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Shabbat Parashat Ki Tetzei 5778

Parashat Hashavua: So that His Heart Not Be Elevated above His Brothers

Harav Yosef Carmel

Our parasha starts with halachot that come about by going out to war. It is the king who is involved in the decision to fight and leads the nation into it. Such power can lead its possessor to conceit. That is why the Torah dictates laws whose purpose is “so that his heart not be elevated above his brothers … and so that he shall have many years in his kingship, he and his sons in the midst of Israel” (Devarim 17:20). This shows that a candidate for kingship can fall if he is guilty of the sin of haughtiness.

Let us test this matter by looking at the choice of David as king from among his brothers, the sons of Yishai.

Shaul failed as king, and Hashem told Shmuel that since He was “disgusted” by Shaul, Shmuel was should go to anoint a new king for Israel. Hashem sent him to the house of Yishai, “for I have seen among his sons a king for Me” (Shmuel I, 16:1). The term “disgusted” indicates that Shaul had generally been fit for the job but that something arose that disqualified him.

When Shmuel arrived at Yishai’s house, the first candidate that was presented to him was the firstborn, Eliav. Shmuel was keenly impressed and declared: “Just, before Hashem, His anointed [is standing]” (ibid. 6). Rashi explains that this meant that Shmuel perceived him as fit to be king. Hashem responded to Shmuel harshly: “Do not look at his appearance and the highness of his stature, for he I am disgusted by him; it is not what man sees, for man sees [that which his] eyes show him, but Hashem sees into his heart” (ibid. 7). The term “disgusted by him” should again indicate that Eliav generally had the suitability but that something disqualified him.

What was wrong with Eliav? Also, how could a great prophet, known as “the seer” be guilty of such a misstep, as to judge things only externally? There are different approaches in Chazal and in the commentaries. Since they generally do not focus on the level of the reading of the text, we will take the liberty of suggesting another answer.

We will work with the assumption that Shmuel was indeed employing the skills of a prophet when he was impressed by Eliav. It was not what we would call external, physical attributes that excited Shmuel. Indeed, Eliav was a great man in terms of his spirituality and his internal personality, and therefore it was a reasonable conjecture that he would be anointed king. The problem was that there were things that even Shmuel did not succeed in seeing. The height that Shmuel referred to was actually spiritual stature, but still it was not the heart. It was “the height of Eliav’s heart,” i.e., his arrogance, that made Hashem despise him, as he was too aware of his own multi-talents, including of the spiritual.

Hashem taught Shmuel (and us) that even the perfect candidate is not the perfect candidate if he is overly focused on his qualification. David was the “little one” who was left off the list of candidates (ibid. 11). It was he who called himself “a worm and not a man” (Tehillim 22:7). And it was he, not his older brothers, who was chosen.

Let us pray that we will merit suitable leaders, who will remember that they are suitable only as long as they do not believe they are the most suitable.
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