life, so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God, to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching as well as these laws. 20 Thus he will not act haughtily toward his fellows or deviate from the Instruction to the right or to the left, to the end that he and his descendants may reign long in the midst of Israel.
As we move into our season of self-reflection, setting the course of our lives for the coming year we also, in turn, approach our country’s season of determining the course of our national life for the coming years. One characteristic of the Torah text that immediately stands out is that it only refers to leadership in male terms. Regardless of our political preferences, how wonderful it is that this year, especially, we get to teach the Torah something as history re-writes itself with a woman as the candidate for president of a major political party in the United States.
From the above text, we learn from our tradition that those we choose to lead should reflect the values and characteristics of pursuing justice, judging all with fairness and impartiality, always learning about the law and from past experiences, staying true to an ideologic course, and being similar in kind to ourselves. In the weeks ahead we will hear from the candidates for president, vice-president, and all other offices up for election. In this process we must determine for ourselves which ones most wholly embody those qualities that our Torah holds so dear.
Additionally, each of us are leaders of some sort, whether in our communities, at work, or at home. May we also learn from these teachings and incorporate these values and lessons into ur own lives; strengthening our personal abilities and hoping us to become the best versions of ourselves.