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8.18.23
The Holiness of a King
A short reflection on Shoftim (Deut. 16:18-21:9)

 

 

Shoftim, this week’s Torah portion, literally means “Judges.” 

So, what do you expect from a section of the Torah named Judges?  Conversations about justice and Judges. Seems obvious.  But, it also talks about the role of a future Israelite king. What is the relationship between justice, judges, and kings?  The rabbis believed that a king could begin to believe in his own supremacy due to the power he yielded. A king’s ego needed to be kept in check. So, a few rules were needed. 

The rule that caught my eye wasn’t about the number of wives he could marry or how many horses he could own -- What caught my eye was the verse, “He {THE KING} shall write for himself two copies of this Torah…. It shall be with him, and he shall read from it…. So that he will learn to live in awe of God” (Deut. 17:18-19).  The Bible is laying down the law, a king must not just possess one copy of the Torah, the king must possess two, both handwritten.  

The Torah commands each of us to write a Torah during the course of our lifetime.  As it states in Deuteronomy, “And now write for yourselves this song….”  (Deut 31:19).   It was decided that the “song” is the Torah and the rabbis determined that we were being commanded to write a Torah, each one of us. What if we had to write down the Torah word for word in Hebrew or English – wouldn’t we have a greater understanding of our foundational text?  Wouldn’t the writing of each word bring us closer to unlocking the Torah’s hidden secrets?   What could be a better way to internalize Torah than to write our own copy. It would teach us to be in awe of God and the holy actions we are commanded to take. 

If we had the time, I’m sure that writing a Torah would greatly add to our understanding.  One makes sense, but two? It seems the biblical authors wanted a king to always be in the process of interacting with our Torah

By writing a Torah and then another Torah, the king was reminded that Torah and God and holiness were greater than his rule. His command, wants and needs were not the priority. By always interacting with Torah, he would be forced to study it regularly, never forgetting he was a servant to his people because of the holy rules by which he was meant to lead. 

Each of us should remember that we are royalty – partners with that which is holy – and strive to be more ethical each day.  We must treat the Torah like a treasure, and we must also treat the Torah like an awe inspiring companion interacting with it, whenever we can. With each interaction, our awe, like a king’s, will only grow. 

Perhaps it’s time for each one of us to write down the words of our Torah. Pencil, pen, or keyboard? Your choice.   

*** SHOFTIM SUMMARY

  • Laws regarding both sacred and secular legislation are addressed. The Israelites are told that in every dealing they should pursue justice in order to merit the land that God is giving them. (16:18–18:8)

  • The people are warned to avoid sorcery and witchcraft, the abhorrent practices of their idolatrous neighbors. (18:9–22)

  • God tells them that should an Israelite unintentionally kill another, he may take sanctuary in any of three designated cities of refuge. (19:1–13)

  • Laws to be followed during times of peace and times of war are set forth. (19:14–21:9)

According to the commentators, each king received a Torah from the previous King and then was responsible for writing his own.  One Torah was to be kept in the king’s treasure house and the other on him –yes, on him.   If he was in his bed chambers, he was to keep the Torah with him. If he was traveling, he was to keep the Torah with him. If he was leading an army into battle he was to keep the Torah with him. 

Sat, March 2 2024 22 Adar I 5784