We love and hate them. Admire and scorn them. We trust in them and believe their promises, as we watch them being led handcuffed and humiliated. Who is worthy of leading? What motivates people to become leaders? Is it an inner feeling of justice and an ability to see the truth which guides them? Or rather, is it a disappointing and manipulative desire for self-glorification and abuse of one’s position at the expense of the masses?
From where does this deep inherent need for a leader emanate? Does it cater to inner yearnings similar to love? Or is it the psychological need of the individual and the collective for a good parent and primary father as a source of support, encouragement and a sense of physical and emotional security in times of regression and distress?
Is it in our power to prevent immoral behavior of leaders and governments? The exhibition AND THE TREES WENT FORTH TO SEEK A KING, critically examines the complex inter-relationship between leaders and their subjects. The name of the exhibition is derived from the opening phrase of "Jotham’s parable" (Judges: 9), the first anarchistic manifest in the Bible, and one of the earliest texts describing human nature’s search for a leader.
"The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us. But the olive tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honor God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?
And the trees said to the fig tree, Come thou, and reign over us.
But the fig tree said unto them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees?
Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, and reign over us.
And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?
Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, and reign over us.
And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow; and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.
The underlying intention of the bramble, the only tree which accepted the offer to reign, is quickly revealed. The fruit trees all declined because they already felt fulfilled by their significant contribution to society. Even before his official anointment, the bramble warns those who only a while ago elected him as king, that whoever disobeys him - the mighty cedars of Lebanon included – will be devoured by fire coming out of his thorns.
David Ben-Gurion was quoted as saying that he didn’t know what the people wanted, but he surely knew what they needed. Indeed, we long for a leadership that can discern the needs of the people. A spiritual leadership, motivated by a true sense of mission, a leadership that admonishes, warns and alerts, that lights the way through personal dedication to the notion of justice, freedom and peace in Israel and the nations. A leadership akin to the list of leaders mentioned by Prof. Eliezer Schweid in his book "Prophets for their People"1 , who had a significant impact on the formation of the nation and the generations of their time; a leadership which espouses the prophetic code of Moses and the Prophets of Israel, whose essence was to bring the truth to their people and to universal mankind; a leadership which rose at the time of the crisis of humanism in the first half of the 20th century, in the wake of a grave threat to the Jewish People and to Judaism.
The exhibition coincides with a time of crisis in the local and global leadership; since the outburst of the Arab spring, a bloody war is being waged in the Middle East over the shape of the ruling authorities. In Europe and in Israel leaders are being tried in court and in the Far East horrendous crimes are being committed to ensure and safeguard the existing leadership. In these times of confusion, due to the lack of morality and clear ethical codes of a leadership detached from its people, we face the danger of losing faith in the institutions of power.
1 E. Schweid, Prophets for their People: Prophecy and Prophets in Jewish Thought of the 20th Century (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1999).