Who should I vote for?
by Rabbi Yaacov Chaiton
With the federal election coming up in four weeks (here in Australia) I've been wondering - what kind of qualities should we be looking for in our leaders?
In this week's Torah portion G-d instructs the people that after entering the holy land they are to appoint a Jewish king for themselves. No less than 400 years after entering the land, the Jewish people approached the prophet Samuel and requested that they be given a king like all the surrounding nations. You'd think that Samuel would commend them for finally getting their act together by asking for a king. But instead Samuel rebukes them and angrily equates their simple request for a king with rejection of G-d Himself. This begs the question - if appointing a king is a commandment from G-d Himself, why the irate reaction upon their desire to fulfil the will of G-d.
The famous Biblical commentator of the 16th century - Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz- referred to as "the Keli Yakar" - offers a novel solution by simple analysis of the words used in both contexts:
When G-d instructs the people to appoint a king He says "when you come to the land that your G-d gives you and possess it and settle it and you will say 'I will set a king over myself'...you shall set over yourself a king whom your G-d shall choose". 400 years later when the people approached Samuel with a desire to appoint a king they said "give us a king to judge us like all the nations".
The difference is obvious. The purpose of the Jewish king was to guide and direct the people how to better serve G-d. "Setting a king over myself" means that we are willing to truly accept the king as our guide, our leader and we are willing to be subservient to his will. Even when it may appear that we know better, we will "set the king over myself" , believing that he has our best interests in mind and that he will lead us to what is ultimately for our good. This kind of king is not there for convenience, in fact he can be very inconvenient at times - often pushing us to do things that we feel are unnecessary. But we are nonetheless willing to follow because we know that He knows better. This is the kind of approach to a king that G-d wanted us to have.
Asking the prophet to "give us a king" was the exact opposite. Here the request was for a king, but for one who would function as a figurehead only. Samuel sensed that the people wanted a king for convenience purposes only - "like all the nations". He saw that they were uninterested in having someone who would show them the way, in having a guide, a leader. On the contrary, they wanted a king who would be "given" to them, a king who would appear as a king but in reality be nothing more than a puppet, "given over" and subservient to those who had appointed him.
While the age of kings is a thing of the past, we still have leaders: For many of today's "leaders" it's all about being popular. There are no principles, values or standards that are non-negotiable. The latest poll is what determines their next policy. Today the public feels like this so the leader goes along with it. As public opinion changes, so does the leader's. What matters most to these "leaders" is their legacy, how they will be remembered by the public. These "leaders" are not leading the people anywhere; they are being led by the people.
A leader's mandate is to lead. His job is to have clearly defined goals of what is for the overall good of his people. He strides in that direction and draws the people after him. He is constantly sensitive to the needs of his people and is in no way indifferent to what people think but at the same time is not afraid to move in the direction of what he feels is right, even if it may affect his popularity.
So when looking for the right leader, look for someone who is willing to lead the people; not one looking to be led by them. Look for the strong-principled individual with firm values; not the weak-kneed "leader" who is only interested in self-promotion. These are the hallmarks of a true leader, a leader who can be trusted to keep his/her word and one who can be trusted with your vote.