Dvar Torah - Emor
Choosing a leader
Over the pandemic, my family owned chickens. We had the opportunity to witness their interactions up close and learned that any of the stereotypes about them are indeed true. Chickens aren't very bright. They certainly aren't able to plan much ahead. They aren't very discerning and don't seem to know where they are walking/running. However, there is one thing that they do very well and reliably. They form multi-stepped social hierarchies. One of our chickens quickly took control of the others and kept them in line. She was always the first to get food. She chose the best roosting spot in the coop for herself. She chose her favourite place to sleep outside the pen. In every way, she ran the flock. Chickens are well known for selecting leaders of their flocks who then tell the other birds what to do.
The Torah this week deals with the hierarchy of the kohanim. We don't know how we chose the leader, but the Torah tells us the kohen gadol's criteria. He must be "greater than his brothers" in all ways, including knowledge, wealth, and physical prowess (being a kohen was sometimes a very physically demanding job that required significant strength and coordination). The Talmud fills in the blanks. The kohen gadol was to be chosen preferentially from the previous kohen gadol's sons, however, only if one of them met the office's requirements. The selection was to be through an election. All kohanim could vote. As a result, the kohanim would regularly face a crucial choice; who would lead them? Who would stand between the kohanim and the nation? Who would have responsibility for interceding on the nation's behalf with G-d? We know that there was much competition for the role, and it would fall on the electors to act responsibly and choose the person who could best fulfil that role.
Unfortunately, as we know, they did not always choose well. Throughout the second temple period, there was a great deal of turnover in the office. The procession of unworthy high priests meant that very few stayed for longer than a year, but they were able to do much damage in that time. The history of the second temple serves as an object lesson in the importance of choosing our leadership very carefully.
In Australia, we are now in the throes of another election. Around the world, we can see, and many of us have noted, the tremendous privilege we have to live in a free country with free elections and freedom of association. However, freedom is not merely a privilege and a right. It is a sacred charge and responsibility which we must discharge responsibly. As you vote in the next two weeks, think carefully about your choice and cast the wisest, most far-sighted vote you can. While we will not all agree on the best outcome, we can all agree that the people voting in the most intelligent way we can is the best way to set our country up for the future.