Shoftim (Judges) – Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9
In this week’s Torah portion, we read about the restrictions placed on a king of Israel. “But he shall not have many horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt in order to obtain many horses since G-d has said to you, You shall no longer return that way. Neither shall he take many wives that his heart shall not turn away, neither shall he procure great quantities of silver and gold. And it shall be when he sits upon the throne of his kingdom that he shall write for himself a copy of this Torah . . . that his heart not be lifted above his brothers and that he not turn aside from the commandments…” (Deuteronomy 17:16-20)
These verses set forth guidelines to be followed by the kings of Israel, to ensure their righteousness and the absence of corruption in their kingdoms. Although, we no longer have kings, our political leaders would do well to follow these rules.
1. The prohibition against owning many horses is linked with the prohibition against returning to Egypt. Key here is the idea that G-d redeemed His people from Egypt – a king of Israel must make sure never to take steps that would lead his people to be enslaved once again.
2. The prohibition against many wives is more a political rather than a sexual issue. In ancient times, kings took many wives as a way of cementing relationships with neighboring kingdoms, as a sort of peace treaty. However, the danger is that these wives will lead the king astray, that the foreign cultures these women bring with them into the kingdom will lead the king astray from G-d’s word and the Jewish way. Again, a word of caution against unhealthy relationships with neighboring nations.
3. The prohibition against too much silver and gold is designed to prevent corruption. If a king does not own too much, he cannot be swayed by money and financial power.
4. And finally, the king is commanded to write his own copy of the Torah and to keep it at his side, to read it and study it and follow the commandments. A king, or any political leader, must be a G-d fearing man and he must avoid arrogance at all costs. If he seeks G-d’s counsel in political decisions, he will ultimately do the right thing.
If the leadership of the world followed these four principles, the world would be a far better place.
Director, Israel Office