A friend and congregant emailed me today asking, “Rabbi Scott, since you wrote a piece about how Donald Trump is channeling the destructive efforts of Korach, then which biblical personas might I liken President Obama or Secretary Clinton or Senator Sanders?” Citing a particularly negative article against these three individuals that seeks to create parallels between them and Trump, I believe my congregant’s suggestion was, in essence, “What’s good for the goose …”
So in light of this, to whom in the Bible would I liken these three? Allow me to start with the good stuff but don’t worry, the critiques follow.
To begin with, I think I would identify parallels to President Obama, Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders with some of the greatest tenets of the Bible itself – commandments that recognize that we do not fully own what we have bought or built. Because it is all on loan to us from God, we are to act more like stewards of our wealth than hoarders or dukes and duchesses of largesse. Because we were slaves in the land of Egypt, we must always show care and concern for the widow, the orphan and the stranger in our midst. Always. When we see even our enemy struggling to raise his donkey, we do not remain indifferent, but stop and help him. All three of these politicians have countless examples of working with these same values in mind.
For President Obama, I would suggest he has acted a bit too much like our patriarch Joseph. While Joseph does indeed save the Jewish people, he’s not the most demure and self-aware biblical figure. Like him, President Obama, perhaps as a result of being so special as to become the first Black President, hasn’t always acted with modesty. Like Joseph, who was so hell-bent on proving his value and worth to his father and brothers that he was the “chosen one,” Barack Hussein Obama missed many opportunities to express with quite a bit less hubris his intentions and compulsions. But, he was a dreamer and had he not had the chutzpah to dream as he did, how much longer would the world have to have waited to see the black ceiling broken for good?
I might also suggest that President Obama has at times acted a bit too much like Moses. There isn’t a lot of poetic difference between the isolation of the heights of Mt Sinai where Moses remained with God, secluded from the daily goings-on of the Israelites, who had only recently been freed and the Ivory Tower where President Obama has found refuge throughout his life both literally and cognitively. Like Moses, President Obama has sometimes failed to understand the tremendous difficulties inherent in transferring theory into practice. This is why Aaron is called the “High Priest” of the Israelites whereas Moses is called the “Prophet.” Prophets harangue, bemoan and protest; priests hear, meet folks where they’re at, help them carry their load.
For Secretary Clinton, I would suggest that she has suffered from quite a bit of “Sarah syndrome.” Look, none of us truly knows what goes on in the most intimate of relationships. Yet its always been unclear to me what Sarah’s motivation was, picking up and moving from Haran when Abraham said, “God told me to go so let’s get.” And then, imprisoned by her own infertility, she gives her maidservant, Hagar, to Abraham, to lie with and make pregnant so Sarah can “be built up.” But then, once Sarah becomes pregnant and gives birth to Isaac, she insists that Abraham kick out Hagar and Ishmael from her home, leaving them presumably to die. Relationships are challenging to say the least and none of us can ever really know what goes on behind closed doors. But I would suggest that Secretary Clinton’s greatest Sarah-like foible might be that she hasn’t acted human enough. And people who lack that capacity create impressions that appear untrustworthy. Sarah struggled with maintaining an honest relationship with her self, trying to be both a strong woman and first lady of the Jewish people. That’s not easy.
And Senator Sanders strikes me as so much like any one of the Hebrew Prophets of the Bible. Prophets rail against injustice but rarely are they involved in negotiating paths of return. Prophets stand up against evil and often advocate an anarchic approach to dealing with institutionalized unfairness. But its hard to rebuild when all you’re left with is rubble. The Prophets seek to see and present the world through God’s eyes but God doesn’t live here and neither do the angels. Only we, human beings of flesh and blood, live within the confines of our physical universe. In order to have an impact on the forces and pressures that move individuals, organizations and governments in a multiplicity of directions, one has to stand firmly on the ground. Only this makes it possible not only to think about how things should operate, but how to feel one’s way through, such that when the inevitable road bump emerges, the path can be adjusted and compromised in as authentic a way as possible.
Admittedly, my biblical comparisons to President Obama, Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders don’t measure up to my negative critique of Donald Trump. But as I said in the preceding article, the question comes down to motivation. What is Donald Trump’s motivation to speak in demeaning and derogatory ways? What is Trump’s motivation when he encourages violence and promises to pay legal fees for those who engage in it? What has been Trump’s motivation throughout his professional life? I believe the story of Korach is in the Torah and a Torah portion is even named for him because Korach always appears in moments of transitions, transformations and unrest. Korach’s challenge to Moses comes not at a crisis in the story of the Israelites; it comes when things are rather tenuous but moving in the right direction – the perfect moment then to “stir it up.” The story of Korach is read every year to remind us that motivation is the crux of the success of our efforts. For if the motivation is pure and just and clean, then when one hits a wall, the presumption is not that this effort was a failure, but rather our means need to be adjusted.
All Korach is concerned with is that he is NOT recognized as the most important leader. And that is why I unapologetically wrote my piece about Trump. This isn’t a partisan issue. This is about being honest with ourselves as a people. Who do we want to be? If Trump is the answer, we have most certainly lost our way.