Chayei Sarah: King or President? Messenger or Broker?



Note: This sermon – which addresses how we see ourselves and our leaders – is relevant to Rabbis anywhere in the world, even those uninterested in the US presidential election. It uses the election as an example, but you can easily omit those references.

While we’ll leave it to others to analyze the implications of this week’s bruising presidential election, let us address a bigger question: What is the role of a president: Is he a messenger of the people or is he a broker? Can he have his own agenda or is he solely representative of his constituents?

The same question can be asked of each of us: What drives our lives – self interest or a higher calling? Do you see yourself as a messenger on a mission, or a broker, or none of the above?

With President Obama being re-elected, in a very close and hard fought race – demonstrating how this country is split almost evenly; and with the challenges that we face in this highly volatile world, there are some fascinating lessons to be learned from this week’s Torah portion about the role and responsibility of our chosen representatives – the president and other elected officials, as well as our own personal obligations.

The unique and unprecedented role of an American president is that he has no power of his own. The first president, George Washington, refused being called “king,” so as not to give the wrong impression and open the door to the potential abuse of his position, so painfully experienced under monarchs of old. Therefore, with President Obama again at the helm we wonder: What type of leader will the president be this time around? Will he represent our needs and goals without self-interest, or having a freer hand now, will he bend his position of power to his own purpose? Will he be a dedicated emissary or a broker?

In this sermon, we examine the first messenger ever sent – which is documented in this week’s Torah reading – when Abraham sent his servant Eliezer on a mission that would shape the course of history. Was Eliezer a faithful messenger, a shliach, totally dedicated to the cause, or a shadchan, a matchmaker with his own agenda?


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