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Friday, August 29, 2014 • 6:34 pm
• Our Portion for the Week •
SHOFETIM – DEUTERONOMY 16:18 – 21:9
In this portion we continue the listing of the laws by which the Israelites are to live in the Promised Land. The focus here is on social organization, and consideration is given to defining the status and responsibilities of four different types of leaders: judges, the king, priests and prophets. Judges are admonished that justice must be free, accessible and absolutely impartial. If there is to be a king, he must be a native Israelite and a constitutional monarch who governs in accordance with the Torah. He is forbidden to have standing cavalry or a harem, and he must himself study and obey the law. The priests are not to have any allotment of land, but they are to be supported by the people through emoluments. The prophets will not be sorcerers, diviners or soothsayers or practice any kind of magic. They will be, like Moses, men who truly and accurately transmit God's message to the Israelites. The portion concludes with laws concerning crime and warfare. They assure that personal rights are respected and that even when it becomes necessary to go to war, human kindness is displayed.
• Our Question for the Week •
When he is seated on his royal throne, he shall have a copy of this Teaching written for him on a scroll by the levitical priests. Let it remain with him and let him read it all his life, so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God, to observe faithfully all the words of this Teaching as well as these laws. Thus he will not act haughtily toward his fellows or deviate from the Instruction to the right or to the left, to the end that he and his descendants may reign long in the midst of Israel.
What impact have the requirements incumbent upon an Israelite king, as detailed in this passage, had on modern democratic governance? How is Israel, as a secular state, to understand the imperative of these verses while avoiding fundamentalism and theocracy?
The Talmud (Gittin 62a) says that rabbinic sages are compared to kings. How might the constraints on monarchs in our verses be applied to contemporary rabbis in their roles as legal decisors?
Why the requirement that a king actually write a copy of God's Law? How would an Israelite king – and his subjects – benefit from this exercise? Our tradition teaches us that every Jew is required to write a Torah scroll (or, minimally, to participate in or commission its writing) – the 613th mitzvah. What is the essential significance of this obligation, and its doubly binding application to a king?