One thousand years after the psalmists sang those words, Rabbi Hananiah spoke these words: pray for the welfare of the governments, for if people did not defer to its power, they would swallow each other alive.
In our day and age, we have a tendency to view government with suspicion, but it has long been the mandate of Judaism to emphasize the goodness of government. And by that I mean that Judaism recognizes that government is a good thing, and it also recognizes that government must exist for the sake of the good. And so Rabbi Hananieh’s teaching comes to emphasize that two-way mandate. We must offer prayers, and not just our prayers, but our efforts to keep government vital and effective. We need an effective government to prevent human beings from being swallowed alive – swallowed alive not just by interpersonal conflict, but by the private institutions and public policies that are more interested in profit and power than in promoting the general welfare.
And we need a commitment to the general welfare that pervades the government so that it will continue to be proudly of the people, by the people and for the people. Upon meeting a head of state, a monarch, prime minister or president, a Jew is to recite a blessing: yours is the power, Lord our God is sovereign of the universe to have given of your glory to mere flesh and blood. What is the nature of the glory shared by the holy one with a man or woman who stands at the head of the government for which we pray? Look no further than the scripture that you just heard – Psalm 146. The Lord releases the bound, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord raises those bowed low, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord protects the stranger and supports the widow and the orphan.
That is the nature of one nation truly under God, a nation apportioned the glory of the Lord; the nation, the government, the head of state that cares for the least among us as surely as for the most privileged; the child without vote or assets as surely as the CEO. That is the nature of the nation that offered this reason to ordain and establish its very good government with these words in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.
And what are the blessings of liberty? You heard them in Psalm 146. And who are our posterity? Of course, they are our children. And who is responsible for ordaining and establishing this good government? We, the people. We, the people. That is you, my friend – you and I and every citizen of this great nation. Now get out there next Tuesday and fulfill that sacred duty to ourselves and our posterity. Pray for the welfare of the government and make that prayer your vote.