Authority and Resistance


The Torah teaches that there are two sources from which leaders draw the authority to lead.  First comes God: leaders are subject to God’s will as founded in the teachings of the Torah itself, bound by the law that they are charged with administering.  Second comes the people: the will of the people is a necessary component of any leader’s authority, and when the people’s will is flouted, disaster usually ensues.  Two sources of authority are necessary because leaders require a check on their impulses, even when they truly believe that they know the right thing to do.  Even if a leader disregards the laws of Torah in their zeal for a certain course of action, the resistance of the people can serve as an additional signal that the leader is now operating on doubtful authority.  In the Jewish view, one of the primary attributes of a leader is, as in the case of Moses, the humility to be able to recognize when one or both of the sources of their authority has been undermined and to submit themselves to the judgment of God and the people.  In our current moment, we see national leaders defying not only the laws of Torah — particularly with regard to the protection of the weak and the stranger — but also the will of the people as expressed in their elected representative body, Congress.  This is a situation fraught with danger for our country and its people.  May we continue to insist that the authority of divine law and the authority of the people be respected, lest, God forbid, disaster ensue in our own time.