Divine Recipe to Minimize Corruption in Leadership

Who will make sure Bennett is listening to the Torah portion in the synagogue this Shabbat in Ra’anana?

Netanyahu and then-Minister of Education Naftali Bennett co-host the annual Bible Quiz in 2016. Photo: Shlomi Cohen/Flash90

Israel is still trying to grasp the fact that Naftali Bennett has replaced Benjamin Netanyahu, and that the latter is no longer Prime Minister after having been in the driver’s seat for over 15 years, the longest of any Israeli premier. We are still holding our breath because Bibi seemed invincible. And no sooner had the approximately 51% of the population that wanted a change breathed a sigh of relief than some started wondering what they had done.

Playing in the “big leagues” against Putin and Iran and even Biden is no joking matter; and Bibi sure was a veteran on the world stage. Plus, some Israelis don’t appreciate the way Bennett is trying to shame every last citizen into taking the Pfizer vaccine.

Which leads me to my point: Being the ruler of a nation is tough. There are many ways to fail at the job, and this week’s Torah portion in Deuteronomy 17 lists several:

  • Pride due to military power (“The king… must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself.”)
  • Moral failure in the area of sexuality (“He must not take many wives…”)
  • Desire for too much money (“He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold..”)

Someone called it “glory, girls and gold.” The Torah already identified these three central doorways to leadership corruption over 3,500 years ago.

Bennett likely knows this Torah passage as an observant Jewish man, and we hope that he is guarding himself in these three areas. However, as the newly crowned “king” of Israel, he is likely too busy to be writing out by hand his own copy of the Torah, as commanded in Deuteronomy 17:18. What better way to internalize God’s instruction than to write it down verse-by-verse! Maybe we can get Bennett’s personal assistant to squeeze this into his “To Do” list.

Hundreds of years after Moses’ passage regarding kings, 1 Samuel 8 records that the people finally spoke up and demanded a king like all the nations around them. Samuel realized what a problematic step that would be, and his fears of human nature were immediately justified in the lives of Saul, David and Solomon. Throughout the reign of the only three biblical kings who ruled over all of Israel, the innate tendencies toward corruption and failure were already apparent in abundance.

“Glory” went to King Saul’s head, and he disobeyed Samuel’s instructions (1 Sam 15:17).

“Girls” went to King David’s head and he committed adultery.

King Solomon, despite starting well, soon failed on several fronts.

In an intriguing passage, God granted Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar a chance to repair his failure in the realm of pride of power and glory. He was reduced to an animal-like state for seven years until he could humbly  “…acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign…” (Daniel 4:32), and was then given a chance to rule again.

Israel would do well to wish for, pray for, and elect leaders who will be humble, faithful in marriage and modest in financial aspirations. Let Bennett, Lapid and Netanyahu take note.

From the Torah portion “Shoftim” – Deuteronomy chapter 17:

14 When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,” 15 be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among your fellow Israelites. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not an Israelite. 16 The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” 17 He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.

18 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. 19 It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20 and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.

(Rabbi Saul of Tarsus seems to have used this passage as the basis for his longer list of leadership qualifications in 1Tim 3.)

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