Shabbat Parashat Shoftim| 5766
The State of Mind of a Head of StateHarav Yosef Carmel
While studying the laws of the Jewish king, found in our parasha, one may ask whether the laws are personal laws for one who occupies that challenging role or whether they are guidelines for running a nation, which are directed at its leader. Let us first review the basic laws of the king.
The king may not acquire too many horses (Devarim 17:16) nor marry many wives nor accumulate much gold and silver (ibid.: 17). The Torah commands him to write a sefer Torah and take it with him so that he will fear Hashem (ibid.:18-19). The instructions are intended to keep him from being haughty or straying from the mitzvot of the Torah (ibid.:20).
The last few p’sukim deal with safeguards for the personal state of the king. But are the matters of accumulating horses, wives, and riches personal or public ones? The Rambam (Melachim 3:3-6) stresses the personal, psychological realm. He says that even one horse that is used just for his honor (and thus does not directly impact on the nation) is forbidden. Similarly he talks about wealth’s likelihood to cause haughtiness and compares it to drinking excessive wine, a weak point of kings. In regard to wives, he says that even if he had one wife with whom he cohabited incessantly “like the rest of the fools,” it would be forbidden.
Other Rishonim present the matter differently. Rashi says that he should not have more horses than he needs for his chariots, so that he not cause Jews to go down to Egypt in search of horses. Ibn Ezra says that he should not collect too much gold and silver from the people as a form of punishment. In other words, there should be limitations on high taxation. The Ramban suggests that limiting horses discourages the king from over-reliance on his armed forces. All of these explanations share the element of addressing a specific national concern. Translating these concerns into modern terms, these binding tips relate to the dealings of the three most important ministries in Israel and other states.
The lesson of laws of horses is addressed to the defense apparatus. Do not rely too heavily on a powerful standing army. It places an economic drain on the country. It can also compromise the soldiers’ ability to function normally within society and family, while they are preoccupied with army service for unlimited periods of time.
The matter of wives is actually a warning to the diplomatic corps. Historically, royal marriages with foreign princesses were a major means of advancing international treaties. While diplomacy is good, its indiscriminate use can ruin the fabric of society.
The Torah also has a word for the Ministry of Finance. While the government should try to facilitate healthy, personal wealth, these laws teach us that a life of indulging in luxuries is morally dangerous, both for the king and the citizen.
In brief, our parasha can be instructive in trying to properly operate our Jewish State.
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