Is the Supreme Court an example of democracy in action? That’s not meant to be flippant; the recent slate of decisions handed down from our highest court prompts me to ask: Does the fact that one person is in charge of Supreme Court Justice appointments make the Court less democratic by nature? I think there are arguments for both sides. For example, you could say that because our president is elected through a democratic process, the Supreme Court is (indirectly) representative of the people, at least at a certain period in time. On the other hand, if a president loses the popular vote, meaning that the president’s party views may not necessarily represent the majority, does that contradict this idea?
Unanimity is rarely achieved in any setting where different opinions are represented. One side is almost always going to be the minority. Yet, putting the SCOTUS appointment process aside for a moment, even when there are “winners” and “losers,” there’s still something reassuring about being part of a greater deciding body. Making decisions on your own, in a silo, can feel like a pretty heavy burden to bear, while group decision-making provides support, reassurance, and safety in numbers. This is actually echoed in the Torah we read this week.
In our parshah this week we read the final sections of text from the fourth book of the Torah, Bamidbar. Parshiyot Matot and Masei begin with a discussion of the different vows Israelites might make, and then they detail the requests of the various tribes as they get ready to enter the Promised Land. The chapters end with the final placements of all the tribes as they prepare to divide their land inheritance.
As the land appointments are given out, there is a noticeable shift in verb forms. While so many of the instructions are given in the singular, at this moment, chapter 34, verse 18 switches to the plural: “And y’all shall take . . .” The word tikchu is second person plural. Who are “y’all” in this case? Up until now, this has been about one tribe or the other, so the sages say that this refers to both Eleazar and Joshua, a team who oversees this land distribution.
Governance is critically important, and it’s not a solo task. At the end of this turning point in the Torah, the text reminds us of the power of being in it together. Decisions are best made not in isolation, but rather in partnership, in which we can discuss the impacts and the future that will come from them. Eleazar was a priest, while Joshua was a different kind of leader, and together, their combined expertise offered the best outcome. That’s the lesson of community.