What we’re never told when instructed to follow in God’s ways are things like: Just as He is vengeful, so shall you be vengeful; as He conquers, so shall you conquer, as He punishes, so shall you punish. We are called to imitate God at His most powerful, and to be powerful, teaches chapter 10, is first and foremost to care for the weakest elements of society. The second blessing of the thrice daily Amidah prayer is called Gevurot– strength. What does God’s strength consist of? Miracles? Battles? Conquest and control? “He supports the falling, heals the sick, frees captives, and upholds his commitment to those who lie in the earth.” According to the Torah, power is not privilege, it’s responsibility. (Where did Spiderman’s creator, Stan Lee, nee Stanley Lieber, get the idea from, if not from here?) Power obliges us to care for the ‘Other’, and the greatest ‘other’ is the stranger in our midst, who we must not only care for, but love, and with whom we are bidden to identify.
Is there any room for the value of conquest in our idea of power? Only for self- conquest. ‘Who is mighty? One who conquers their evil inclination’ (Avot 4:1 ). Regarding this trait, too, we are taught to emulate God. A fascinating Gemara in Yoma (69b) suggests an explanation for why the ‘Men of the Great Assembly’ merited such a name. While the prophets saw Jewish sovereignty destroyed, and asked where God’s strength and glory have gone, the sages were able to appreciate God’s strength and power in the way He conquers himself, and restrains from conquering others.
Now that the Jewish people have returned to political power after a long exile, it is these insights into the nature and purpose of power that we need to consider if we want ‘lehachzir atara leyoshna’, to return to our previous glory.