Respect for the Presidency

Prime Minister Golda Meir is purported to have said that she can ultimately forgive the Arabs for all the terrible things they have done, but she can never forgive them for making killers of our children.

That quote comes to mind as we contemplate and observe what is going on in the United States election campaign. We could forgive the candidates for all their lashon hara and hotzaas shem ra about each other, but I don’t know how it will be possible to repair the disrespect they are creating for the presidency.

Let me explain: We are here on this world to honor Hakadosh Baruch Hu. We say every day in U’va l’Tzion, “Baruch Hu Elokeinu she’baranu lichvodo.” We bless Hakadosh Baruch Hu Who created us “to honor Him.” Hashem understood, however, that when we are removed from the spiritual, it is sometimes difficult to honor a spiritual being. He therefore created a miniature model for us to observe — the human, physical being that we call a king. The peoples of the world show this earthly king honor, respect and awe. We can learn from that experience how to honor Hashem.

A story is told that way back in June of 1953, the Telshe Rosh Yeshivah, Harav Elya Meir Bloch, zt”l, searched for a way to watch the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. He wanted to follow the dictum of Chazal to see how the nations of the world give honor to their kings.

I remember when John F. Kennedy became president. He was sitting with his close friends, some of whom had known him from childhood, watching the election returns. When it became obvious that he was to be the victor, the mood in the room suddenly changed. The friends of his youth rose in unison and solemnly addressed him as “Mr. President.”

There was a time when this country had respect for our president. That was long ago. I am not sure what exactly happened. Perhaps it started with the newspaper editorials that began to poke fun at our elected officials. It then progressed to the late night comedians, and entered into America’s homes.

But it is a grievous error. If we disagree with the policies of a president, we have the option of organizing ourselves in an election year and voting in a new president. We do not have the right to tear down the position of the presidency.

There was also, perhaps, a corollary in our own world. When we started to make fun and talk disrespectfully of presidents, we began to lose respect for our Jewish and Torah leaders — beginning with the leaders of our generation and moving along soon enough to the Gedolei Yisrael of previous generations. I try to stay as far as I can from the blogs, but from time to time I am shown some horrifying samples. It is appalling to see the level to which some have sunk. Afra l’puma.

It does not start there, however. It starts with disrespecting authority. It also does not end there. It ends with, R”l, blasphemy.

It is disheartening to see the way the current president of the United States is referred to even by young talmidei chachamim and mechanchim. There is derision and denigration that can only be a result of following irresponsible media that freely attack the president and his position. The Torah derech is taught to us in the Midrash which tells us that Hakadosh Baruch Hu told Moshe Rabbeinu to address Pharaoh (who, you might remember, was killing Jewish children) with respect.

I was recently at the Yeshivah of Philadelphia High School graduation, where the graduates pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and sang the national anthem. From there I went to the home of the Rosh Yeshivah, Harav Shmuel Kamenetsky, where an American flag was proudly displayed outside his home. I must admit that it seemed odd in 5776, but upon reflection I realized that this is the Torah mesorah. Respect for authority leads to respect of the Ultimate Authority, Hashem. Disrespect of authority leads to disrespect of everything that we hold dear.

I would hope that the presidential candidates, after they are formally nominated, will raise the level of their debate. However, if they do not, I think it is obligatory that our mechanchim and Rabbanim, as well as our Jewish media, realize how devastating this could be to the chinuch of our children and intensify lessons about kvod habriyos and kvod malchus.


The author can be reached at rabbisbloom@gmail.com