A King’s Balance
והיתה עמו וקרא בו כל ימי חייו למען ילמד ליראה את ה’ אלקיו (יז:יט).
“The Sefer Torah shall be with him (the king) always…” (17:19).
The Jewish king is required to have a Sefer Torah with him everywhere that he goes. Additionally, he must have another Sefer Torah kept at all times in his home. What is the significance of these requirements?
The Gemara (Berachos 34) tells us that there are four times that the common folk must bow during the course of the Shmoneh Esrei prayer. When the king prays he must bow at the beginning and end of each berachah! Rabbi Yitzchok bar Nachmeini argues and states that the king should bow for the first berachah and just stay down there prostrated before Hashem until his conclusion of the entire Shmoneh Esrei! What is being taught here?!
Rashi fills us in with one simple line. “He who is more respected by people is more susceptible to haughtiness, and thus must prostrate and lower himself before Hashem more!” A king is a powerful and respected person. It is easy for him to get distracted by his own self-worth and forget about Hashem. Thus, the Torah and rabbinical law place additional commandments upon him to help teach him to remain humble. The Torah states that he should have a Torah scroll in his private living quarters and that he should also carry one with him wherever he goes. He must constantly remember how important the adherence of Torah law is and that he is to be the role model for the nation in how to be a true servant of Hashem! When he prays Shemoneh Esrei he must humble himself as well.
This carries over to all aspects in life. Chazal (Pirkey D’R’Eliezer 16) tell us, “Chosson domeh L’melech, the groom is like a king.” What is being stated here? Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler zt”l (1892 – 1953) explains a most interesting point here. A king lives with two contradictory jobs. On the one hand, he must demand respect from his subjects, so much so that he is not even permitted to forgive of his honor! On the other hand, the Torah states that the king must be sure that he does not become haughty. How does he perform these opposing duties? The answer is that the job required of him is precise balance and care. On the outside he must appear royal; on the inside he must be dedicated unconditionally to Hashem!
The groom’s job is to emulate this king. On the outside it appears that he is simply marrying a physically beautiful kallah, bride. One may think that this union is being formed for materialistic and lustful reasons. But he must also have on his mind the tremendous spiritual opportunity of growth and closeness to Hashem which having his partner will afford him. This may be contrary to what it looks like on the outside! This is the delicate balancing act required of this “king”!
Chazal (Eruvin 54a) say that this world is like a wedding. Our job is to be like that groom. This is the challenge of life. Many actions we do are in truth a contradiction to this reality. We work and put in effort to earn money, but really it is Hashem who is providing for us. Our hearts beat and give us life, but really Hashem is the one making our hearts pump! In every situation we must know and feel Hashem’s presence. Indeed, few of us are actual kings or queens, but the message is still relevant. In life, there are daily opportunities for us to become haughty and forget about Hashem. True, we should be proud of our accomplishments, however, this should not allow us to thereby diminish our efforts. Rather this should encourage us to grow higher and better. True fulfillment comes from closeness to Hashem! This is the lesson of the king. Hashem promised Dovid HaMelech that his kingdom would continue as long as his descendants were truly dedicated to Hashem. May the messianic progeny of David redeem us speedily.
Cause and Effect
ומי האיש אשר ארש אשה ולא לקחה ילך וישב לביתו פן ימות במלחמה ואיש אחר יקחנה (כ:ז).
“Any man that just got married… should leave lest he die in battle…” (20:7).
Before the Jews went out to war, the Kohen would announce that anyone the just built a house, planted a vineyard, got married or is scared because of their sins, must stay back and not fight. In the last announcement, the Kohen says, “whoever just got married (within the year), should go home, lest he die in the war. Rashi makes a strong comment, “if he does not follow the words of the Kohen, he deserves to die”! This comment is perplexing for numerous reasons.
Firstly, why such a harsh punishment? Secondly, Rashi only focuses this comment upon the one who just got married, yet omits this comment regarding the man who built a new house or planted a vineyard, even though the verse itself uses the exact same phraseology there as well?
The Nodah B’Yehuda explains the reason that this punishment only applies to the one who got married. If someone built a house and decided that he was willing to take the risk of going to war, he had a right to stay and was allowed to make that choice, as it only effected himself. However, if a man who got married and then decided to go to war never-the-less, Rashi stresses that he is punishable as his decision is hurting his wife as well.
This idea is fascinating, however, the question which I always had on it is: this seems preposterous?! The punishment that he gets for going to war and hurting his wife, is that he will die. Isn’t this an even bigger hurt to her?!
