Torah Fax

Friday, August 20, 2004 - 3 Elul, 5764

Torah Reading:  Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18 - 21:9)
Candle Lighting Time:  7:28 PM
Shabbat Ends: 8:28 PM

Jewish Royalty 

This week's Torah portion discusses the establishment of a Jewish monarchy. The Torah writes: "When you will arrive in the Land… and you shall say 'Appoint upon me a king like all of the other nations.' You shall indeed appoint a king … from amongst your brothers." (Deut. 17:14, 15)

The Talmud tells us that the Torah here is not merely permitting the Jews to appoint a king, but is in fact commanding them. Maimonides writes that appointing the king is one of three Mitzvahs that the Jews were obliged to fulfill upon entering the Land of Israel. Yet, we find that when the Jewish people asked the prophet Samuel to appoint a king, G‑d responded negatively. If indeed there is a Mitzvah to crown a king, why was G‑d upset when the Jews finally asked to do just that?

Furthermore, for thousands of years, the Jewish people have hoped and prayed for the Messianic Age, an age that will be ushered in by the Moshiach, a person who is described in Biblical and Talmudic literature as a monarch. How can the institution of the monarchy be so derided by G‑d in one place and yet be viewed so positively in another?

The commentators have offered many answers to this question. One answer is that the Jewish people in the time of Samuel requested a king for the wrong reason. Instead of wanting a king to serve as a Torah guide for the nation, they wanted a king merely to imitate the other nations of the world. After all, the Jews reasoned with Samuel, all of our neighbors have kings, if we want to be respected as a nation on par with other countries, we need a king too!

Their mistake was based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of a Jewish king. Clearly, we are not required to have a king in order to be just like every other nation on earth. A Jewish king serves a very specific function - he must nurture and develop the spiritual potential of the Jewish people. That is why we find in the Biblical story of the two women who were fighting over a newborn infant, each one claiming it was hers, that the women approached King Solomon to rule in the case. They new that the king was not just there to collect taxes and fight wars, his main function was to teach the people Torah and give rulings and guidance based on the Torah.

But that does not explain the need for a king in the Messianic Age. At that time, the entire world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d - why will there still be a need for a king to teach the people the Torah's wisdom?

The answer lies in understanding the nature of a Jewish king based on chassidic teachings. Chassidic thought tells us that the ideal king is a person whose soul is so aware of G‑d's presence, he serves as an inspiration to all and helps them realize higher levels in their relationship with G‑d. More than just a teacher or a person who offers information on Torah subjects, the Jewish king is a person who actively seeks to be connected with G‑d on a very intense emotional level. (Even a cursory glance at the Psalms will help illustrate King David's emotional attachment to G‑d.)

True, every Jew can and must develop an emotional connection with G‑d, but a king is described as one who is "head and shoulders above the people" (A Biblical expression used to describe King Saul's height in Samuel 9:2). In addition to describing his physical stature, the verse tells us that the king was very spiritually sophisticated  - much more than the rest of the nation. Being so advanced, he was able to raise the rest of the nation to even higher levels than they were capable of reaching on their own.

Thus, even in Messianic times, when the world "will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the sea bed" (Maimonides in the Laws of Moshiach), the human King Moshiach will help people grow to even greater spiritual heights. This spiritual growth can go on ad infinitum, for what was considered an accomplishment yesterday is considered par for the course today. The feeling of closeness one might feel to G‑d today may not be as close as one feels tomorrow. Moshiach's inspiration can be never ending. Each spiritual rung we reach will only bring into view another level that remains to be attained. This is in the spirit of the Psalmist who says: "They will go from strength to strength."

Moshiach Matters

Our Parshah tells us that we must appoint judges and officers. When Moshiach comes, the prophet says that G‑d will restore our judges and advisors. Judges refers to those that will rule on Torah law, officers are the ones that have to enforce their rulings. Obviously, when Moshiach comes, there will be no need to force people to fulfill the judges’ rulings - people will gladly do that of their own will. Thus, in the prophecy of Moshiach, the term officers is deleted. (The Rebbe, Parshat Shoftim, 1991) 
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