OU Torah Insights
Rabbi Ely M. Braun
The Talmud teaches that upon entering the Promised Land, The Bnei Yisrael were charged with three commands: to choose a king, to destroy Amalek and to build a Temple.
However, centuries later, when the people of Israel did in fact ask the prophet
Shmuel to appoint for them a king, he responded with anger. Why would the
navi be so angry when the people were simply following
Because, the commentators point out, their exact words to Shmuel were, "Appoint for us a king to judge us, like all the nations." Like all the nations-the people were motivated by the behavior of the other nations rather than the command of the Torah.
This intent is reflected in the verse, Rabbi Naphtali Zvi Yehudah Berlin, the
Netziv of Volozhin, explains. The Torah's words-"And you will say, 'I will set a king over me'"-implies that Hashem is simply granting permission for, rather than commanding, the appointment of a king.
How are we to understand this perspective in light of Chazal's view that kingship over Israel is a Biblical requirement?
Rabbi Yehuda Gershuni, zt"l, points out that there are nations that thrive under the rule of a king and nations that do not. It all depends upon the willingness of the people to be under the rule of the king.
For the Jewish nation, there is another factor. Their king was one "whom Hashem, your G-d, would choose." The king of the Jews was not the ultimate national authority, but simply the handpicked representative of the King of kings, the Almighty Himself.
Perhaps for this reason, the king was required to have two copies of the Torah written for him. One was to be stored in private and the other was to accompany him at all times. Thus, the king of Israel was responsible to exemplify the Torah both in private and in public, both as a Jew personally and as the national leader of all Jews.
The success or, G-d forbid, failure of the Jewish nation would flow from their king. Historically, the Jewish people were steered toward good by good kings, and toward bad by evil kings. When they behaved "like all the nations," led by a king who was no different from foreign sovereigns, then the appointment of that king was diminished. Only when the king acted properly, as a servant of G-d and as an example to the nation, did this mitzvah manifest itself as a Divine command.
With no king of Israel today, each of us can still do his part by fulfilling the 613th commandment, as listed by the Sefer Hachinuch, to write a Torah Scroll for himself. More important, each of us must observe all the commands contained in that scroll, privately, in one's personal relationship with G-d, and publicly, as an example to others.
In this way, we will merit the coming of the final redemption and the leadership of the King
Rabbi Ely M. Braun
Rabbi Braun is rav of Congregation Beth Shalom in Ottawa, Manitoba.
This essay is dedicated to the memory of his teacher, Rabbi Yehuda Gershuni, "The Grodner Iluy," who was niftar on 9 Shevat of this year.