Sunday, September 11, 2022

Of Monarchs and Terrorists - Social Justice and Amalek

 The death of Queen Elizabeth II

The 21st anniversary of 9/11

Shabbat Shalom.  This week we mark two national losses, and reflect on their meaning for us and our understanding of civil society.  This weekend is the 21st anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack on our nation, and marks the death of the United Kingdom’s longest reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth the second.  These national losses are opposites in so very many ways.  And this morning we continue to read the laws of the just society command by our holy Torah so many generations ago in parshat Ki Teitzei.

9/11 was an attack on our ordinary friends, neighbors, co-workers, citizens and strangers who comprise the greatest city on the face of the earth.  It was ideological murder against a country that believes in religious freedom, social diversity and democratic institutions as the core base of all power of government.  It was intentional, evil and extreme.

On the contrary, the death of the Queen mother is the loss of the single most elite person in the world. She combined nearly limitless privilege with parallel devotion to a sense of service and obligation to the society she nominally ruled.  He ideology of country affirmed religious freedom, even as she was the ordained head of the Anglican Church.  She believed in social diversity, even as she represented an inherited dynasty of white privilege that descended from the actual people who had pursued the largest colonial enterprises ever experienced in human history.  And she remained committed to the constitutional powers of the people and her countries democratic institutions.

Think of the kind of rule the Taliban represent.  Religious intolerance. Social repression. Rule by might of arms.  And think of the power of Queen Elizabeth embodying in actual monarchy the opposite.  Religious pluralism. Social diversity and freedom. And government of the people by their duly elected representatives.  Listen to the soft spoken blessings of the Queen mother in her addresses to the people, and compare the vitriolic hate and rhetoric that the enemies of democracy spew online and in terror.  

I am not a fan of monarchy. Philosophically I am opposed to everything that it is and purports to be.  We fought a war of independence to reject it in both concept and reality, and I would fight that war again and again.  Yet there is also much good in the British Monarchy in how it developed in the 20th century to become a platform for social causes and charitable acts worldwide.  If you judge a tree by its fruit, the Royal House of Windsor has of late been a force for good.

The truth is that the Torah does have ambivalent feelings about monarchy. (Quote last week), a king had limits:  Wives, Horses, Gold.  And remedies, the torah the prophet .... 

Remember the young Queen’s famous vow:

And think of our Torah this morning, Deut 23:22-24

And the high commands to treat every person with personal and economic justice:  24:12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 

and disputations and punishments... etc., ch 25.

honest weights and measures... 

And remember what Amalek did to you on your way.... 25:17

Why does our parshah this week end with the startling non-sequitor of Amalek attacking our week and our elderly from behind as we journey in the wilderness? No society of justice will ever be entirely free from attack or evil. There will always be those, like Amalek, who "doe not fear the Lord." Some of these will be religious fanatics who are so convinced that they act for G-d that they have no sense of fear or trepidation that they in fact may be wrong. Everything can be a tool for good or evil. Religion - the greatest force for peace in the world - can be twisted to hate and violence. Monarchy - the purist form of elitism over and against human rights - can be used for tremendous good in support of the needy, the stranger and the Other.

Good and bad is not what you are - it is what you do.

May the memory of Queen Elizabeth II be forever a blessing for her family, country and our world, and may God bless King Charles III as he ascends the throne.

Shabbat Shalom.