The ideal King/Leader of the Torah
Rabbi Daniela Szuster
If you think about a king, how do you portray him? Based on history, movies and stories, you may imagine him as a very wealthy person, brave, strong, and with the power to do whatever he wants to do.
However, if you look at the Torah, you will find a different kind of ideal king. How should he be a king for the people of Israel? In this week’s parashah, parashat Shoftim, you can find the rules for different kinds of leaders as the judges, kings, priests, and prophets. Regarding the king, you will find many restrictions and only one commandment he has to do.
The Torah instructs the king not to multiply his horses, wives, and wealth. In addition, he has to write a copy of the Torah, carry it wherever he goes and study it (D’varim 17:14-20). You can see here a different portrait of a king. What is the meaning of these restrictions and the positive commandment? I will share with you some thoughts about what we can learn from the ideal king of the Torah:
- The Torah limits the king’s power. He has restrictions and has to follow them. He is not a superior being. He is a human being and has to follow God’s instructions. This means that no one is above the law, even the king.
- The king has to be humble and to pursue wealth. The Torah knows that abundance of wealth, army, and wives tend to divert the king from his function. These are common temptations that he needs to avoid in order to lead their people properly. In addition, according to the sages, these prevent him from believing he is omnipotent and, instead, needs to believe in God’s powers.
- The king has to be a role model for his people. He needs to write a copy of the Torah, carry it and study it. Through these actions he can show his people the importance of studying and following God’s rules and ethical values. Besides this, he teaches that leaders should never stop learning. That is how they grow and teach others to grow with them.
- In addition, we have the role of the prophet, who is like the conscience of the king. He usually criticizes him, trying to prevent him form being corrupt, abusing his power and exploiting his people. The king needs a counselor who warns him about his potential or actual bad behaviors and actions.
We don’t have these ancient kings in our time. However, we can apply these meaningful messages to the leaders of our time. We need leaders that remember that they are not above the law, that they have restrictions and their power is limited. They should be humble people and not arrogant nor vain. Too much wealth can divert them from their functions. They need to be an example for their people and behave in an ethical way. They need to hear their advisors and work hard for the sake of their people.
Let’s hope that our leaders can be inspired by the teachings of this week’s parashah.