Today is February 20, 2020 -
The prophet Habakkuk states [1:14]: ותעשה אדם כדגי הים כרמש לא משל בו – Va-ta’aseh adam ki-d’gei ha-yam ke-remes lo mosheil bo – “You have made man like the fish of the sea, like creeping things without a ruler.” The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 3) asks how are human beings like the fish of the sea? To which it offers three answers:
It is because of this third interpretation that we recite a prayer for our country during the Torah service and we display an American flag on our bimah.
Thus we see that a primary function of government is to protect the weaker in our society from the stronger. While accepting that the natural order is for there to be individuals with greater power than others, it also suggests that government needs to provide a corrective to those who would take undue advantage over the less powerful. It is the powerful – anyone who is in a position to take advantage of others – who need to fear the government, not the weak. It is the powerful who need to be constantly reminded that, just because they can do something that may adversely affect others, does not mean that they should. Just because a company can charge whatever they want for a product doesn’t mean that they should – if it means that weak will suffer.
It isn’t, of course, all or nothing. Governmental over-control in society can be just as damaging as under-control. But most frightening to our tradition is when we are life the fish of the sea, like creeping things without a ruler: when there is no government, there is anarchy – and then, truly, people would devour each other alive.