William Hamilton


Mob-rule or the rule of law? Having just celebrated a Festival about receiving the Law at Mt. Sinai, the choice between mob rule and the rule of law feels kind of ironic.

Here’s where a closer look at our tradition’s priorities can help.

There is something prior to law: it’s called lovingkindness (hesed). The Book of Ruth, which was the Festival’s biblical book this week, is where lovingkindness finds its pulse. And Rabbi Jonathan Sacks makes this very timely point about biblical priorities: the personal has primacy over the political. 

That is, prior to the political books come the personal ones. Prior to the essential material about leaders, monarchs, and geopolitics, come more lasting lessons from figures who lack political-stature and from whom we learn few laws: Ruth and Abraham. 

And here’s the key: although the Bible has a huge amount to say about politics, lessons about the interpersonal always come first. Abraham’s family comes before the Torah’s final four books which are very geopolitical, as Ruth’s appearance in the period of Judges (from which this week’s prophetic portion comes) comes prior to the Monarchy that occupies the rest of the Bible. 

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote, three aspects of the world command our attention: its power, its loveliness, and its grandeur. 

Well, heaven help the person for whom power is everything. Put differently, when your loves, your most precious relationships, get swallowed whole by your politics, then you have a problem. When life is made up of quarrels and contempt, when it’s awash in anger, this drives people into dark careers. To be clear, such careers are very threatening and lethal. We do need to take them seriously, but not personally. 

Rather, heaven does help the person for whom God’s sacred light beams personally. It radiates with living Torah and love of kindness. It invites the treasure of wonder, grace, and tenderness. 

May that light of loveliness be aglow for us, for our People, and for people of good faith everywhere, as we make our way through the days when sunsets are the latest and sunrises arrive earliest 

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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