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Shabbat Parashat Vayikra 5774

Parashat Hashavua: Fortunate is the Generation

Harav Yosef Carmel

In discussing the korban brought by a leader who accidentally sinned, the Torah writes “asher nasi yecheta” (Vayikra 4:22). Rashi quotes a memorable statement of Chazal in this context: “Ashrei (fortunate) is the generation whose leader takes note to bring atonement for his unintentional sins, all the more so that he regrets his intentional sins.”

We have discussed in the past that the people of the nation have the authority to depose even a king who was anointed by a prophet and was previously accepted by the nation. But in light of Rashi’s comments, let us discuss the question of what justifies changing leadership under unscheduled circumstances.

Chazal deal with the matter in the context of an apparent contradiction regarding the chronology of David’s reign. On the one hand, the p’sukim say that David was king for seven years and six months in Chevron and another thirty-three years in Yerushalayim, while in total he is described as reigning for only forty years without mentioning six months (Shmuel II, 5:4-5). The answer (Yoma 22b) is that six months were taken away from his reign, during which time he had leprosy, was abandoned by the Sanhedrin, and lost the Divine Spirit.  We know that a leper is equated to one who has died (Shemot Rabba 1). Sanhedrin is needed for some of a king’s actions, including declaring certain types of war, and the loss of the Divine Spirit shows that he lost some of Hashem’s support, which is so crucial for making correct decisions.

What did David do to have his leadership questioned in the midst of such a successful tenure? Rav (Yoma 22b) said that it was because of his sin involving Bat Sheva and her husband, Uriyah. We see that sins in the realm of adultery (without getting into a discussion of the extent to which Batsheva was a married woman, which is the subject of different opinions in Chazal), immoral behavior which causes chillul Hashem is grounds for having the kingship taken away. In contrast, we do not find sins between man and Hashem as grounds for removal from the throne, as the Yerushalmi (Horiyot 3:2) says that the Kingdom of Israel was as legitimate as that of Yehuda, despite the fact that the former were involved in the worship at the calf monuments in Beit El and Dan and several kings worshipped idols.

Another opinion (Yerushalmi, Rosh Hashana 1:1) points to the six months in which David’s forces were involved in a siege on Ammon, despite the Torah’s warning not to engage in warfare with them (Devarim 2:19). According to this opinion (Rav Dimi in Bava Batra 21b disagrees), unauthorized and non-halachic use of Israel’s military might compromise the legitimacy of the king’s reign.  

Let us pray that modern Israel’s political leadership will prove to be fit for its task. Even if its leaders err (and which person does not err), may they know how to admit their mistakes and learn from them. Then it can be said about us, “Fortunate is the generation …”

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