The institution of government is the foundation of any civilization. The Torah commands us to establish governments, and hence there is a mitzvah to create a monarchy. It is true that the era between the leadership of Yehoshua and the end of the period of the Shoftim was defined by a decentralized model of self-government. However, this was only possible due to the extraordinary spiritual level that characterized those generations. Their degree of subservience to the yoke of malchus Shamayim rendered conventional government unnecessary. From that time on, however, without the presence and power of an established authority, anarchy and chaos would reign.
It is for this reason that Chazal instruct us that “dina d’malchusa dina.” We are obligated to obey the law of the land in all matters pertaining to the preservation of an orderly and just society. The concept of democracy, that the authority to govern should be assigned by the people, is the norm accepted by Chazal as well. How else could we classify the “shivah tovei ha’ir,” the seven people chosen to lead the community? It is a model in which those in power rule in a manner acceptable to the people who collectively chose them.
Yet, one of the most essential elements of government is one that is largely overlooked, especially by avid followers of politics. This is what Shlomo Hamelech articulated and prayed for: “lev hamelech b’yad Hashem,” that the heart of the king is in the hand of the Creator.
This concept, though, is not a contradiction to the fundamental principle of free choice. It means that on matters of government, the king is the one that Hashem leaves with the least option for choice. His “heart,” his predisposition to decide matters of government one way or the other, is totally under the control of Hashem and His Divine providence.
As such, participating in the political process is not simply in the hope that our choice will tip the scales for the candidate who may best serve our interests and those of our community. Rather, it is our way of turning to Hashem that He should guide us in the way that He wishes our nation to be led.
When voters place their ballots in the box, they hope the result of their efforts will be a leader and a government that represent their values and worldviews. In accordance with these feelings, Hashem manipulates the hearts of our leaders to govern in a way that reflects this phenomenon.
But there is yet another facet of the complexity of the heart of kings. The Rambam points out that the heart of the king is that of the people. Although the Rambam mentions it concerning a Melech Yisrael, a Jewish king who is appointed by Divine grace, the commentaries explain that it is also true for a leader like Pharaoh. It is a concept that works in both directions. Leaders, indeed, maintain a strong position of influence on public opinion, but this in itself reflects the attitudes of those they rule over.
Our responsibility to vote goes far beyond our efforts to put whom we see as the right person in the right position. It is also far more complex than ensuring that our leaders see high turnout from our community and take note of our values. Most importantly, our ballots are counted in Shamayim. The intentions with which we cast our votes are entered in the Heavenly register that determines how the lev hamelech will ultimately be guided.
The past eight years have turned into a watershed in regard to the deterioration of mainstream attitudes of Americans over moral issues, belief systems, the basic concepts of right and wrong, and anything of spiritual value. This cannot be blamed solely on the leaders, but also on the thoughts and aspirations of those who chose them.
Klal Yisrael, of course, worries for the safety of those who live in Eretz Yisrael, and weighs these concerns carefully when deciding who to cast our votes for. Yet, at the same time, we must realize that the root of the physical security of Jews everywhere is bound tightly to value systems that we choose to perpetuate the spiritual safety of our own society.
Klal Yisrael is a small nation among the peoples of the world. The heart too, is a small organ, but a most vital one. While our demographics may limit our influence on the outcome of elections with hundreds of millions of participants, our votes could chart a constructive course in Shamayim.
Hashem should protect us from any ill and guide us to choose in accordance with His will.