Corruption Begins at Home
Only here are three prime ministers
investigated and don’t cooperate.
Only here do I feel belonging,
Even though I’m angry about the corruption.
רק פה שלושה ראשי ממשלה נחקרים
ולא משתפים פעולה
רק פה אני מרגיש שייכות
למרות שאני כועס על השחיתות
—From “Only Here” (“Rak Poh”) by Hadag Nahash
In the first verses of this week’s parashah, the children of Israel are instructed to pursue justice and are warned against taking bribes and making biased legal judgments. These directions are closely followed by an injunction to limit the wealth, spouses, and possessions of a hypothetical future Israelite king. These admonitions constitute an explicit acknowledgment that, however idyllic the dream of an independent and sovereign political community might seem, it must by definition be run by humans, even the most noble of whom are vulnerable to the temptations of power.
The Israeli band Hadag Nahash touches on this same theme in the quote above from their song “Only Here,” which reflects frustration with corruption in the Israeli government—referring specifically to the investigation of three Israeli prime ministers on suspicion of corruption (at least two more Israeli prime ministers have faced allegations of corruption or bribery since this song was released in 2004). The Zionist movement, along with other national movements, has had to face the post-independence challenges of providing transparent government and equal opportunity for all citizens, and not just for the wealthy or those affiliated with political factions that spearheaded independence.
By warning against bribe-taking, partiality in public institutions, and self-aggrandizement by political leaders, Shofetim, like Hadag Nahash, reminds us that national sovereignty is not an end in itself, but rather a means to creating a just and fair society for the people who constitute the nation.