The parshah begins with the command to establish a judicial system and "tzedek, tzedek tirdof," to "pursue perfect honesty," in the words of Rav Aryeh Kaplan, zt"l. It is not enough to rely on the rulings of a judicial system; the whole nation must be involved in the pursuit of justice for society to function correctly.
We as a people have been blessed throughout our history with leaders who have had vision, determination and compassion, whose concern for fellow Jews set an example for their fellow Jews and brought the nation closer to G-d and His Torah.
The Torah then describes for us the laws and purpose of the monarchy. What is the king's role?
As soon as the land of Israel was conquered and settled, the Jewish people were responsible to fulfill the command, "Appoint over yourselves a king whom the L-rd your G-d will choose." "Over yourselves," the Talmud explains, denotes "that his fear shall be upon you."
The Jews have a responsibility to show honor and respect for their king and his position, for he keeps the nation from being "a flock without a shepherd."
Nevertheless, the Torah warns, he may not overindulge himself with too many possessions or too many wives, "so that they will not turn his heart away" from his Divine mission. The king's position makes him the supreme role model for the Jewish people, a role he and they have to safeguard.
For this reason, the king is also commanded to write for himself two sifrei Torah, one which he carried with him at all times and one which he kept in his treasury. "And he will read from [the Torah] all the days of his life in order that he will learn to fear the L-rd his G-d, to guard all the words of this Torah...to do them." This verse, says the Sifri, informs us that study leads to fear of G-d, which in turn leads to service and performance of mitzvot.
By continually reviewing the Torah, the king reminds himself daily that he does not possess supreme power, but serves at the pleasure of the Divine King of Kings. He thus sets an example for the entire nation.
In our time, one need not be a king to follow the Torah and serve as a role model. Jewish leadership requires individuals who live a proper Torah lifestyle, who pursue perfect honesty, and who can transmit our sacred values to those who do not yet possess them. Such individuals are especially needed in our times when American Jewish leadership is challenged by the tremendous inroads that assimilation and intermarriage have made within our community.
The concern that our ancestors had, that the Jewish people would have a king just like the nations that surrounded them, echoes once again in Jewish history. We have the benefit of the experiences of those who came before us and we must utilize their examples to ensure that all our actions and motives are directed by Hashem's Torah.
In doing so, we will create in the years ahead Jewish leaders who will be able to bring about the final redemption of our people.
Rabbi Alan Kalinsky
Rabbi Kalinsky is West Coast Regional Director, Orthodox Union Los Angeles, California.
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