Seek the welfare of the city...and pray to
G-d for it, for in its peace, you shall have peace -- Jeremiah,
The role of government is to balance communal
and individual good. This is only possible when society is
governed by the principles of morality and justice, law and
order, under one G-d -- The Rebbe
Over the centuries, the human race has experimented with
many forms of government. Imperialist monarchies and despotism
once ruled the world, giving way to such political and economic
extremes as fascism and democracy, Marxism and capitalism. The
twentieth century has been a particularly turbulent one. After
two World Wars and the rise - and unexpected fall - of communism,
we now have the luxury of hindsight to assess and learn from
these various systems.
In each case, mankind continues to be plagued by the same
basic conflict: individual rights versus the greater good
of the community. The role of government is to strike a balance
between the two, and yet no political system has been able
to perfect this balance.
Human beings are naturally diverse in their beliefs and ambitions. Such
differences often produce conflict between individuals and
throughout society. Suppressing this diversity would infringe
on individual liberties, and is therefore unacceptable; and
yet allowing every person unbridled freedom is also unacceptable,
for each person would then be free to do as he chose, including
harming another person or society.
Most governments have reacted to this paradox by opting for
one extreme or the other. Totalitarianism argues for the good
of the whole at the expense of the individual; it believes
that the individual is inherently selfish, and that his needs
will ultimately fragment a nation and undermine the common
good. Ironically, it is under such regimes that individuals
-- that is, dictators -- assume unprecedented powers. We need
no reminder of the untold misery that this form of government,
in most cases, has caused the human race.
Democracy, on the other hand, nurtures the very individualism
that totalitarianism squelches; it declares that all men were
created equal and possess the right to pursue their beliefs
without hindrance. Democracy contends that it is better to
have motivated free people and risk excessive self-interest
than to destroy their drive by suppressing individualism for
the common good.
Democracy would appear to be a far superior form of government
than totalitarianism. But democracy contains an inherent flaw,
in that its essential motivating factor is self-interest.
Over time, the core values of a community can begin to crumble
under the accumulated weight of millions of individual desires
and needs. Ultimately, these conflicting interests can erode
a societys unified drive for meaningful achievement. Several
democracies have struggled mightily with this dilemma, perhaps
none more than the United States, the largest democracy in
the history of the world. Consider the current battle in dozens
of American cities where individuals freedom of expression
have come in conflict with community standards of morality.
Since people are bound to have vastly different beliefs,
who should define the standards of morality and justice that
must rule all the people? At what point does a government
intervene to keep an individual from harming himself or others? How
do we avoid the abuse of power by government leaders?
The only government that can successfully balance individual
and societal needs is a righteous government built
on faith in G-d. The underlying flaw of all governments, whether
fascistic or democratic, is that they are based on human
rules. Any government built on human judgment is bound
to revolve around the prejudice, subjectivity, and arbitrariness
of individual humans or groups. But
G-d, who created all people equal, also gave them a system
of absolute morality and justice.
A society that yearns to be righteous must be built on such
ethical values.The very foundation of civilization rests upon
the basic principles known as the Seven Noahide laws given
1. Belief in G-d.
2. Respect for and praise of G-d.
3. Respect for human life.
4. Respect for the family.
5. Respect for others rights and property.
6. Creation of a judicial system.
7. Respect for all creatures.
Without these laws as a bedrock of government, a society
will either have despotism, where individuals lives
are compromised and possibly abused, or anarchy, where every
person pursues his or her own needs without regard for the
So how is it possible to balance individual freedom with
the good of society? By looking beyond self-interest and
recognizing that we are all part of the same family and community;
by recognizing that we are all bound by the same divine laws
and entrusted with the same mission in life - to civilize
the world in a meaningful and G-dly way.
What steps should government take to ensure the welfare
of its citizens?
The key to balancing individual and communal needs is education.
For a government to be truly dedicated to the welfare of its
citizens their physical, emotional, and, above all,
spiritual welfare it must make education its primary
objective without which all the other points are moot. A government
and its leaders not only must teach citizens how to pursue
rational solutions to complex problems but must teach them
how to live. It must educate them that human conduct
must follow the divine laws given to us all by G-d. This is
the only guarantee that individual rights will be preserved
without compromising the common good.
The United States epitomizes these principles. This is a
country, after all, whose founders declared it one nation
under G-d. Sessions of Congress are opened with a religious
invocation; the Bible is used to swear in elected officials,
and chaplains are appointed in the armed forces. Even this
nations currency - the very icon of materialism - declares
In G-d We Trust.
The majority of this countrys early settlers were religious
refugees who firmly believed in G-d and the Bible, and were
determined to protect their right to do so. This was not an
abstract belief in a supreme being who dwelt somewhere in
heaven; it was a belief that permeated every aspect of their
lives, particularly the education of their children. They
appreciated and understood this newfound religious freedom.
These core beliefs are the secret of the nations endurance.
Having built itself on a firm and permanent foundation, the
United States has become the most powerful of nations, in
a unique position to positively influence every inhabitant
on the face of the earth.
And yet we are currently witnessing a sad phenomenon. The
spirit of the Constitution has been misinterpreted, with some
parties taking religious freedom to mean freedom
from religion. Even a non-denominational moment
of silence in schools has been opposed.
When the founding fathers included freedom of religion
in the Bill of Rights, they were ensuring the freedom of every
man to worship G-d according to his own conscience; there
can be no doubt that the Constitution was meant to preserve
religious freedom, not to wean the nation away from G-d.
The principle of separation of church and state should not
be misconstrued as a denial of G-d and religion. This separation
is necessary so that government cannot impose any one
religion on all its citizens; but such vigilance must not
be carried out at the expense of the belief in G-d, which
is shared by all denominations.
The United States is now faced with countless social disorders,
many of which stem from the lack of belief in G-d and a corresponding
lapse in respect for the divine laws of morality. Shouldnt
the Constitution be interpreted in a way that addresses
this national crisis instead of avoiding it?
The only way to ensure that people adhere to a moral order
is to instill in them a permanent sense of values. Punishing
a person after he has committed a crime, for instance, is
not attacking the cause of the problem, but its symptom. Clearly,
a child who is brought up without the fear and respect for
G-d in his heart will have no fear or respect for any authority
- his parents, his teachers, the police. He must learn to
accept the concept of a divine moral code that we all must
obey. He must realize that the laws of man are rooted in something
far more eternal: the Ten Commandments.
We must use every opportunity to cultivate this awareness.The
moment of silence at the beginning of each school day is a
good example. By no means is this a violation of the separation
of church and state, for the child can use the moment however
he or she wishes. But by encouraging this moment, we are telling
the child that believing in a higher being is fundamental
to all education, that knowledge per se is worthless without
knowing how to use it for the good of society at large.
After all, there is another motto on U.S. currency besides
In G-d We Trust; it is E Pluribus Unum,
or Out of many, one. We must never allow our government
to forget that every community is inherently made up of many
individuals, and each individual should be encouraged to participate
and contribute his individual strengths toward the greater
good of the united community.
This is an excerpt from Toward a Meaningful Life
The Wisdom of the Rebbe by Rabbi Simon Jacobson. Available
at our Online
 Maimonides, Code of Law, Laws of Kings 8:10-11