The answer emerges from the following Gemara (Kesubos 62b). Rabbi Rachumi used to learn all year in the city of Mechuza. Once a year, he would come home on Erev Yom Kippur (and stay through Sukkos). One year, he delayed his departure and his wife was frantically worrying and asking, “when is he coming”. As the hours passed, she shed a painful tear of despair. At that moment, the roof that Rabbi Rachumi was on caved in and he died. A terribly sad story.
Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz states that this Gemara is so difficult to understand. He was punished for hurting his wife and causing her to shed a tear of anguish, but now that she is a widow, there will be buckets of tears, so what in the world was accomplished with this punishment?
Rabbi Shmuelevitz says a frightening and powerful principle here: When you hurt someone’s feelings, you are playing with fire; when you play with fire, you get burnt! This was not a punishment, it was (on their high level) a spiritual consequence for his hurting her.
I believe that the same holds true here. The Torah states the if a man who just got married goes to war and hurts his new wife, then he has unfortunately triggered a spiritual consequence of death. This teaches us how sensitive and careful we must be when dealing with other’s feelings.
This is most relevant as we enter Elul. We see the importance of not hurting others. Hashem’s mercy is great and surely one that cares for and is sensitive to others will be rewarded tremendously!
Extra Short and Sweet Personal Gatekeeper
The simple explanation of the first Mitzvah in this week’s Parsha calls for the appointment of judges and enforcers at every gate (city) where the Jews dwell.
Rabbi Chaim Vital zt”l states that there is a more personal message hinted to here as well. Hashem grants us a body which has numerous abilities. Each one of our senses can be used for good, the service of Hashem, or the opposite. Our mouth can be used for singing the praise of Hashem, sharing friendly words, talking about Divrey Torah, eating Matzah or a delicious Shabbos meal, all of these things are great spiritual joys. On the other hand, one can misuse the mouth by speaking Lashon Harah, inappropriate words or eating something not permitted by Torah law. So too with our sense of hearing, sight, smell and the entire body.
Rabbi Vital says that the Torah is hinting that we must guard out personal “gates”, the organs of out body that help us interact with and experience the world. We must ensure that they are used in the most productive ways!
Jewish Birth Order
Leadership is a hot topic in today’s competitive world. Many companies have CEO’s who tower above all in power, privileges and pay. The Jewish model and perspective on effective leadership is quite illuminating.
Appointing a King
In our parsha Hashem commands the Jews to appoint a king when they enter Eretz Yisrael. The verse states (Devarim 17:15), “Appoint a king upon you that Hashem will choose from among your brothers…” The Ben Ish Chai (Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad, 1832 – 1909) states based on this verse that the Jewish king was supposed to come from a middle child of Yaakov. This is implied by the words, “from among your brothers.” Out of the four wives of Yaakov only one of them had a middle child. Rachel, Bilhah and Ziplah each had two sons with none in the middle. Leah had six sons which would appear to make it that no one had an absolute middle child. However, the very next verse after this topic states that the tribe of Levi does not have a portion in the land. Thus making it that only five of the six sons of Leah were to get land in Eretz Yisrael. This meant that out of the five sons, the middle one, Yehuda, would be king.
This played out further when Yeravam ben Nevat became the king of Yisrael and split off away from the king of Yehuda. Yeravam came from the tribe of Efraim who was the son of Yosef. Yosef’s children had status as if they were shevatim, tribes, themselves and got portions in Eretz Yisrael. Thus, in a sense Rachel had three sons, Menashe, Efraim and Binyamin. Efraim was the middle son and so Yeravam became the king.
Many psychologists ascribe significance to birth order. As a first born myself, I must admit that one of my favorite books written by the world expert on birth order, Dr. Kevin Leman, is called First Born Advantage. Dr. Leman talks about how the middle child is the one who holds the family together with a tranquil and peaceful force. The middle child has a unique perspective of the family dynamics above and below him. Often the firstborns are unavailable as they are pursuing their own perfectionist goals while the youngest can lack a voice in the family schema. Middle children often have compassion and sensitivity towards all other family members and serve as the chain that links the entire family.
The Jewish king was meant to lead and guide the nation to aspire to closeness to Hashem and personal greatness. The king was not meant to be aloof. On the contrary, the great King David prided himself (Berachos 4a) for being available to the nation and in touch with their personal needs. A leader is meant to be one that is connected with and deeply committed to the needs of the people. The Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra (1089 – 1167) points out that the very word for king in Hebrew is ‘melech’ and it comes from the root of “himlach, to take counsel from.” This translation is in direct contrast with the secular concept of a king as a dictator with absolute power. The Jewish king is given the responsibility to hear the needs and desires of the people and to act accordingly. He stands for moral truth and Torah sensitivity and he tries his best to help the Jewish nation. This applies to anyone in any leadership role. The most effective modality is one of cooperation and respect towards others.