Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Ideal Jewish King

This week read a special Haftora for Shabbos Rosh Chodesh, which I already wrote on (see link). The Haftora I wrote about is for this week's parsha, Korach. Please enjoy.
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The Haftora for parshas Korach is from the book of Shmuel Alef (I Samuel). It tells of how Shmuel established King Shaul as the sovereign over the Jewish people. This was the second time Shmuel did this, the first time was a small event in Mitzpa, as Shaul's sovereignty wasn't widely accepted. But now after proving himself, by winning a battle against the Amorites, the whole nation rallied around him. The second event establishing Shaul as king in Gilgal, was celebrated with great festivity and joy.

With the nation gathered in Gilgal, Shmuel talked to the Jewish people. First he established his innocence, as a leader who never took anything from the people. He said, "Whose ox have I taken? And whose donkey have I taken? Have I robbed anyone? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I taken payment that caused me to hide my eyes (from his wrongdoing)?" The people answered that he hasn't done any of those things. Then he reminded them of how much Hashem did for them, and reprimanded them for asking for a king, when Hashem is their King. He continued to say that as long as they stay true to Hashem, they will live happily with their king. He then warned them not to turn away from Hashem, and what will happen if they do. He then demonstrated that point by asking Hashem to make it rain, being the time of harvest, it would damage all of the crops. It began to pour, they asked Shmuel to pray for the rain to stop. He told them not to fear, just remember not to turn away from Hashem. The point was made, that their lives are in Hashem's hands, and they realized that asking for a king was the wrong thing to do. He then concluded by reminding them not to turn away from Hashem, and that no matter what, Hashem will not abandon them.

How does this connect to our parsha? The simple answer is that in the parsha Moshe said a statement of innocence, "not a donkey have I taken from a single one of them, and I haven't harmed a single one of them." Similar to what Shmuel said in the Haftora, "Whose ox have I taken? And whose donkey have I taken?..." The problem with this explanation is that it's only a detail. How do the themes of the Haftora and the parsha sync?

Perhaps we could say that when the Jewish people asked Shmuel for a king over them, rather than having him continue as their leader, it was a form of rebellion, akin to the rebellion of Korach in our parsha. The problem with this explanation is that it is really not the same, because appointing a king over the Jewish people is a mitzvah, as it says, "You shall appoint over yourself a king." What then is the theme of the parsha that the Haftora highlights?

There is a famous question asked about this. When the Jewish people asked for a king, Shmuel was unhappy. Hashem was unhappy as well, He said to Shmuel, "For they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from reigning over them." Yet He commanded Shmuel to go ahead with it. Now, if it's a mitzvah to appoint a king, why are they upset? And if they are upset, why did Hashem tell Shmuel to appoint a king?

There are two possible reasons for appointing a king. The first is for basic law and order, like any nation that has a king or other governing body. As it says in Pirkei Avos, "If not for the fear (of the king) one man would swallow the other alive." Even though people should know better, their nature is to want things, which causes them to go against what is right. Having a king and a government is a deterrent for such behavior.

However in an ideal Jewish community, the people are G-d fearing, and that is their deterrent, Hashem is their King. In that case, appointing a king is for a different reason. It is because of the greatness of the king, that he is head and shoulders above the nation spiritually, and he can help us reach higher levels of closeness to Hashem than we could attain on our own. The ideal Jewish king is not the great warrior, or someone who could wield his power over the people, rather he is a giant of spiritual holiness. Why is he so great? Because not only is he a spiritual giant, and a Torah scholar of the highest caliber, he is so humble and feels so nullified before Hashem, that Hashem clearly comes through and expresses Himself through him. He is at such a high level, beyond anything even learned G-d fearing Jews could reach on their own. In the Torah the king is often called the Nassi, which like the word nasso, means to raise, because the job of the king is to raise the people higher. One such person was Moshe, and another will be Moshiach. A person who is at this level, has no interest in power or being the king, his greatness is a natural part of him and he has no need to control people. It is us, who recognize that he is beyond anything we could attain, and we request of him to be our king.

