Parashas Shoftim

This week’s parashah discusses the appointment of a king. In the times of Shmuel HaNavi, the elders of the Jewish People approached him and said (Shmuel Alef 8:5): “Appoint for us a king to judge us, like all the nations.” Shmuel consulted with Hashem about whether to do so, for he was concerned that the circumstances were not right. Hashem told him to do as the people asked, but to warn them first of the perogatives the king would have, to conscript soldiers and workers, and to levy taxes. Shmuel delivered the warning, implicitly suggesting that the people withdraw their request. The people at large (particularly the younger members) responded (Shmuel Alef 8:20): “No! There shall be a king over us, and we will be like the other nations; our king will judge us, and go forth before us, and fight our wars.” The Gemara remarks (Sanhedrin 20b) that the elders spoke appropriately, while the young people spoke inappropriately. The Maggid explains that both groups had the same general intent, but the elders expressed the matter more wisely.
The Maggid notes that a Jewish king serves two roles. One role is to promote Torah values and observance. The second is to lead the people in battle against their enemies. Now, Shlomo HaMelech declares (Shir HaShirim 6:3): “I am unto my Beloved and my Beloved is unto me.” The Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim, part 3, ch. 51) explains this verse as teaching that the way Hashem relates to us is determined by the way we relate to Him. The Maggid draws a link between this principle and the concept of a Jewish king. When our fear of Hashem is weak, then we need a king to serve as an agent for promoting Hashem’s will, through both exhortation and a system of enforcement. In parallel, when we are faced with enemies, Hashem uses the king as a agent to wage war for us. When our fear of Hashem is strong, on the other hand, we do not need a king to prod us to keep the Torah, and, correspondingly, Hashem does not “need” to resort to a king to save us – He Himself steps in and saves us directly.
In Shmuel’s time, the Jewish People’s fear of Hashem was too weak for them to maintain their faith and observance without the aid of agent, and, accordingly, they were not worthy of having Hashem fight their battles for them directly, without resort to an agent. Thus, when the younger people asked for a king to serve as both a judge and a military leader, they in fact spoke correctly. Still, the way the elders framed the request for a king was more appropriate, for they focused on the primary issue: the need for a king to keep the people on the Torah path.
The Maggid goes on to say that, in the end of days, our hearts will be purified so thoroughly that our fear of Hashem will be firm, and we will no longer need a mortal king. Instead, Hashem will reign over us directly. He, Himself, will give us moral counsel and fight our battles. About this era it is written (Yeshayah 33:22): “For Hashem is our Judge; Hashem is our Lawgiver. Hashem is our King – He shall save us.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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