Days ago, I pondered writing a midrashic post-mortem to President Trump’s election loss, explaining his loss with a story from a rabbinic midrash. My point was going to be that he was not defeated not exclusively by his policies and that a second term should have been a sure thing since he was an incumbent. His defeat, I wanted to argue, was caused by a particularly destructive character trait which brought about his downfall in a most tragic way. As events would have it, this particular flaw had consequences not only for him but for the nation as a whole, and, indeed, the entire world, since it has tainted anything positive that he has accomplished.
Now to the story: “It once happened that a king of Persia was about to die. As his condition worsened, his physicians said: ‘The only remedy for your illness is the milk of a lioness.’ One of his servants volunteered, asked the king for ten she-goats and was off to search for a lion’s den. After finding a nursing lioness, he gained her confidence by feeding her a goat each day until she allowed him to milk her. On his way back to the king, he fell asleep and saw in a dream the limbs of his body arguing with each other. The feet said: “None of the parts of the body are like us, for if we had not walked to the lion’s den, there would not have been anyone to bring the milk.’ The hands replied: ‘We are exceptional. Without us, there would have been no one to milk the lioness.’ The eyes responded: ‘We are greater than any of you. Without us, there would have been no one to show you the way.’ Then, the heart spoke up: ‘It is I who is the greatest. Without my counsel, the mission would have failed.’ But then, the tongue spoke up: ‘I am the most important part of the body. Were it not for me, what would you have done?’ To this, all of the parts of the body scoffed and replied to the tongue: ‘How dare you compare yourself to us! You are closed up like a prisoner in a dark place.’ But the tongue was adamant and declared: ‘This very day, you will declare that I rule over you.” When the servant woke up from this dream, he was deeply frightened, but continued his journey until he reached the king and said: ‘I have brought you the milk of a bitch.’ Immediately, the king became furious and ordered that he be hanged.
On the way to the gallows, all of the limbs of the body began to cry. The tongue said to them: ‘Didn’t I tell you are worthless without me? If I save you now, will you acknowledge that I indeed rule over you?’ They said: ‘Yes.’ The tongue immediately asked to be returned to the king. When he was returned, he asked the king: ‘Why did you order to have me hanged?’ The king replied: ‘Because you brought me bitch’s milk to hasten my death.” He asked the king: ‘What does it matter to you? It will cure you. And, besides, a lioness can be called a bitch.’ The king took some of the milk, drank it, and was healed. And since it was proved that it was the milk of a lioness, the man was saved from the gallows. Thereupon, the parts of the body said to the tongue: ‘We acknowledge that what you said is true. You indeed rule over us!’ Of this, it is written (Proverbs 18:21): ‘Death and life are in the power of the tongue’. (Adapted from Midrash Tehillim 39:2 Venice edition)
Time and time again, over the course of the past couple of years, we have become aware of the truth of this story. Nothing is as impactful as what we say. It can enhance what we do or it can erase any good that we have done. It can win elections and it can lose elections. It can build relationships and destroy them. It can save societies and it can divide them. And as we have seen in the last couple of days, it can save lives and tragically it can cause people to die. This is a lesson which it would be wise for the powerful to learn for their own good and for the good of those that they serve.