Rabbi Meir would say: Whoever studies Torah for Torah's sake alone, merits many things.... From him, people enjoy counsel and wisdom, understanding and power.... The Torah grants him kingship, dominion, and jurisprudence....

Ethics of the Fathers,6:1


Much debate and polemic have been expended on the issue of ``the separation of powers'': how much power can "safely" be vested in a single individual or institution? In particular, much has been said, written and litigated on the relationship between religion and state. Should religious authorities be allowed to govern or judge, or, for that matter, be allowed any venue of political influence at all?

To the Jew who regards the Torah as G‑d's blueprint for creation, Torah is the ultimate authority in all areas of life. Yet should the role of Torah scholar be coupled with that of political ruler? Should those qualified to teach the Torah and interpret its laws also be the ones to formulate traffic regulations, levy taxes, punish criminals and manage the economy?

Decline of the Generations, and a look to the Future

The first chapter of the Ethics summarizes the "chain of tradition," the succession of leaders in whose hands lay the supreme authority for interpreting Torah and transmitting it to the next generation:

"Moses received the Torah at Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua, Joshua [transmitted it] to the elders, the elders to the prophets, and the prophets to the men of the Great Assembly.... Shimon the Just was the surviving member of the Great assembly.... Antignos of Socho received the tradition from Shimon the Just.... Yose the son of Yoezer of Tzreidah and Yose the son of Yochanan of Jerusalem received the tradition from them.... Joshua the son of Prachia and Nitai of Arbel received the tradition from them...."

An examination of the roles of these Torah leaders reveals a progressive fragmentation of authority. Moses, aside from his role as teacher of Torah, was also king, general, judge and provider to the Jewish people: he reigned over them (Deuteronomy 33:5), led them in battle (Deuteronomy 3), mediated their petty disputes (Exodus 18), and provided them with food, water and shelter during their 40-year sojourn in the Sinai desert (Exodus 15-16, Numbers 11:11-13 and 20:11 ). Joshua, who was the next link in the chain of Torah's transmission, was likewise both teacher and king, both spiritual master and military commander-in-chief. The same was true of the "Judges" who governed Israel following Joshua, and of King David.

But, in later generations, we find a division of roles to be the norm: the prophet as the leading moral authority and the king as manager of the nation's material affairs. Furthermore, following the era of the Great Assembly (4th century B.C.E.) we find a "separation of powers" existing within the Torah leadership itself: each generation had a pair of spiritual authorities - the Nassi and the Av Bet-Din.

Which is the Torah's ideal? The entire history of humanity is a prelude to the era of Moshiach, the result of close to six millennia of man's developing and bringing to light the inherent goodness and perfection of his world. The world of Moshiach is a world free of hate, jealousy and suffering, a world suffused with wisdom, a world in harmony with itself and its Creator. And what model of leadership does the Torah envision for this perfect world? Moshiach, the world leader who will herald and preside over this climatic era, is described as both teacher and king, a paragon of spiritual and material leadership in one.

So the example of Moses represents the Torah's concept of the perfect leader. For Moses embodied the ultimate criterion for leadership: an utter self-effacement and a complete absence of self-interest. As the Torah attests: "And the man, Moses, was the most humble man on the face of the earth." In such a man, absolute authority only ensures the optimum integration and harmony between all areas of communal life. For it is not power that corrupts, but the ego of the powerful. Only in lesser generations, whose leaders' selflessness is not on the level exemplified by Moses, is it necessary for authority to be fragmented and shared.

But the halving of life into ``spiritual'' and ``material'' spheres, its compartmentalization into ``moral'' and ``political'' domains, is an artificial one. Life, in its entirety, is a single endeavor: the development of the perfect world that G‑d envisioned at creation and outlined in the Torah. The many ``areas'' of life are but the many facets to its singular essence.