Weekly Torah - old

Shoftim

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In this week’s Torah portion, there is the commandment to appoint a king. It is only mentioned here, not previously in the Torah, and it is phrased in an unusual way.

“When you come into the land which the Lord your God gives you, and you inherit it and settle it, and you may say, ‘I want to appoint a king like all the other nations around me’, then you may indeed appoint a king whom your God will choose.”

The Torah then goes on to lay down conditions. He mustn’t have too many wives (in case they distract him), or too many horses (lest he take people down to Egypt in search of more wealth), and he should always be subject to the Torah and not “above the law”.

The question is whether monarchy is a necessary requirement of halacha. If so, why did Samuel get so angry when the people asked him to appoint a king? The usual reply is that the motive was wrong. Samuel argued that having God as the Supreme King was enough. Why want a human figurehead? Yet here in the Torah it says very clearly that even if the motive is the most non-Jewish motive of wanting to imitate pagan nations round about, they may still go ahead.

Actually, the motive of wanting to be like the other nations is relevant here specifically. The issue then becomes simply one of self-defense. They felt that having a supreme military commander might help them deal with the outside world better. Of course after the Saul failure it worked for awhile, but then descended into petty rivalry after Solomon. So why do we want to see King David and a monarchy restored?

I think it is just nostalgia, the dream of a time when we controlled our own destiny and King David was the boss and no one else. But now? I do not approve of the hereditary monarchy and would not want to see one. Either Elijah will come and decide we don’t need the monarchy or I will have to change my mind.

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