When they asked Shmuel for a king, they didn't ask for the kind of king that will bring them closer to Hashem. They asked for a king "like all the nations," a law and order king, and this was upsetting, because it meant that they didn't feel that Hashem was their King, there was a lack of fear of Hashem. It was a rejection of Hashem. This is what Shmuel meant when he said, "And you said to me, 'no, rather a king should rule over us,' but Hashem your G-d is your King."

If Hashem was unhappy with the request, why did He give them the king they were asking for?

Now that the Jewish people asked for a king "like all the nations," it was a clear demonstration of how low they had fallen. There was no time to waste, they really needed a king to guide them, to show them the right way to live. Once they have accepted upon themselves a leader to show them the right way, with time they will become G-d fearing, and then they will be able to have the higher level of king, who will bring them to new heights and to a deeper connection with Hashem.

Now that we don't have a king, who fills that much needed position? Our sages tell us, "Who is the king? The rabbis." They serve as our guides. In Pirkei Avos it says, "make for yourself a rabbi," These are the words of Rabbi Yehoshua the son of Prachya, who was the Nassi in his time. He was of the opinion that every Jewish person, even the most knowledgeable, like himself, should have a rabbi to guide him.

This is a call to every Jewish person, to find for themselves a rabbi, for some it means a guide in everyday matters, for others it means a guide to higher spiritual growth. If one says, "I will be my own rabbi, I don't need a rabbi for guidance," that is a lack of fear of Hashem. No matter how learned you are, you should have a rabbi.

It doesn't mean a rabbi in the rabbinical sense, rather someone who you respect and you feel that he can guide you in the ways of Torah and spirituality.

Perhaps this is how the Haftora brings out the theme of the parsha. Korach and his cohorts came before Moshe and Aaron with a complaint, "The entire congregation is all holy, and Hashem is in their midst, so why do you raise yourselves above Hashem's community ." In other words, do we need you to or anyone else to guide us, we are G-d fearing isn't that enough. And in truth, that is when Jewish people need a guide to take them to heights they could not reach on their own. That is a from of rejection of Hashem, because, why wouldn't you want a king, a Moshe that will bring you ever closer to Hashem? The Haftora stresses the point that we should not reject Hashem, Korach and his cohorts rejected Hashem on a deeper level, because being that they were at a higher level they should have known better.

May we merit to see Moshiach become our king, the one who will take us to the greatest heights, and the deepest levels of closeness to Hashem. May it happen soon.
Dedicated to the Rebbe, whose yartziet is this week. He was the leader who saw the potential in every person and raised us to a higher level.


  1. Thankyou for this greatness lesson!!

  2. Didn't read this vort yet but wanted to comment on last week's vort:
    How many times have I read this story (of the spies) and that of Joshua and have never paid attention to the details you pointed out! Namely about what you said about the two different purposes of spying; to see the land or to find out the vulnerability of the enemy. No wonder then when Moshe's spies overstepped their bounds when they began to describe the enemy and how hard it would be to conquer them; that was not their business or to even to be reckoned with. Still can't believe the length breadth and depth of your weekly messages!
    Much Hatzalcha and keep them coming!

  3. Thank you for explaining the connection. This was a great lesson.
    Carmi Wisemon

  4. Sorry, just got to reading last weeks paper but I love it and its lesson always applies!
    Rav Yitzi, how about compiling all your weekly messages on the Parsha and Haftara and editing them into a book??? We would love to see that!
    Can't wait...

  5. Dear Rabbi Hurwitz;

    Just came across your blog. Thank you for your insights and teachings from the Torah. I learn something new every time I read. Your amazing strength, given by Hashem, but your choice to actualize it, is an insight and an inspiration as well.

    Warmest regards,

    E. Rotblatt