Parashas Shoftim

The second reading in this week’s parashah involves the laws of the Jewish king. The Maggid discusses the role of the king in Jewish society. He notes that in the respective blessings we recite upon seeing a Jewish king and upon seeing a gentile king (Berachos 58a), there is a key difference in phrasing. On seeing a Jewish king we make the following blessing:
Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, King of the Universe, Who has granted a share of His honor (shechalak mi-k’vodo) to those who fear Him.
On seeing a gentile king, however, the blessing we make is as follows:
Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the Universe, Who has given of His honor (shenasan mi-k’vodo) to mortal men.
The Maggid explains the difference in terms of the difference between the attitude expected of a Jewish king and that assumed by a typical gentile king. A Jewish king is expected to recognize that his position is not a personal asset, but simply an entrustment Hashem has conveyed to him for the purpose of establishing Torah-true law and order within Jewish society. He should make use of his sovereign powers only to promote Hashem’s honor. Hence, in the blessing upon seeing a Jewish king, the phrasing is “granted a share of His honor,” reflecting the fact that the honor a Jewish king enjoys really belongs to Hashem, and that Hashem has merely “granted a share” of this honor to him. A typical gentile king, on the other hand, regards his position as an personal asset given to him to be exploited for his personal honor and benefit – and the blessing upon seeing a gentile king reflects this fact.
In our parashah, the Torah exhorts the Jewish king to maintain the proper attitude. The Torah enjoins the king to write a Torah scroll for himself and read from it every day, “so that he will not become haughty toward his brethren, and will hold back from turning away from the commandments either to the right or to the left.” The king should regard himself as having no superiority over his brethren, except insofar as is necessary to guard the people from evil ways, and to hold them back from turning away from the commandments either to the right or to the left. He should not become haughty, and regard the kingship as given to him for his own honor.
In this vein it is written (Yeshayah 32:1): “Behold, for the sake of righteousness shall the king reign, and for the sake of justice shall the officers govern.” Likewise, David HaMelech declares (Shmuel Beis 23:2): “The spirit of Hashem spoke within me, and His word was upon my tongue. The God of Israel said – the Rock of Israel spoke to me: ‘Be a righteous ruler over man; be a ruler who instills the fear of Hashem.’” Here David HaMelech testifies that his sovereignty over the People of Israel in truth belongs to Hashem, and is not to be used to promote his own honor. Rather, it is to be used to promote Hashem’s honor, by instilling reverence for Hashem in the hearts of the people.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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