Shabbos Parashas Vayeishev

At the beginning of this week’s parashah, the Torah records how Yosef told his brothers about his dream in which they were binding sheaves and their sheaves bowed down to his. The brothers retorted (Bereishis 37:8): “Will you be king over us, or will you have dominion over us?” The Maggid expounds on the brothers’ retort. It is a basic principle of the Jewish world outlook that Hashem alone holds sovereignty in heaven and on earth. A Jewish king holds rulership over the Jewish People only because Hashem allotted to him a portion of His honor and placed the scepter of rulership in his hand, so that he would maintain law and order and subdue the wicked. Thus it is written (Yeshayah 32:1): “Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and as for princes, they shall rule in justice.” That is, the role of the king is to teach the people the ways of uprightness and righteousness.
Regarding the Jewish king, the Torah commands (Devarim 17:18-19): “And it shall be, when he sits upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book … and it shall be with him, and he shall read from it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear Hashem his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them.” The king had to be steeped in Torah, for his mission was to guide the people to the proper path – to lead them toward good and away from evil. Shlomo HaMelech declares (Mishlei 24:21): “Fear Hashem, my child, and the king.” Under a proper Jewish king, fear of Hashem and fear of the king coalesce, for the king’s main task is to lead the people to fear Hashem.
In elaborating on the reason why the king must review the Torah constantly, the Torah says (Devarim 17:20): “so that his heart will not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he will not turn aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left.” A Jewish king is enjoined from using his position to aggrandize himself; he must focus completely on the sacred mission with which he is charged. In Divrei HaYamim Alef 29:23, it is written: “And Shlomo sat upon the throne of Hashem.” Shlomo did not entertain the thought of using his position as king for his own glory, for he understood that his sovereignty stemmed from Hashem’s sovereignty, and that Hashem put him in his position in order to shepherd His nation, the Jewish People. In this vein, David HaMelech declares (Tehillim 145:13): “Your kingdom is a kingdom of [all] worlds.” It would seem to us more natural for David to say: “You are the king of all worlds.” But David’s intent is to teach us that all the kings that Hashem put into place in the world were put in the position of king solely in order that they bear the yoke of the kingdom of heaven. Thus, their kingship is founded on the goal of promoting Hashem’s glory. As we say in the Musaf prayer of the High Holy Days, “He crowns kings, and unto Him is the kingship” – He crowns kings for the sake of His honor.
The Gemara in Berachos 4a presents a teaching along these lines:
“A prayer of David … Guard my soul, for I am devout” (Tehillim 86:1-2). Levi and R. Yitzchak [both offered an interpretation of this statement]. One stated: “Said David before the Holy One Blessed Be: ‘Master of the Universe, am I not pious? All the kings of the east and the west sleep to the third hour [of the day], but as for me, “at midnight I rise to give thanks to You” (ibid. 119:62).’” The other stated: “Said David before the Holy One Blessed Be: ‘Master of the Universe, am I not pious? All the kings of the east and the west sit with all their pomp among their company, whereas my hands are soiled with [menstrual] blood, with the fetus and the placenta, in order to declare a woman clean for her husband.’”
David is testifying that he did not use his position as king to aggrandize himself; he understood that the kingship belongs to Hashem, and he is but a steward of Hashem’s people, to teach them and render rulings on questions of unclean and clean, and of forbidden and permitted. For this reason, all the kings who ruled over the Jewish People sought to avoid taking on the kingship. For example, when Shmuel told Shaul that he was designated to be king, Shaul declared (Shmuel Alef 9:21): “Am not I a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Yisrael? And my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? Why, then, do you speak to me in this manner?” And later, when Shmuel set out to select Shaul to be king in the presence of the entire Jewish People, Shaul hid among the baggage (ibid. 10:22). David took the same stance, and others after him. They did not regard themselves as worthy of the eminent position of king of Hashem’s people, and they feared that they would fall short in carrying out their mission. Thus, Shlomo HaMelech declared (Melachim Alef 3:9): “Who is able to judge this great people?” For this very reason, Hashem selected them to serve as superintendents of His people.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.