Our tradition seems to have mixed feelings about monarchs. When the Israelites first approached the prophet Samuel about the possibility of a king, Samuel responded negatively. In First Samuel 8:7, the text tells us that this notion was evil in Samuel’s eyes. Nonetheless, after consulting with God, he conceded to their wishes.
We ultimately learn that Samuel secretly anointed Saul as the first King of Israel. Saul was described as tall and handsome. He was also a successful military leader.
His successor as King of Israel, David, was even more popular. One of the first Hebrew songs that many of us learned was “David Melech Yisrael – David the King of Israel,” with the accompanying hand motions. David’s son Solomon was renowned for his wisdom.
However, after the death of Solomon, the kingdom was split into two separate kingdoms. The inability to reconcile ultimately led to the fall of Jerusalem and the First Temple.
After the destruction of the Second Temple at the hands of the Romans, Pirkei Avot records the following words in the name of Rabban Gamliel: “Be careful about the government, as they approach a man only when they need him. They seem like good friends in good times, but they don’t stay for him in time of his trouble (Avot 2:2).”
Still, over the centuries, Jews have offered up prayers for Kings, Queens, Emperors and even Tsars. Our ancestors have always understood that when the country in which we live prospers, so do the Jews. So even though the concept of a royal family is a foreign one to most American Jews, British Jews have typically spoken very positively about Queen Elizabeth during her 70 years as titular head of the British government.
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks whose official title was Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, wrote often about the Queen’s ability to bring together people of different faiths. He said that her “greatness speaks across ethnic and religious divides… her contribution to British society is immeasurable and the respect she has shown for all religions has enriched our lives.”
We could certainly use a little bit more of that in the world. May the memory of Queen Elizabeth be a blessing.