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Yacov Fruchter on Parashat Mishpatim

U.S. President Donald Trump. (FLICKR photo)

Just a week ago, as I was driving carpool, the radio host mentioned the name “President Trump,” and in unison, a group of four, five and seven year olds shouted “boooooo,” as if we were reading the Purim megillah.

I laughed and asked them why they reacted that way, which led to a complex discussion about whether U.S. President Donald Trump is good or bad. To be sure, it was a funny and challenging conversation, as I was trying to be nuanced and differentiate between action, beliefs and the person himself. But really, they just wanted to know if I thought he was a bad person and if I would be willing to boo along with them.

The reality is that most people would either boo along with these kids, or admonish them and defend Trump’s honour (and likely cite his commitment to Israel).

Parashat Mishpatim deals extensively with the topic of honouring God, parents, leaders and royalty, and forbids us from cursing them. Exodus 22:27 reads: “You shall not curse God or a judge, nor may you curse a leader of your people.” The Lubavitcher rebbe argues that this includes appointed or elected government officials.

The word for “leader” used in the Torah is “nassi,” which is also the Hebrew word for president. If we have this law, then how do we function in a society in which political debate is encouraged and criticizing political leaders is the norm? Well, there are other commandments that remind us of our responsibility to not stand idly by, as well as to speak the truth and pursue justice.

There is a discussion in the Talmud, in which the rabbis explain that a wicked ruler may be cursed, so depending on your view of Trump, perhaps booing him would be permitted.

Yet, as a parent, I’m still considering how to best encourage critical thinking and using our voices for good, while refraining from having our discourse descend to the realm of the horrific comments often found below online newspaper articles.

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