From the nature of the election campaign to last Friday’s inauguration ceremony, everything we have seen so far about President Donald J. Trump seems unique in American political history.
The counter-protests over the weekend speak of a nervous world: nervous of the divisions in society and nervous about how Trump the president will manifest relative to Trump the businessman or Trump the celebrity.
Of course, transitional periods have always been fragile, from contemporary politics to ancient times.
King David’s early career was marked out by a protracted and dangerous transition from the rule of King Saul. Appointed the first king by the Prophet Samuel, Saul was charismatic – able to inspire fear in the enemy and courage in his followers.
Yet his reign was also marked by a psychological fragility that meant his highs were out of control and in his lows his humility gave rise to manipulation.
David – shepherd boy, brave warrior and then favoured courtier – had to spend years slowly growing his grassroots support, while avoiding provoking the ire of Saul, and, eventually, escaping threats on his life.
At the end of King David’s life, we too see the dangers of transition. On his deathbed, his wife Bat Sheva massages Solomon’s ascent to the throne, despite David’s other son, Adoniyah, declaring himself king.
The Talmud (Horiyot 12a) makes what seem to be a couple of curious observations about the coronation of kings: they were to be anointed by a spring, so their kingship will last.
Saul was “not coronated from the jug, therefore his kingship did not last; David was coronated from the jug, and therefore it did”. This jug contained the Shemen Hamishcha – the holy anointing oil, initially crafted by Moses to anoint the articles in the Tabernacle, and preserved for generations.
The jug of oil connected the kings to their illustrious past. Kings are links in a chain, bearing the absolute weight of everything that came before and, with it, a sense of humility and reverence.
At the same time, they are to be fresh and flowing like springs with new ideas.
υ Garry is the former assistant rabbi at Woodside Park United Synagogue