December 30, 2006
Ezekiel\’s prophetic message presages that the redemption of Israel will include the unification of the two kingdoms that make up the Jewish nation, Judah and Joseph (Israel), under the direction of the ideal king from the house of David. He describes this leadership in these words: \”My servant David shall be king over them; there shall be one shepherd for all of them. They shall follow My rules and faithfully obey My laws. Thus they shall remain in the land which I gave to My servant Jacob and in which your fathers dwelt; they and their children and their children\’s children shall dwell there forever, with My servant David as their prince for all time.\” (verses 24-25)
The ideal leader is identified as \”My servant David\”. Rabbi David Kimchi (12th century Provance) asks why the future king should be known as David? In his common sense way, he offers two possible answers: either the future king will actually be called David or he will be a descendent of David.
An early midrash, from the period of the Mishnah, focuses on another question. It implicitly deals with the question why the future ideal leader should be known as \”God\’s servant\”: \”There are those who called themselves \’servant\’ and the Holy One Blessed Be He called them \’servants\’ and there are those who called themselves \’servants\’ but the Holy One Blessed Be He did not call them \’servants\’ and there are those who did not call themselves \’servants\’ but the Holy One Blessed Be He called them \’servants\’. Abraham called himself a servant: \’Don\’t pass by your servant\’ (Genesis 18:3) The Holy One Blessed Be He also called Abraham: \’For the sake of My servant Abraham\’ (Genesis 26:24). David called himself a servant: \’I am Your servant, the son of Your maidservant.\’ (Psalm 116:16) And the Holy One Blessed Be He called him servant: \’My servant David as their prince for all time.\’ (Ezekiel 37:25) On the other hand, Samuel called himself a \’servant\’, but the Holy One Blessed Be He never called him a \’servant\’. And Joshua never called himself a \’servant\’ but nonetheless the Holy One Blessed Be He called him a \’servant\’\” (Adapted and Abridged from Sifrei Devarim 27 Finkelstein ed. pp. 42-3)
It is an expectation of those who call themselves leaders that they not be self-serving – that they will not deify themselves like the leaders of other peoples. Instead, they must appreciate that they are servants of God. This midrash separates those who are servants of God into three categories: those who call themselves servants and God calls them servants; those who call themselves servants but God does not; and those who do not call themselves servants but God does. What distinguishes between these three types of servants of God? Rabbi Ephraim Halevi Horowitz (18th century Poland) asserts that the first group represents those who recognized their role and God acknowledged their role as servants of God; those whom God calls servants but do not call themselves servants are those religious leaders who are too humble to call themselves \”servants\” but God wants it known that they represent Him; those who call themselves servants of God but God did not call them servants are those whose word and deeds make it clear to all that they are God\’s representatives so there is no need for God to make it known. (Yevakesh Ratzot, commentary to Midrash Tehillim, Lvov 1850)
What is certain is that God expects Jewish leaders to see themselves as representing God and not themselves or their own self-interests.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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