Eikev: Celebrating the Birth of a Prince
Okay, I admit it. I am not overjoyed by the announcement of the birth of the future heir of the British throne. I do wish the new mum and dad all the best with their spanking new lad, but I don't join other Americans in finding this royal moment intoxicating. The romance of royalty and the pageantry of it all are not for me. Sorry.
As an American, I am a firm republican (that's with a decidedly lower-case "r") and find the whole institution of royalty and its privileges a bit grotesque. Even the quaint anachronism just seems silly to me. It belongs in the world of make-believe, like at a Renaissance festival. (Now, those are fun!) To take it all so seriously, though,…well it's not my cup of four o'clock tea and crumpets.
I sense, though, that it is not just good old American anti-monarchist values that account for my feelings about the royal birth. I think there is also something Jewish about the way I view these things. First of all, let's remember that Jews have not always had great experiences with the monarchs of the lands in which we have lived. Edward I expelled us from England. Ferdinand and Isabella threw us out of Spain. Don't even get me started with the Tzar.
But there is another Jewish truth at work here. Judaism is, at its core, skeptical of the entire notion that any group of people have the right to unearned privilege based on birth. In this week's Torah portion (Eikev), Moses chided the Israelites from ever believing that they deserved the wealth to which they were born, or even the wealth they accumulated in life. Moses mocked them and warned them against ever saying to themselves, "It is my power and the might of my hand that have won this wealth for me!" (Deuteronomy 8:17).
To be a Jew is to know that whatever you have is yours only because God has provided it for you. Everyone who comes into this world comes only because of an incalculably valuable gift that has been given to us without our deserving. Whatever wealth we create is just interest earned off of that gift. It is the height of arrogance for any human being to congratulate his or herself for anything achieved, gained or created in life. All of what we have is due to a power beyond ourselves. No one - not a prince, queen or king - can make a greater claim of deserving than anyone else.
I have heard wonderful stories, as you have, about members of royalty who have proven their nobility by recognizing this truth. We are moved by the king who proves through his actions that he understands deeply the obligation of the ruler to serve his people. However, Jewish tradition teaches that we all have the same potential for that nobility. The Torah calls us an Am Segulah, "A Treasured People," and a Mamlechet Kohanim, "A Kingdom of Priests," to make this point. We are all princes and princesses who can achieve our highest nobility through acts of the greatest humility.
And here is another teaching from this week's Torah portion about the birth of princes. Moses reminds us of the sign of the covenant between God and Israel - the circumcision that Jewish men wear upon the organ that connects one generation to the next. Moses compares the cutting of the foreskin to the cutting of the "the thickening around your hearts" (Deuteronomy 10:16). To be in covenant with God means the rejection of power and privilege. It means "to do justice for the orphan and widow, and love the stranger, giving him bread and clothes" (Deuteronomy 10:18). Jews come into this world - not with pomp and circumstance - but with a reminder of our duty to identify with the lowly.
So, bully and huzzah for new Prince What's-His-Name! Long may the studs on his starched collar shine! If it pleases you to kvell at his birth, let it be as a reminder that you, too, dear Jew, are a prince or a princess. You have the honor of being a servant of the Most High!
Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser is the rabbi of Temple Beit HaYam in Stuart, FL.
Originally published at Reb Jeff