Torah For The Times    

Parshat Devarim 
Torah Reading: Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1 - 3:22)
Haftorah: Isaiah 1:1 - 27

Shabbat Candle Lighting: 8:09 PM 
Shabbat ends: 9:17 PM   

Fast begins (7/15): a few minutes before sundown at 8:25 PM 
Fast ends  (7/16): 8:58 PM

Royal Years

The Missing  Six Months

The Book of Devarim-Deuteronomy is, in its entirety, Moses’ final words of inspiration and rebuke to the Jewish nation before his departure and their entry into the Land of Israel.

In this book, Moses recounts the many events that transpired in the forty years that the Jewish people wandered through the desert.

In one of his soliloquies, Moses makes reference to G‑d’s commandment regarding the children of Eisav.

“You are about to pass by the border of your brothers, the children of Eisav who live in Se’ir, and they will be afraid of you. Be very careful not to provoke them, because I will not give you any of their land…”

Later in the Biblical Book of Shmuel we find that King David did in fact wage war against Edom (the descendants of Eisav). According to the Jerusalem Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 1:1), this was inappropriate and King David was “penalized” for it. In the book of Melachim (I. 2:11), King David’s reign is described as as lasting forty years. The Jerusalem Talmud raises the question, what happened to the additional six months he was king mentioned elsewhere (Shmuel II 4:5)?

One answer advanced by the Jerusalem Talmud is that the six months he was engaged in battle with Edom were not counted because they were a violation of the command in this week’s parsha not to incite the Edomites to war.

In the words of the Jerusalem Talmud: “G‑d said to him, ‘I told you not to incite them [to war], and you sought to incite them [to war], [I swear] by your life, they [these six months] will not be counted for you.”

We must try to understand, why the punishment for King David would be that the six months that he was engaged in an unauthorized war should not be counted as part of his reign as king.

The Jerusalem Talmud provides another explanation for the lacuna in the years he reigned. There were six months that King David was on the run when his son Avsholom pursued him. During those months, he was obviously not in total control of his country. Hence, during those six months, he was not really the absolute monarch. But, the explanation that attributes the loss of six months to his unauthorized war against Edom is problematic. An act of war by a king is certainly a demonstration of his power. Yet, according to th first explanation in the Jerusalem Talmud, precisely those months were taken away from him. Why?

Defining the Role of a King

The answer lies in the Torah’s definition of a king. A king is not an absolute ruler who has unbridled power. The king is bound by the Torah in more ways than any of his subjects. The Torah places restrictions on his accumulation of wealth, wives and horses, all of which were unrestricted in the lives of other non-Torah monarchs. Moreover, only a king had to have a special Torah Scroll to escort him in all of his endeavors.

The monarch’s main function was the physical and spiritual well-being of the Jewish nation. His fighting of wars was mandated only when it served the goal of fostering greater adherence to the Torah.

In truth, the king epitomized the role of each and every individual Jew. Every Jew is regarded as a king or queen because of the G‑dly soul he or she possesses. The royal nature of a Jew was given to him or her as a way of conquering the material world and utilizing it to better serve the ultimate Divine King. The individual king was the inspiration and the source of power for all of us to be monarchs in our own lives.

If we reflect on the source of the king’s empowerment it is the Torah. It is stated, “By me kings reign” (Mishlei 8:15). This is a reference to the role of Torah as the source of power for the monarch.

Hence, the period during which King David did something that was inconsistent with the Torah’s mandate to him was not considered to be a part of his career as a true monarch. Using power to wage war when that war is unauthorized means that, for all intents and purposes, during those months he was not truly a monarch.

The above, however, leaves us with another question coming from the opposite direction.

How could a man as righteous as King David have failed in his role as monarch to such an extent that the months in which he was exercising his royal powers cannot be counted as part of his reign?

The Changing Face of the Monarchy

To resolve this problem, we must first understand the difference between the role of a king and the role of a Torah teacher, both of whom are empowered and governed by the dictates of the Torah. In addition to the obvious difference—the king has power to enforce his decisions that are based on Torah while the Torah scholar must use his power of persuasion—there is another salient difference.

One of the fundamental principles of Torah is that it is immutable. It cannot and will not change. No matter how different we are from those who lived at the time the Torah was given, the laws that applied then still apply today. We keep the same Shabbos, Kashrus, Tefillin, etc.  A person who is crowned with what our Sages call “the Crown of Torah” is not empowered to change the laws but rather to faithfully transmit them.

By contrast, the role of a monarch is to deal with the changing needs of the Jewish people and is an institution that is meant to change.

The very institution of the monarchy did not come to fruition until the days of Samuel, who anointed the first king, Saul. And even then, Samuel was upset at the people for demanding a king. This has prompted the question, didn’t the Torah explicitly command us to appoint a king (Devarim 17:15): “You shall appoint a king over you?”

One of the answers given is that while appointing a king was indeed a Mitzvah, when the Jews asked for it, it was premature. When the people demanded a monarch, the Jewish people did not yet have a need for it. The prophet Samuel—the spiritual leader of the Jewish people—was adequate for them at that time.

Another example of the changes that accompany the institution of the monarchy is the instruction given by G‑d not to conquer Edom and Moav. It was not intended to be a permanent law. Indeed, in the days of Moshiach, we will be able to conquer these nations as well.

Moreover, as the Rebbe explains: Moshiach, the final monarch, wears two “hats,” (or, more accurately, “two crowns”). He is the ultimate monarch and also the ultimate teacher of Torah. Yet, his role of monarch will only be needed in the initial period of the Redemption because his power will be indispensable to getting the world to conform to G‑d’s will.

That necessity will eventually come to an end. In the later stages of the Redemption, Moshiach’s role of monarch will not be necessary, but his primary role as the preeminent teacher of Torah will not diminish.

We can now understand how it was possible for King David to violate his role as a monarch. Knowing that the power of the monarchy can and will change, he felt that the time had come because the restriction against the conquest of Edom had expired.

The Journey and the Destination

The above provides us with a valuable lesson concerning our relationship with Moshiach. In the past, we find certain restrictions with regard to the emphasis we must place on Moshiach and Redemption. The Talmud suggests that we are not to obsess about it. Other sources put limits on our search in the Torah for hints as to when the Redemption will occur.

However, Nachmanides (the most authoritative 13th century Jewish Sage and leader) stated that these restrictions no longer apply.

Malbim (a 19th century commentator) compared the change in our direction in this regard to a child going on a trip with his father. The father is upset when the child incessantly asks, “When are we going to arrive?” However, when they finally get close to their destination, the father asks the very same question.

The child is puzzled at the father’s changed attitude and cries: “Why did you scold me when I asked the same question?”

The father replies: “When we were still on the road, we had to focus on the journey itself. Now that we have arrived so close to our destination, it is not only proper, but it is imperative that we ask: when will we be arriving?”

When dealing with Moshiach and Redemption we must allow for changes in our attitude, readiness and focus. We must change and move forward. 

Owning Each and Every Day

The lesson from King David’s “loss” of six months because he miscalculated the propriety of waging war against Edom, is that our days count only when we utilize our royal prerogatives wisely and properly.

We are all monarchs. We all possess a spark of the ultimate monarch, Moshiach. That spark must be ignited and fanned into a radiant fire, so that all of our activities are directed towards conquering the world around us. In our context, conquest means living our lives in a manner consistent with the ideals of the Messianic Age, at which time King David’s conquest of Edom will be fully vindicated.

To make each day of our lives count, we must take our role as monarchs seriously by focusing on Moshiach and the way to bring about the Redemption.

Moshiach Matters

The Talmud tells that Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi asked when Moshiach was going to come and he was told “Today!” This has to be the response and attitude of every one of us. Moshiach’s arrival should be so real to us that as soon as someone asks us when we think Moshiach will come, our immediate repsonse should be: “Today.” (The Rebbe, Simchat Torah, 1989). 

For more info about Moshiach,