Kings

ki taveh el ha’aretz asher Adonai eloheha notein lach virishtah v’yashavta bah vamarta asima alai melech k’chol-hagoyim asher s’vivotai som tasim aleha melech asher yivchar Adonai eloheha bo mikerev acheha tasim aleha melech lo tuchal lateit alecha nochrei asher lo acheha hu.

“If, after you have entered the land that the Eternal your G-d has assigned to you, and taken possession of it and settled in it, you decide, “I will set a king over me as do all the nations about me,” you shall be free to set a king over yourself, one chosen by the Eternal your G-d. Be sure to set as king over yourself one of your own people; you must not set a foreigner over you, one who is not your kin.”

First of all, Moses is looking ahead again. He knows that the Israelites  are terrible at ruling themselves and when left to their own devices for six weeks start making idols and generally not following the rules. So he knows that eventually, they will need a king. (Smart guy, Moses… 🙂 ) He then thinks, “Hmmm… if we don’t start setting rules they will bring in a Baal-worshiping Canaanite and then they will all start worshiping Baal. So, what are some criteria for a king…”

Here is what Moses comes up with. The king:

  • Must be an Israelite
  • Must be chosen by G-d
  • Can’t have a zillion horses
  • Can’t “send people back to Egypt to add to his horses,” though I don’t know whether that means “No mercenaries in trade for horses” like the book says, or “Nobody can go to trade for horses. Period.”
  • Can’t have many wives (How much is many? I don’t know, as it was custom for everyone to have at least a few…)
  • Can’t have too much money
  • Must be faithful and learned and non-haughty

A lot of this ensures that the king is not too wealthy. While it is important that there doesn’t end up being a huge wealth divide between the king and the people, it rather alarms me that there is only one criteria  that has to do with what kind of a person you are. I think that above the importance of being native is the importance of being kind and wise. What if there is a king who meets all of the requirements but still manages to be a tyrant? Why would we be so concerned about the king’s wealth and parentage if he has many wives because he loves them all, many horses because he, um, likes horses (?), and money because he inherited it and is not yet done spending it or because he is saving in case of financial trouble? Sometimes Moses forgets that sometimes the best criteria are intangible. Then again, maybe he forgets that not everyone hits the rock when you give them a chance. I think that these criteria should be added:

  • Must be fair to his/her subjects
  • Must care about what is best for the subjects, not just him
  • Must be able to act, not just think

Do you have any criteria to add? Don’t be shy, PLEASE comment. I haven’t had a comment in AGES!

By me, with help from G-d.

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7 Comments

  1. If a king is a faithful to God, and learned, I think Moses IS looking at some of those intangible qualities you mention. To me, some of the vagueness is to keep the rules broad and expansive so that the kingship can grow with the people and their needs.
    I think you hit on one of the most key elements in that a king should be of the same tradition as the people; at the time, keeping the Israelites separate from the pagans is about strengthening their own identity.
    Let me throw it back at you: does a leader of Israel still need to be Jewish? If so, how Jewish? Orthodox only?

    • Hmmm… Modern or ancient? In temple times, it didn’t much matter, because all the Isrealites were Jewish, and there was really only one kind of Judaism. Now, it might be a benefit to leader of Israel to either be another religion, atheist, a reform Jew, a non-practicing Jew, or a convert to Judaism. This gives them experience with and/or tolerance of other religions, which is something you don’t necessarily get when you are raised orthodox. I think that reform Jews, Christians, and Muslims have as much right to Israel and its leadership as orthodox Jews. And furthermore, I think that the point of Israel is not, actually, to define “Jewish State” as a state in which everyone is Jewish, or orthodox Jewish, or obeys every single one of the 613 commandments, even the irrelevant ones about sacrifice. I think that the phrase “Jewish State” simply means what people mean when they say that the US is a “Christian Country,” meaning that the most common religion is Judaism. (I just got off on a tangent that may or may not be more useful than what I started off talking about)

      • Even in modern times, the ultra-Orthodox might argue that your state needs a strong identity against those around them and that without that orthodoxy you can’t have a strong state. Their position might also emphasize that degree to which they feel a Jewish state is necessary.

        But to take this back, what about wealth? This breaks almost every convention of kingship in fairytales and non-fictional identity. Could this be a specific criterion of the Exodus generation because of their identity as exiles?

  2. I’m interested in this conversation, but I also want to ask a different question: What would happen, in the Land, if the people had a King who was chosen by the Lord, and who was wise and pious and just and humble, but who in violation of the advice you list did purchase horses from Egypt, and had lots of wives, and who gathered to himself gold in great store exceeding all the kings of the earth?
    Would there be any problems, in the history of our people, associated with such a man?
    Thanks,
    -Papa

  3. Criterion: How about, in the spirit of not being miserly, educating the populous? Although education could bring-about unrest, it could also bring about more Torah reading and be supportive of God.

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