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Shabbat Parashat Vaetchanan 5774

Ein Ayah: Leaders who Lead

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 1:10)

Gemara: Until what time of day do they sit in judgment? Rav Sheshet said: Until the time of the meal. Rav Chama said: What is the pasuk? “Woe unto you, the land whose king is a na’ar (youngster) and your officers eat in the morning. Fortunate are you, the land whose king is a free man and its officers eat in strength and not in drunkenness” (Kohelet 10:16) – with the strength of Torah and not the drinking of wine.


Ein Ayah: The point of judgment is to establish social life properly, but it is a matter of disagreement what the goal of social life itself is among nations. A nation that is burdened by material desires will only strive for ongoing fulfillment of their desires. They will want their judges to have the same mindset, and therefore they will be happy if they sit in judgment with a full stomach, like the goals of the people he judges. In contrast, a holy nation realizes that judgment is divine and that the goal of society must go well beyond the animalistic and the material. It should be full of light, goodness, purity, and justice. Therefore, judgment should be done in a manner that is divorced from physicality (i.e., not on a full stomach). 

A Jewish king is fit for his crown when he ensures that the nation’s judicial system functions on the high spiritual level that befits humanity. This fully applies when the constituency still has far to climb on the ladder of spirituality. That is why a king is appointed by anointment with sanctified oil. Such a king is not a simple servant of the people, which is appropriate only when the recipient of the service knows what he needs, but must be a free man. A Jewish king has a responsibility to Hashem to make sure that he implements His justice to elevate the nation and that he advances them on the long road that mankind must take. The king must be a free man who leads and does not follow the lowly desires of the nation, for the latter type of king is a na’ar (which means both youngster and servant (see Shemot 33:11)).

The sanctity of Israel mandates that the judgment of the Torah must elevate people. That is the reason the Torah’s discussion of justice is found in proximity to building the altar and specifically that one’s private parts not be exposed to the altar and compromise the element of modesty that is central to our nation. A judge should be in a frame of mind in which he is focused on spirituality rather than physicality, which is why it is best for him to judge before the meal. That applies to all judges, which sets the tone for the behavior of the king.

This is the intention of the pasuk that talks about the king not being a na’ar and the officers (including judges) not eating their meal in the morning because these negative actions set a tone of physicality. Rather the king should be should be a free man who can lead properly, and the officers should eat at a time which is appropriate for separating between that physical pursuit and their spiritual ones.

It is possible that people will scorn a nation which has such high spiritual goals and will attribute this approach to a lack of being in touch with the rigors of the real world. However, people who think that way do not understand that strength is a function of Torah, which leads even the physical world on a correct path of spiritual advancement. This is the proper alternative to those who allow physicality to make them drunk, which disfigures the image of Hashem within mankind.

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