Monday, December 28, 2015

Donald Trump in the Torah

Pirkei Avot (5:22) says of the Torah, "Turn it over and turn it over, for all is in it." As an American living in Canada, who is regularly asked [or mocked, or harangued] about Donald Trump, I have been wondering: Is Pirkei Avot serious? Is Donald Trump to be found in the Torah?

And I think the answer is Yes; Donald Trump's ancestor was named Avimelech. This is not the Avimelech of Bereishit; rather, it is Avimelech of the book of Shoftim (Chapter 9).

In the period when the Jews were led by Judges, between the death of Joshua and the start of Jewish monarchy, Avimelech rose to power in the region of Mount Ephraim as an anti-government outsider. He rabble-roused against the leaders in power. (9:1-3) He spent a fortune to attract supporters who are biblically described as "empty and senseless", who helped him overthrow those in power. (9:4-5) And, yes, he appeared misogynist - he died after a woman dropped a millstone on his head, and his dying request was for a youth to kill him, "lest they say of me that a woman killed him." (9:53-54)

Of course, the analogy to Avimelech is imperfect - for starters, Avimelech actually succeeded in gaining public office - but I mention it because of an important lesson within Avimelech's story. After Avimelech's rise, his half-brother Yotam ascended Mount Gerizim and proclaimed a scathing rebuke against those who had selected Avimelech.

Yotam described the trees trying to anoint a leader from among themselves.
First they approached the olive, but the olive refused, lest the job diminish its important oil.
Then they approached the fig, but the fig refused, lest the job diminish its sweet fruit.
Then they approached the grape, but the grape refused, lest the job diminish its joy-inducing wine.
Finally, they approached the thorn, which produces nothing useful. The thorn agreed to take on the role. (9:7-15)

Society runs a grave risk when those who are qualified shy away from leadership, for then only thorns are left to lead. May we not be stuck with the thorns; may those who are qualified - our olives, figs, and grapes - always step up, to guide our community and world forward.