Parshat Shoftim 5779: The Role of Kingship in a Torah Halachic State

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua, Parshat Shoftim is being co-sponsored anonymously dedicated lilui nismas for Devorah bat Yechiel Michel Of Blessed Memory and by Mordechai and Gila Bernstein dedicated in honor of the recent engagement of their son Shalom Moshe and Shoshana Katzenstein. To both the Bernstein family and our anonymous donor, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses and good wishes.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Shoftim 5779: The Role of Kingship in a Torah Halachic State

by Moshe Burt

In previous vorts on our Parshat Shoftim, this author discussed the Torah requirement of appointment of judges, and officers of the court to enforce judicial decisions with righteous judgement. The third posuk of our parsha reads:

“Tzedek, Tzedek tierdof…” Righteousness, righteousness (also rendered Justice, Justice) you shall pursue that you may live and inherit the land which the Lord, your G’d gives you.” (Sefer Devarim, Perek 16, posuk 20)

Such righteousness in judgement must not be prejudiced by bribes, gifts, appearance of, or financial position of either litigant.

In short, application of righteousness of judgement to police, law enforcement. And the paradigm posuk of our Parshat: “Tzedek, Tzedek tierdof –(Justice, Justice) shall you pursue” would seem to apply to law enforcement to at least the same extent as to Judges and Judiciary.

But with this year’s vort, this author begins to focus on the Malchut (Kingship) and its role in a Torah Halachic State.

Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch z”l, in the new Hirsch Chumash (English translation by Daniel Haberman) renders our parsha regarding Malchei Yisrael (kingship) (The new Hirsch Chumash on Sefer Devarim, Perek 17, posukim 14-15. pages 394-401):

“When you come to the land that Hashem… is giving you, and you have taken possession of it and will dwell in it, you will say: I will set a king over me, like all the nations… you will then set a king over yourself whom Hashem… will chose. From the midst of your brethren shall you set a king over yourself; you cannot set over yourself a foreigner who is not your brother.” (Sefer Devarim, Perek 17, posukim 14-15)

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin writes context in a section on kingship in his sefer “Unlocking The Torah Text,” Sefer Devarim (page 199):

The Talmudic scholars view the appointment of a king as an obligation, one of three positive commandments incumbent upon the B’nei Yisrael upon entry into the land. (Rabbi Goldin citing Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 20b)

Rabbi Goldin continues ( “Unlocking The Torah Text,” Sefer Devarim page 199-200):

The existence of a direct commandment to appoint a king… seems to fly in the face of the historical narrative surrounding the selection of Shaul, the first king of Israel. Sefer Shmuel [in Tanach] clearly records the extreme displeasure with which the prophet [navi] Shmuel greated the nation’s request: “Place for us a king, to judge us like all the nations.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Tanach: Shmuel I, Perek 8, posuk 5) Even further, when Hashem commands Shmuel to accede to the nation’s request — but only after informing them of the laws that will govern a future king’s power over them — the prophet clearly uses the opportunity to dissuade the nation from their intended path. (Rabbi Goldin citing Tanach: Shmuel I, Perek 8, posukim 16-18)

Rabbi Goldin then points out three possible approaches found in a Tosefta, a source from the Mishnaic period regarding the disconnect between the biblical mitzvah to establish kingship and Shmuel’s reaction to the nation’s eventual request (ibid, page 200):

1/ An anonymous position postulates that the nation’s request was premature. The time had not yet arrived for establishment of the monarchy.

2/ Rabbi Nehorai [Rabbi Meir bar Yitzchak (Nehorai) of Orléans, who was a cantor (prayer leader) in Worms, Germany, (died ca. 1095). [Authored] Akdamut [which] consists of praise for God, His Torah, and His people.] maintains that the mitzvah to appoint a king is only recorded in Torah in anticipation of the nation’s future murmurings. For this reason, the Torah hinges the mitzvah upon the nation’s expressed desire to “set over myself a king, like all the nations that surround me.”

