17/18 Aug: Shabbat Shoftim comes in 8:05 pm, ends 9:09 pm
Parashat Shoftim discusses many important aspects of what the future Israelite civil society will look like – the need for a court system that will function fairly and impartially, how the society’s religious functionaries are to be organized and supported; and how to conduct the wars that would be inevitable in that time and place.
Another issue that Moshe discusses is the thorny matter of who will actually lead this society. Moshe relates: “When you enter the land that Hashem your God is giving you, and you have taken it and have settled in it – if you should say ‘I will put over me a king, like all the other peoples around me,’ you shall certainly place over you a king, chosen by God from among your people” (Deut. 17:14-15). Scholars over the ages have argued over whether Israel was supposed to appoint a king, or whether they could choose to do so if they wanted.
This kingship will be far from the unbridled exercise of power that other monarchs in the region enjoyed, however: “[The king] must not keep many horses and must not return the people to Egypt to add to his horses, because Hashem has told you to never more return on that road. And he must not have many wives, so that his heart will not go astray, and must not have too much gold and silver” (Deut. 15-17). He cannot have what most would consider the fun things that kings get to have – wealth and women. What, then, is he supposed to have?
The short answer to this is – Torah. “When he is seated on his royal throne, he shall have a copy of this Teaching [torah] before him, on a scroll from the Levitical priests. And he shall have it with him and read from it all the days of his life, so that he will learn to revere Hashem his God, to observe faithfully all of this Teaching, and these laws, to do them, so that he will not become haughty over his brothers, or turn aside from the commandments, to the right or left, so that he and his sons may long reign over Israel” (Deut. 17:18-20). The king will have the powers that God allows in the Torah, and no more.
Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman