In ancient Israel, there was no distinction between politics and religion. There was no wall of separation between “church” and state.
When biblical kings began their reign, they were anointed with oil, expressing the belief that they were divinely chosen by God. This week’s parasha informs us that a king always should have “a copy of the Torah remaining with him so he could learn to revere Adonai, faithfully fulfilling its teachings” (Deut. 17.18-19).
Here in the United States, we are familiar with the custom that when the president is sworn into office, he places his hand on a Bible and recites an oath. We consider it an act of solemnity for the most powerful person on earth to swear to uphold the Constitution by symbolically resting his hand upon a higher power. The presidential oath itself concludes with the words, “so help me God.”
We find it reassuring for the president to publicly express faith in the Divine. Such a proclamation asserts that the president retains a measure of humility. He recognizes that there is a power in the universe greater than he and is ready to rely upon that source for comfort and guidance.
Yet many of us would be discomforted if the president was overtly religious, invoking his faith at every opportunity or mentioning his personal savior at every turn. We want our presidents to be men of faith (God willing, some day, we will also have women of faith), while also representing the entirety of the nation, with our multitudes of people and great variety of religious traditions.