The Jewish King: A Man of Great Torah Stature and Community Service


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Machon Daniel Torah Weekly

“To Light Up the Shabbos”

Parshas Shoftim


The Jewish King: A Man of Great Torah Stature and  Community Service

“שום תשים עליך מלך אשר יבחר ה’ אלקיך בו מקרב אחיך… לא תוכל לתת עליך איש נכרי אשר לא אחיך הוא” (דברים יז:טו)

“You shall surely appoint for yourself a king whom Hashem your G-d will choose him from amongst your brethren… you cannot place upon yourself a foreign person who is not your brother” (Devorim 17:15)

What is the reason behind the requirement to appoint a king who is of Jewish lineage only? Are there not capable leaders among the other nations!? Do we not know of leaders of numerous nations who have blossomed their counties into international empires!?

It appears that we can understand the reasoning behind this requirement by analyzing the wording of our posuk. We can do so by first asking a number of questions:

(1) “You shall surely appoint for yourself a king – ““שום תשים עליך מלך – Why is the wording שימה used and not מינוי or נתינה as it states at the end of the posuk etc. “לא תוכל לתת עליך איש נכרי” / you cannot place upon yourself a foreign person”?

(2) “You shall surely appoint” / “שום תשים” – Why is the wording doubled?

(3) “whom Hashem your G-d will choose him” / ““אשר יבחר ה’ אלקיך בו – Why is it that the appointment of the king must be with Hashem’s approval?

(4) Why must the king be from Yisrael as the posuk states“מקרב אחיך… לא תוכל לתת עליך איש נכרי אשר לא אחיך הוא” / “from amongst your brethren… you cannot place upon yourself a foreign person who is not your brother”?

In answer to the above:

(1) We can suggest that the Torah uses the wording שימה regarding the appointment of a king for it is similarly used to describe Torah learning. For example, the posuk states “וזאת התורה אשר שם משה לפני בני ישראל” / “And this is the Torah that Moshe placed before the Jewish people” (Devorim 4:44); “ואלו המשפטים אשר תשים לפניהם” / “And these are the laws that you shall place before them” (Shemos 21:1) andושמתם את דברי אלה על לבבכם ועל נפשכם… ולמדתם אותם את בניכם” /  “And you shall place these words on your hearts and on your souls… and you shall teach them to your children” (Devorim 11:18-19), etc. This comes to teach us that the king’s rule must be based on the laws of the Torah. In addition, from this we learn that the teachings of the Torah must be extremely clear to him as this is the basic meaning of the word שימה. (See Rashi on Shemos 21:1.)

Alternatively, we can suggest that the wording of שימה implies that the king must follow in the path of our forefathers as the same wording is found by them and in their most powerful tests. By Avraham and Yitzchok in the test of the Akeida/binding it is written “ויקח אברהם את עצי העולה וישם על יצחק בנו” / “And Avraham took the wood he had prepared for the offering and he placed them on Yitzchok his son (Bereishis 22:6) and similarly in posuk 9 it states“ויעקוד את יצחק בנו וישם אותו על המזבח” / “and he tied his son Yitzchok and placed him on the alter”. And we find the wording of שימה by Yaakov as well as it states    ““ויקח מאבני המקום וישם מראשותיו / “and he (Yaakov) took from the stones of the place and placed them around his head” (ibid 28:11).

(2) The doubling of the word שימה we can explain as follows: The first mention of the word expresses permission to appoint a king according to the accompanying conditions, while the repetition of שימה teaches us that the purpose of a Jewish king is different than that of a non-Jewish king. A non-Jewish king is usually interested in establishing his personal power base and puts the needs of his people at a far second as we see clearly in our very own generation. On the other hand, a Jewish king is not appointed for his personal benefit at all but purely for the benefit of the people. And so we find that Jewish kings gave of their precious time to take care of the needs of each and every person. By Moshe Rebbeinu the posuk states“וישב משה לשפוט את העם… מן הבקר עד הערב” / “And Moshe sat in judgment of the people’s (questions)… from the morning until the evening” (Shemos 19:13). Similarly, when Moshe asked Hashem to appoint a leader worthy of replacing him as “king” of Israel he asked “יפקוד ה’ אלקי הרוחות לכל בשר איש על העדה” / “May Hashem, G-d of souls for each life, appoint a (worthy) man (leader) over the congregation” (Bamidbar 27:16) and Rashi explains Moshe’s intention was to appoint a leader who would be able to relate to each and every individual according to his personality and temperament.

(3) We asked as well why it was necessary for Hashem to choose the king? The answer is that the purpose of a Jewish king is to connect the people to Hashem, the King of kings, and only Hashem knows who is fitting and worthy of this position. With this, we can explain the words of Dovid Hamelech“לך אמר לבי בקשו פני את פניך ה’ אבקש” / “To you (Hashem) my heart said, request before me, Your Presence Hashem I request” (Tehillim 27:8). That is, Dovid Hamelech instructed the people to follow after his leadership. Why? For “את פניך ה’ אבקש” / “Your Presence Hashem I request”, meaning that Dovid’s intention was to bring the people closer to Hashem and His ways. This is what the holy seforim mean when they say that the characteristic of kingship is epitomized by a total disconnection from all earthly possessions. Only in this manner can the king perform his true function as a conduit through which to bring down spiritual direction from the heavens, bring the good actions of Bnei Yisrael upward to stand in front of Hashem and to help through this to cause an outpouring of prosperity for the benefit of the Jewish people. All this is hinted to in the ladder Yaakov saw in his dream as it states“והנה מלאכי אלקים עולים ויורדים בו” / “And behold, the messengers of G-d are ascending and descending on it (the ladder)” (Bereishis 28:13); “ascending” in order to bring the good deeds of the Jewish people in front of G-d’s holy throne in the heavens, and “descending” in order to bring prosperity upon them. All this is accomplished through the efforts of the king. The above process is hinted to as well in the letters which compromise the word מל”ך and in their order. The letter מ”ם/mem hints to the מעשים/good deeds of the Jewish people. The למ”ד/lamed hints to the raising of these deeds upward to shamayim (as the lamed is the highest letter in the alphabet) and the כ”ף פשוטה/long kaf hints to the descending of G-d-sent prosperity from the heavens as the kaf reaches lower down than any other letter in the alphabet.

How does the king merit to all this on behalf of the people? By fulfilling the קו”ל /voice of the Torah which is the voice of Yaakov who had the dream mentioned above. And so the numerical value of סול”ם is 130 which is the same numerical value as קו”ל. (Maybe this is the reason for the repetition of the word קול in Yitzchok’s blessing to Yaakov as it states “הקול קול יעקב” / “the voice is the voice of Yaakov” (ibid 27:22); one קול is said against the ascending of Hashem’s messengers who carry the peoples’ good deeds upward to Him and one קול is said against the descending of the messengers downward to earth with Hashem’s blessings in their hands to be distributed to the Jewish people.)

(4) From the above it is obvious why the king must be from Yisrael, for only a Jew has within him the spiritual power necessary to achieve the lofty task assigned to a Jewish king.

Elul 5777

Wishing you a good Shabbos and a healthy, happy and successful New Year. May you see and feel personal growth in Torah learning and fulfillment!

Yona Vogel

p.s. I would appreciate if you were able to print a few copies of the Torah Weekly each week and place them in your respective shuls and/or forward them to your family members or friends. In this way, we can reach out to more Yiddin. Tizku lmitzvos!







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