LEVITICUS AND THE PRESIDENCY

This week, Jews studying Torah are completing the Book of Leviticus. Its copious laws include animal sacrifices, sexual unions, physical impurities and dietary restrictions. While not necessarily the writers’ intentions, Leviticus also informs us about the American presidency.

The last portion of Leviticus offers the Tochechah or Admonition (essentially repeated in Deuteronomy). If the Israelites obey God’s commandments, they will live in peace and prosperity. If not, they will suffer calamities, including starvation (even cannibalism), war and exile among the nations. God, however, doesn’t intend to punish the Israelites on a whim. God wants them to exercise their free will (the Rabbis discuss free will at length) and make proper choices.

Granted, many of Leviticus’ biblical injunctions seem archaic. But the essence of the Tochechah, even for atheists, is simple. A community or nation enjoys the best odds for tranquility and good fortune when it chooses to do right. A society of just laws reinforced by compassion will—eventually—outperform one riddled with anarchy or tyranny and selfishness.

Where does this leave the United States? We pride ourselves on our democracy, imperfect though it may be. We believe that in regularly choosing our leaders, we promote life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But as God warns Israel, we can make good choices or bad ones. The latter can bring dire consequences.

Last November, America chose a new president. The popular vote went to Hillary Clinton, but as provided by the Constitution, the Electoral College determined the winner. That was Donald Trump. Many Trump supporters had no idea what his policies would be; Mr. Trump apparently had no idea either. But many voters liked that “he says what he thinks.” Mr. Trump said a lot, including calling his opponent “Crooked Hillary.”

Since taking office, Mr. Trump referred to his predecessor Barak Obama as a “Bad (or sick) guy!”, called the media—a bulwark of democracy—a “disgrace” for spreading “fake news,” and labeled James Comey, the FBI director looking into Trump campaign connections to Russia, a “showboat” and “grandstander.” That was after he allegedly asked Mr. Comey to go easy on fired national security advisor Mike Flynn—and before Mr. Trump revealed sensitive intelligence concerning ISIS airline bomb plots to two senior Russian officials.

On Wednesday, the Justice Department appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to determine if the Trump campaign engaged in collusion with Russia. Mr. Mueller will be given wide latitude, including the power to bring criminal charges. Mr. Trump issued a brief statement welcoming the special counsel. Then he backtracked, calling the investigation a “witch hunt.”

Mr. Mueller may find no grounds to impeach Mr. Trump. (Trial in the Senate would follow.) Impeachment doesn’t concern popularity or competence. I suspect, however, that the special investigator’s report will highly damage Mr. Trump’s presidency, very possibly to the point of inducing resignation.

As to Leviticus, it’s not all doom and gloom. God promises that even after being severely punished, Israel can choose to return to the commandments. If it does, God will restore the people to their land. Going forward, Americans and their representatives in Congress will have to make difficult choices regarding chaos in the White House—chaos we chose to inflict on ourselves.

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2 Comments


  1. David Newman
    May 19, 2017

    Leviticus is about consequences. If you do things right, things will go well. If not, not so much.

    There’s another related lesson here: while the Torah talks about the need for priestly purity, we might translate that in modern times into a need for integrity in our leaders. We can only wish.


    • David
      May 19, 2017

      Integrity is that one value that’s much spoken about and little practiced.

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