Monday, June 28, 2004

The King is the people, and the people are the King

"The King is the people, and the people are the King"

That's what Rashi says (citing an aggada, no doubt) to explain an anomaly in parshat Chukas. The trouble is this: In one verse, we're told that Moshe sent a messenger to a foreign king; in another verse the messenger was sent by Israel. Rashi's solution: there's no distinction between the king and the people.

Some questions: Is Rashi speaking theologically? Or is he speaking philosophically? And may we make a distinction between the two?

The medieval world, to which Rashi belonged, would certainly have agreed that King and country could not be separated. But 800 years later, that view is no longer viable. We believe that the king (or president) derives his authority from the people, and that a legitimate king is one who honors and respects the source of his authority.

So, per Rashi, are we in error, and is the whole of modern political philosophy a mistake? (this, incidentally, was the view of Pius IX who tried to correct the world, and turn back the tide, by publishing the Syllabus of Errors, a list that included "Democracy and Americanism")

Or can we say that Rashi was talking about his own time? Intellectually, that view is satisfying, and I think theologically permitted, but it leaves us with an unsolved problem: How should we, in 2004, address that pesky anomaly?