3/ Rabbi Eliezer, son of Rabbi Yossi argues that the text in Sefer Shmuel [in Tanach] actually outlines two separate requests that are made of the navi, one of which is appropriate and which was not…. The fitting request “Place for us a king, to judge us.” Then the people inappropriately added: “[That we may be also] like all the other nations.” Shmuel was not displeased with the… desire to fulfill the mitzvah of establishing a monarchy. His upset developed only in response to the people’s improper addendum [“like all the nations.”] ( (Rabbi Goldin citing Tosfta Sanhedrin 4:3)

R’ Hirsch provides commentary on what the role of malchut is, and is not (R’ Hirsch commentary in the new Hirsch Chumash on Sefer Devarim, Perek 17, posukim 14-15. pages 394-401 on — “When you come to the land that Hashem… is giving you, and you have taken possession of it and will dwell in it”:

…These words… state unequivocably at the very outset that it is not the role of Melech Yisrael to conquer the land and secure Israel’s possession of it; it is not his role to build up power to be used externally. For it is Hashem Who gives the Land to Israel, and with Hashem’s help Israel will conquer the land and dwell safely under His protection…. For these purposes Israel does not need a king: all Israel needs to do — so that Hashem’s promises may be fulfilled — is to be “Israel”; to prove that it is indeed the people loyal to Hashem’s Torah: to win a moral victory over itself from within so as to be sure of victory also against all enemies from without.

…This need [kingship] can arise for only one reason: … to assure the sole factor on which Hashem’s protection and blessing depend; … the nation be “Israel”, the people loyal to Hashem’s Torah.

You, too, [Israel] will feel the need for national unity in order to obtain the greatest good for yourself… for this purpose, you, too, will seek to establish national unity by means of subordination to one head of state. But… your head of state will… stand out… first among all Jews loyal to Torah…

Imbued with the spirit of your [referring to Am Yisrael] mission, he [the king] will seek to win over all hearts and minds to this spirit, in thought, word and deed. With the power of his word, his personal example, and his personal prestige, he will combat anything that will violate this spirit. You are to place all of your resources at his command, so that he may fight for and defend your national mission internally.

Thus Hashem has granted Am Yisrael exclusive possession of, monarchy in and sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael provided that we remain loyal to Hashem, Torah and our mission — unity and loyalty to Hashem’s Torah.

Rav Hirsch then makes this jaw-dropping observation, perhaps a prophesy about our times:

Indeed, this is the true vocation of the king in Israel, for… the nation was faced with a threat; the alienation of its individual segments from their one common moral task as a nation. The appointment of a king is meant to combat this danger. (ibid., R’ Hirsch commentary)

R’ Hirsch seems to have outlined the paradigm L’Chatchila (the way things oughta be) mission of Malchei Yisrael, as mentioned above,which seems to be maintenance of a national spirit of unity and loyalty to Hashem and Torah. This author’s understanding of a king’s mandate is the pursuit of Torah righteousness toward all segments of Am Yisrael in all aspects of national life, rather than creating a divisive nation, an Am divided and conquered by equivocating, vacillating anti-Torah politicians who lack, or have lost a handle on the spiritual ability to truly know why they are here and why a modern-day Israel exists.

The second part of Perek 16, posuk 15 of our Parshat delivers an important message to be heeded in today’s Israel:

“You cannot set over yourself a foreigner who is not your brother.”

Of course, the B’nai Yisrael cannot set over itself any type of foreigner. But, by extension, any foreigner, any non-Jew ought not, cannot wield governing power, be it executive, legislative, judicial or de-facto over a true Jewish sovereignty. For WE ARE a sovereignty, a nation of Jews and not under the dominion of any foreign entity — not the Obamanator, ba’al kerry, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her three hateful friends, not even President Trump — the friendliest president ever toward Israel and the Jews, or any other foreign personage or entity. Torah tells that those foreigners willing to live in Israel — under a Jewish sovereignty are welcome provided they live by and obey the rules of a Jewish sovereignty. But they ought not, cannot have legislative governmental power over Am Yisrael.

But the terrible error which of Am Yisrael which soo bothered Shmuel: “Place for us a king, …like all the nations.” seems to re-play out, in different forms, in our times — via the desire to model Israel after foreign modes of “democracy”, so-called “political correctness,” seeking “a nation of all its peoples” and more. May we soon see, in our time, that Hashem will “Place for us a king,” as R’ Hirsch writes; first among all Jews loyal to Torah.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the twice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — only upon his return home to Israel, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.