Shoftim-Kings

The Jews have always had kings – in every generation there has been someone who fulfilled the role of king even if we did not recognize them as such.  For example, all the forefathers – Abraham Isaac and Jacob – were kings.  After the Jews entered the land of Israel, there was a period of hundreds of years known as the period of “judges,” during which we had rulers who performed the dual service of both ruling and judging the Jews.  Finally, toward the end of that period, the Jewish people requested from the prophet, Shmuel, to appoint a king over them.  This request/demand greatly disappointed Shmuel, who really did not want to see the Jews have king appointed over them.

The question is why, given that in our Torah portion (Shoftim), there is a verse that openly exhorts us to appoint a king, “You shall certainly appoint a king over yourselves” (Deut. 17:15).  Moreover, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 20B) enjoins us to appoint a king, “The Jews are commanded to do three mitzvoth when they enter the land of Israel; to appoint a king, to to annihilate the descendents of Amalek, and to build the Beit Hamikdash.”  That being the case, why did Shmuel resist the desire of the Jews to appoint a king over themselves?

In order to answer this question, we need to better understand the role of the King.  Basically, he has two functions.  The first is, as the Mishna (Avot 3:2) says, to keep us from “swallowing each other alive.”  The King establishes law and order in the kingdom.  Even in the best of situations, when people understand the necessity of acting according to societal norms, it can happen that “the eye sees, and the heart desires…” and the evil inclination overcomes us and we act improperly.  And therefore, we need fear of the king, in order to establish the rule of law and order in the kingdom.

Furthermore, even when we “follow the rules” and act in a civilized manner, there will be policies and issues that only the king and his staff, and sometimes only the king himself, is aware of.  At that time, it is necessary for the king to act, in a manner known and understood only by him, for the good of the commonwealth.  It may be necessary for him to enact policies and confront issues for the good of the kingdom, even though the common folk are unaware of what he is doing.  And that brings us to the second reason for the Jews to appoint a King…

The Jews are naturally butel, or “nullified” to God above.  However, at times we lose contact with and become unconscious of our real position vis a vis God, and we need a reminder.  When we see the King and how he is butel to the One above, that serves as our reminder.  It causes us to reason that if the king, as great as he is, is butel to God, so should we be nullified to Him, as well.

Furthermore, even in the best situation, when we are on a spiritual level and nullified to God, we still need a King.  When we are on that level, the King serves another purpose – he serves as a mentor and teacher.  Once we already possess the “entry level” traits of lower fear of God, that enable us to live in peace with one another, we next need to raise ourselves to a higher level, by learning the secrets of the Torah.  In this situation, the King serves not only as an intermediary, but as a teacher to lift us to a higher spiritual level.  This is the ultimate function of the King.

And now we can understand why Shmuel was upset with the request of the Jews to appoint a king.  If the Jews had been on a reasonable level of fear of God, they would not have needed a king.  However, the Jews sought to appoint a king “like all the nations” which have kings ruling over them.  The other nations needed a king not as a teacher or mentor, but as one who maintains control and enforces the law.  This is what upset Shmuel, because he felt that the Jews should have enough basic entry level “fear of God” to enforce the laws of civilized society by themselves.  However, God told Shmuel to go ahead and appoint King Saul, because, “It is Me that they loathe” – the Jews were not rejecting Shmuel the prophet but God Himself.  And that being the case, the Jews needed somebody to rule over them immediately, lest they fall even further.

For a longer and more detailed version, go to www.jerusalemconnection.org

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol 24, Pages 104-106

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