Appointing a King

August 9, 2021

2 min read


Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9 )

When you come to the Land that God gives you… and you will say, “I will set a king over myself”…;You shall surely set a king over yourself (Deut. 17:14-15).

Inasmuch as appointing a king is a mitzvah, why did Samuel rebuke the Israelites sharply when they requested a king (I Samuel 8:5)?

The commentaries have given a number of answers to this question. Perhaps the most satisfying is that of the Klei Yakar, who directs our attention to a subtle nuance in the verses of Deuteronomy and Samuel.

It is a mitzvah to appoint a king when the intention is, “I will set a king over myself,” i.e., when one is willing to subordinate oneself to the king's rule and accept his authority. Close attention to the request of the Israelites of the Prophet Samuel show that they requested, “Give unto us a king,” not a king over us whom we will obey, but rather a king unto us who will cater to our wishes. It was this request that angered the prophet.

A term frequently used to refer to a rabbi is “spiritual leader.” Alas! Not infrequently, the rabbi is a spiritual follower rather than leader.

Rabbi Yisroel of Salant commented on the Talmud that describes the sorry state of affairs that will prevail before the Ultimate Redemption, among them, “the face, i.e., the leaders, of the generation will be similar to dogs” (Sanhedrin 97a). He said that a dog often runs ahead of its master, but then looks back to see whether the master has turned the corner. If he sees that the master has veered off in another direction, he runs back to follow him.

“That is how the leaders will be before the Ultimate Redemption,” Rabbi Yisroel said. “They may give the appearance of leading the community, but like a dog watching its master, they turn around to see which way the community is heading, and they follow them.”

We must accept authentic leadership and defer to authority, rather than expect the leaders to follow us.

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