Weekly Parasha: Shoftim, Devarim 16:18-21:9
Posted by Henric C. Jensen on August 17, 2007
Focal Point Devarim 17:14-20
14. When you come to the land the Lord, your God, is giving you, and you possess it and live therein, and you say, “I will set a king over myself, like all the nations around me,”
15. you shall set a king over you, one whom the Lord, your God, chooses; from among your brothers, you shall set a king over yourself; you shall not appoint a foreigner over yourself, one who is not your brother.
16. Only, he may not acquire many horses for himself, so that he will not bring the people back to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, for the Lord said to you, “You shall not return that way any more.”
17. And he shall not take many wives for himself, and his heart must not turn away, and he shall not acquire much silver and gold for himself.
18. And it will be, when he sits upon his royal throne, that he shall write for himself two copies of this Torah on a scroll from [that Torah which is] before the Levitic kohanim.
19. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear the Lord, his God, to keep all the words of this Torah and these statutes, to perform them,
20. so that his heart will not be haughty over his brothers, and so that he will not turn away from the commandment, either to the right or to the left, in order that he may prolong [his] days in his kingdom, he and his sons, among Israel.
This text is about Leadership – the Leadership of Israel, and what G-d expects of it. Earlier in this Parasha we find Dev 16:20 “Justice, justice shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.” which clearly envisions what is the basis for the existence of the inheritance. Justice.
To get a king is not formulated as a command – it’s a prediction – there will come a time when the People of Israel will say “I will set a king over myself, like all the nations around me…” when the People will want what the rest of the world wants, and that is a rejection of G-d.
1 Samuel 8:7 And the LORD said unto Samuel: ‘Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee; for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected Me, that I should not be king over them.
The People is supposed to be ruled by G-d, through Elders/Judges who expound on Torah and apply it to every day life. That’s the IDEAL.
In reality it is quite different. G-d takes into account that the People will want a King, and then states what this King is to be like. Those statements are commands:
He may not be a foreigner, he may not acquire means to bring the People back into slavery, he may not have many wives or hoard riches, and above all, he must write a Torah scroll and read it every day of his life, so he can keep it.
I have been scourging the State of Israel in my Divrei Torot lately, and I suppose this isn’t going to be any different.
Civil Government is not ideal for the People of Israel – in fact it’s supposed to be governed by G-d and Torah, not by elected officials. Elected Officials will always pose a risk and a possibility for corruption, but G-d has made provision for this eventuality in Torah. Commands that very clearly stipulates under what conditions those elected officials are to rule. Above all they need to keep Torah. They need to be so well acquainted with Torah that they have in fact written an entire scroll for themselves, so that they can keep it with them at all times.
I doubt the current Leaders of Israel have done that, or are anywhere near such close proximity of Torah. In fact, one only has to look at the recent additions to the Legislation of the State of Israel to realize that they are in fact very far from what G-d states is the obligation of a Just Leadership:
On a more local level – how do we exercise Leadership? Do we accept Community Leaders that do not know Torah, that discriminate against converts, bnai teshuvah, that honor the rich and the “powerful” for aliyah? How about Leaders that accept and encourage prejudice and violence against those that do not belong to their specific Community? Does your community hide rabbis that abuse their position to violate children sexually, beat their wives. Are your Leaders on the forefront when it comes to safe-guarding civil and human rights in Society?
If they are – congratulations! If they are not, you need to do something about it.