“It shall be upon his sitting on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this Torah in a scroll, from that which is before the priests, the Levites. It shall be with him, and he shall read from it all the days of his life, so that he will learn to fear the Lord his God, to observe all the words of this Torah and these statutes, in order to perform them.” (Devarim 17:18-19)

The King of Israel was required to possess two Sifrei Torah, one that was kept in his inner chambers and one that “came in and went out with him” (Rashi, citing Sanhedrin 21b). The illustrious Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin (Minsk 1888 – Israel, 1978 in L’Torah U’l’moadim) finds great significance in this teaching of our sages. He notes that there are three ‘aspects’ of the king’s sifrei Torah: coming in, going out and storage in his inner chambers. The king must direct his steps in three directions: towards the outside (foreign relations), towards the inside (domestic matters) and towards himself (personal morality). In regards his relationship to the “outside world”, we find that the nation requested of the prophet Samuel when asking for a king (I Samuel 8:20), “he will go out before us and wage our wars.” This was common to all kings of Judah and Israel – not only did they wage wars against the local tribes, they went out at the head of the troops. When Moshe asked Hashem for a successor, one of the requirements of the job was that he would “go out before them”. Rashi (Bamidbar 27:17) comments, “Not like the kings of the nations who sit in their homes and send their troops to war but rather as I (Moshe) did, when I fought against Sichon and Og…” But it is not just in war that the king relates to the nations of the world, even during peacetime, his “foreign policy” should be one that is correct and appropriate and based on the Torah.

Although he was not a king in the traditional sense, Prime Minister Menachem Begin was very proud of his Judaism and had no qualms displaying it in the presence of global leaders.  In an interview with the late Yehudah Avner, the author of The Prime Ministers, the ultimate insider’s account of Israeli leadership, David Horowitz of the Jerusalem Post asked Avner about his working relationship with Begin ( ). Here is one excerpt from that interview: “Before Begin, all the meals – official dinners, White House, Downing Street: treif. I had to order a vegetarian dish. Under Begin: kosher. The first time we went to America, in July 1977, he told me to take care of it (for the White House banquet). You have no idea the fights I had among the kosher caterers…in Baltimore, in Washington…So this was Begin.” Begin’s behaviour mirrored that of King David who said (Tehillim 119:46): “I will speak of Your testimonies before kings and I will not be ashamed.

Then there is his relationship with his people – domestic affairs. The king must lead his subjects in the proper way, teach them, instruct them and judge them. In his famous prayer, King Solomon asked God (I Kings 3:9), “May you give your servant an attentive heart to judge Your people, to discern between good and evil…” Similarly when the nation begged Samuel for a king (I Samuel 8:20), they said, “and our king will judge us.”

In regards to his inner self, the king had to be particularly careful to foster refined character traits and to act in a way that was upright. The Talmud (Brachot 34b) has a phrase relating to the way in which the monarch would pray, “Once the king has bowed down, he does not straighten up.” The simple meaning is that he remains in a prostrated position. The deeper implication is that precisely because the king is so exalted and elevated above the masses, he needs to feel his lowliness before Hashem and to bow without rising erect. Thus, we find that the great King David wrote about himself (Tehillim 22:7), “I am a worm and not a man, an object of disgrace, scorned by the masses.” 

The king had a Sefer Torah for coming in and going out. For coming in, that is when facing his people, all of his dealings and judgments were to be according to the Torah. For going out, that is when engaging with the outside world, whether in war or peace, all of his actions were to be guided by the Torah. Thus, we find in the Talmud (Brachot 3b) that before the king waged war he had to consult with the Sanhedrin, the supreme Torah body, and with the High Priest, via the urim v’turim, the Holy Names that were contained in the breastplate. For these two relationships, he had one Sefer Torah. However, he also had another Sefer Torah that “was stored in his inner chambers”, in his innermost thoughts. This Sefer Torah guided him as a person, reaching into the depths of his heart and the chambers of his soul.

Rabbi Zevin concludes by noting that in certain respects the sages declared (Shabbat 67a) that “all of Israel are the children of kings.” We also possess a spark of nobility. And, like a king, we have three relationships: to the outside, to the inside and to ourselves. We are required to interact with the non-Jewish world and occasionally, even with those who are hostile to Jews. We also engage with our families and communities, with our fellow Jews.  And, finally, each person is a world in himself. In each of these relationships, we must be guided by the Torah which accompanies us when we go out, when we come in and when sit in our inner chambers.

Lee, Chani Merryl and Naomi join me in wishing you Shabbat Shalom! Rabbi Liebenberg

Link to Rabbi’s YouTube message for the parsha:





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