Shoftim: King’s Companion

The Holy Torah

How can a leader stay humble?

Table for Five: Shoftim

In partnership with the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles

 Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist

And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to fear the Lord, his God, to keep all the words of this Torah and these statutes, to perform them.

Deut. 17:19



Miriam Mill-Kreisman, President, Tzaddik Foundation

A king that is bound to follow constantly G-d’s Torah cannot be swayed by the political or social whims of his generation. We had riots in the streets of Israel mainly because of this lack of a balance of powers. We can’t stomach it anymore. Who is the boss? In a democracy we want the people to choose its government. And we want a judiciary that upholds its country’s laws. When the judiciary feels empowered to create or negate the government’s laws or when the government overpowers the judiciary, where is the balance? This can only be created when a “document” or a “constitution” or a written in stone set of rules limits the power of the government and the judiciary. In the United States, the Constitution is that (or tries to be) such document.

Now imagine a country (or even better a world) where the word of G-d, the Torah, is that such document. After all, who else knows how best the world should be governed? Being obligated to have a Torah scroll with him at all times and to learn from it all the days of his life, Israel’s king will always be aware of Who is really in control. It will hopefully keep in check any ruler’s unlimited power. The more we learn from the Torah, the more we will be ready to live in a world ruled by G-d and His righteous Moshiach. And what a different world that will be.


Rabbi Abraham Lieberman, Judaic Studies, Shalhevet HS

Josephus (37-c.100 CE) in trying to explain to his non-Jewish readers the legislation of Torah law, said the following: “Our Legislator . . . ordained our government to be what, by a strained expression, may be termed a theocracy, by ascribing the authority and the power to God” (“Contra Apion 2:17).

When we consider words like democracy and monarchy and compare them to the word theocracy, we can begin to see the nuances of power, rule, corruption, abuse of power and human responsibility. The Jewish king was required to retain the Torah with him at all times, as Maimonides explains: “The Torah was stringent regarding the removal of his heart… for his heart is the heart of the entire congregation of the Jewish People. For this reason, the Torah instructs that he must cling to the Torah more than the rest of the nation, as the verse states, ‘all the days of his life” (Hilchot Melachim 2:36).

The guidance provided through this instruction, if adhered to, would ensure an ethical rule where abuses of power cannot arise. The King’s responsibility through this constant reminder and with such understanding, would reassure that justice for all, equally, will be carried out and not even the king can be exempt. The limitations of power inherent in this kind of system are self-evident.

This should be a lesson for us all, in our own dealings in life, to keep the Torah as a moral-ethical anchor to ground us in proper behavior.


Rabbi Chaim Tureff, Rav Beit Sefer Pressman and author of Recovery in the Torah

The rabbis understand that the king needs to carry the Torah with him so that he will always remember G-d is with him, and act accordingly.

Since the king had almost unfettered power, including the ability to execute someone, his ego needed to be kept in check. The king was chosen by G-d for this job. Hence he was imbued with this power and it was due to this, not some inherent greatness as to why he was the king. As people in addiction recovery know, there is often an extreme feeling about oneself that colors how one feels. “I’m the most unworthy person, if anyone really knew who I was…” or “I deserve this and if I hadn’t been wronged I’d be in a better position.”

This is called the terminally unique syndrome. The ego or lack of it creates almost a bipolar understanding of oneself. The commandment of the king can teach everyone that G-d is always with us. The commandment to carry a Torah scroll should remind us that we are who we are for a reason. This symbol of carrying G-d’s law with us is to remind us of our inherent worth and in turn the worth of others. If we can keep this balance it will allow us to see our unique task. So remember, we are never as bad as we think we are and we also are not the greatest human ever created. We, like everyone else, are a work in progress.


Aliza Lipkin, Writer and Educator, Maaleh Adumim, Israel

The Torah states regarding the Jewish nation:

“I will set a king over myself, like all the nations around me…”

These words indicate that it is due to the will of the people they appoint a king. God, in turn, commands the king to abide by a set of laws.

God commands the king to write for himself two copies of the Torah. He is to keep one copy with him and “read it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear the Lord, his God, to keep all the words of this Torah and these statutes, to perform them.”

The Hebrew word in the Bible for fear is yirah. Yirah can also mean “he will see”.

It is exceedingly difficult for a king in all his power not to become a pompous autocrat. The commandment for him to constantly review the Torah is to keep him grounded. It is a continual reminder that although he sits on an earthly throne, Hashem is the King of the Universe. When the earthly king makes it his daily practice to review God’s word via the Torah, “he will come to see” God in everything and act accordingly. This enlightened perspective will ensure the king faithfully keeps God’s commands and publicly sanctifies His name. This will yield a kingdom worthy of His Name, one in which each individual can gain a glimpse (he will see) of a Kingdom on earth that is truly divine.


Rabbi Cheryl Peretz, Associate Dean – Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at AJU

This ‘it’ this verse references isn’t just any it. It’s the Torah, and commitment to Torah is not surprising. After all, Talmud Torah has been a hallmark of Jewish life. Each morning and evening, we recite the Sh’ma as a reminder that no matter where we are or go, the words of Torah should always be on our lips. And, while the beginning of this passage renders the appointment of a Jewish monarchy optional, this verse is clear that any such monarch is obligated to have God’s teachings (torah) on a scroll.

The 19th century Lithuanian Rabbi, Netziv (Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin), teaches that while contemplating Torah may well be a requirement for any Jew, it is even more so for the one chosen for a position of power, influence and leadership. As such, the verse unfolds as a mindful progression to the one who commands others – put torah front and center, read it every single day; study it so that it leads to your own Divine awe and ultimately influences enactments and work of your governance. This, Netziv says, leads to putting God at the center and serves as a reminder that the monarch is called to the same service as anyone else – a service that changes who we are and what we do.

The period of Jewish monarchy ended. But the Divine call to hold Torah at the center, to study it that we experience awe and change our behavior, remains a beacon of light and vitality.


With thanks to Miriam Mill-Kreisman, Rabbi Abraham Lieberman, Rabbi Chaim Tureff, Aliza Lipkin, and Rabbi Cheryl Peretz

Image: “David, King of Israel” by Gerard von Honthorst, 1622

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