Thursday, December 8th 2022   |

Two Queens: Torah and the Constitution


A historical test for our readers:  In the cluttered library of history, what are the two most significant documents that have guided us politically, morally, culturally?  Without too much thought I would  write clearly and crisply in my answer book, The United States
Constitution and the Five Books of Moses.  There’s not much room for  argument.  What are the alternatives?  The Magna Carta?  Shakespeare’s  plays?  Maybe Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  No, it’s beyond discussion the U.S. Constitution and the Humash.

The other day in my continual quest for knowledge – after digesting the analyses of the NFL playoffs – I spied, laying on our coffee table, the Constitution.  I mean the Constitution of the United States of America.  What was it doing on our coffee table?  A disorderly mind always leads to a disorderly coffee table.  I once found a half
consumed pastrami sandwich complete with pickle, tomato, and mustard laying on the coffee table.  The leftovers of some long ago meal. Half-read books, two month old mail, ten-pound dictionaries, keys that fit nothing I own are other relics that live on that table.  But the constitution caught my eye.  I hadn’t read it for years.  And so I did.

My first reaction was a commonplace one – not that the Constitution wasn’t a political thunderbolt – but that, quite predictably, it dealt with the problems of the day.  Problems that impinged on the lives of Americans of the late 18th Century.  For example, when you first look at the first ten amendments – that we call the Bill of Rights – besides freedom of the Press and the right to bear arms –threatened by the hand of King George III – there’s Amendment III – a burning issue of the day:  A ban on involuntarily quartering troops in your bedroom.  Then, a problem – today, almost a cartoon.

British officer:  “Good Morning, Mr. Citizen. I want you to meet Redcoat George Jones, who strangled his wife, and his Sergeant, Robert Hawkins – he broke a couple heads in a barroom brawl last night.  They’ll stay with you for the next six months.  George likes pancakes for breakfast and a dollup of rum in his tea.  Robert prefers a light breakfast and a hearty, beefy supper.  Good luck.”

The obvious conclusion:  Our founders naturally addressed freedoms that were issues of their day.  Not exactly surprising.  It did NOT deal with issues over their current horizon of time.  Slavery, Internet freedom, abortion.  So-called “Big Government”.  Though it
does say, “The powers not delegated to the U.S. by the Constitution nor prohibited by it to the states are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people”.

Somehow that sentence jumped out at me.  This was a document written long ago, which was intended to civilize our behavior.  It was a primer both in independence and morality.  And quite naturally, its authors were concerned with current behavior – not conflicts and
conundrums that in some cases were no longer the talk of the town.  Quartering troops?  An arms-bearing militia?  Yes, current issues.  In short, it dealt with the freedoms under fire in the late 18th Century.  Naturally, we have modernized it (some would say “weakened” it) with amendments, legislative, and judicial action. As I wrote that last phrase, a light switches on in my dim brain.   Hey, it’s just like the Torah.  The Constitution, except for its origin, is perfectly analogous to our Torah, a divine document even more sanctified, of course, than the one written by the Founding Fathers.  But they both brought moral enlightenment to a wayward world.  Both revolutionary.  And they both face the same problems of  currency.  We no longer have to worry about an autocrat quartering troops in our guest bedroom and likewise we never have to worry about  our muzzled ox getting his share of the grain he is grinding.  But still, today’s moral questions over the centuries of 3 millennia are the descendants of Torah Law, proving that mankind – despite aircraft, computers, Ipods, and other bric-a-brac – has changed little.  And the
same is true of his cultural, moral choices.

Granted that both the Constitution and Torah still have a vivid relevance to the restraint that we call civilization – how have we adapted them to the brave, new world we live in?  The Constitution, via judicial techniques – the Torah, through our Talmud or what manwould choose to call the Oral Law.  We, with a delicate combination of
zeal and caution, try to tame the times of these two epochal codes.  But still they are two covenants; one between man and government and the other between man and G-d.  And the same problem of modernity applies.  Two queens aging, but still beautiful, still reigning.

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