Righteous Government

Rabbi Chanina, an assistant of the high priest said: Pray for the welfare of the government, since but for fear of it men would swallow each other alive. (m.Avot 3:2)

In the Hebrew Roots movement there is often a strong anti-government sentiment woven into the core belief system, and government conspiracy theories abound. While some of this paranoia is justified (we should never be completely ignorant of the inevitable manipulations of governing authorities), the far majority of it is merely based on fear and an aversion of authority. These are the same people that are anti-rabbinic and fabricate all kinds of misinformation about the Talmud and rabbinic writings. Organized religion of any sort can’t be trusted. In their minds a ruling authority of any kind is illegitimate and power-hungry. However, we must realize that governing systems are necessary for the welfare of humanity.

Of the seven categories of commandments that are incumbent upon all of humanity by way of what has been codified as the Noachide Laws, establishing a system of courts and a legal system to uphold civil law is one of them. Why? Because without it, as our mishnah says, “men would swallow each other alive.” Irving Bunim, in his commentary on this passage, points out that humans can be inherently cannibalistic. It is human nature to devour other humans by any means possible. We will find a way to dominate, subjugate, and denigrate another human being at the drop of a hat. However, Hashem requires us to resist our base nature and assist those who have no assistance, to protect those who have no protection, and to defend those who have no defense. Therefore, a system of justice is required in order to protect the weak and the innocent from the indomitable and culpable.

After the inhabitants of Jerusalem were taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar, the prophet Jeremiah sent a letter to the exiles encouraging them not to fear their current circumstances, but to live out their lives as normally as possible. But he added to their responsibility. Through Jeremiah, God told them, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). The Lord not only instructed the people to carry on as usual, but also to pray for the government whose authority they had been subjected. 

This was certainly an unexpected twist to their current circumstances. Why should they pray for a government they had been enslaved to? Why should they pray for a people that had destroyed their homeland and their Holy Temple? Because Hashem had placed them there, and if they were going to enjoy any kind of peace while they were there, it would only come if the ruling authorities would afford it to them. Therefore, they were to pray for the welfare of the government under which they were subjugated. 

The same is true for us today. Although we cannot blindly accept everything our government does, it is our responsibility to pray for its welfare so that we may live in relative peace. And living in the greatest, most influential nation on the planet, we must especially pray for its role in international affairs as well. Since the decisions of our nation affect nearly the entire planet, it is especially important that we pray for how it influences the global community in regard to the welfare of Israel. For the last eight years our government has treated Israel with contempt. Let us pray that this unspoken policy will be banished, and that our nation would once again become a true ally to the holy nation of Israel in our lifetime. Let us pray for the welfare of our nation, and in the process be praying for the peace of Jerusalem as well.