Parashas Shoftim by Rabbi Mark Cohn

Parshas Shoftim, discusses the appointment of a king over Eretz Yisrael. Unlike most national rulers, our king must refrain from indulging in the excesses common to his contemporaries. The Torah teaches, ‘Only he will not have too many horses…And he will not have too many wives…And he shall not greatly increase gold and silver for himself.’ 

“The reason given by the Torah for these prohibitions is in order that he should remain humble, lest he forget that even a Jewish king is still a servant of G-d. Obviously, this Mitzvah can only be performed when the Jewish people have returned, in their entirety, to Eretz Yisrael. Yet, there remains a beautiful lesson that applies to this day. The Shaim Meshmuel, the sochotchover rebbe, zt”l, explains that every person has the spirituality of an entire world within himself or herself. It is the job of each of us to rule over that world and to protect that potential spiritual growth. 

“This world comprises the body, the spirit and the intelligence – all three of which are referred to in the parshah. The King’s need to limit his wealth corresponds to the individual’s need to control his intellect. Just as money is only a means and not an end in itself, so, too, intellect is a tool to be used for spiritual wisdom and understanding, not something to be exercised for any purpose. The prohibition against horses corresponds to a need to control the spirit of man, the source of arrogance. As we learn in Avos, ‘Be exceedingly humble in spirit.’ (The Torah is warning us not to ‘get on our high horse’!). Finally, the king’s limitation on wives shows a need to control the desires of the body. Every individual must control his physical desires, lest he become consumed by them and drawn away from G-d. 

“The Torah not only gives the king these prohibitions but also gives him one more mitzvah to help him avoid falling into the trap of excess: ‘And he shall write two copies of this Torah…And it shall be with him and he shall read from it all the days of his life, so that he wil learn to fear Hashem, his G-d, to observe all the words of this Torah and these decrees and do them. This timeless directive applies to us all. In order to avoid the temptations of the body, spirit and intellect, it is essential that every individual Jew dedicate himself to the study of Torah. For, in the words of the parshah, only through the study of Torah will one ‘learn to fear Hashem…observe all the words of the Torah…to do them.’ 

“May it be the will of Hakadosh Baruch Hu that we all live our lives with the understanding that we are all like kings, shapers of our own spiritual destinies, and that, like kings, we must be careful to keep our priorities straight and our mission clear.” 

Rabbi Mark Cohn 
Executive Director of the Southern Region of the Orthodox Union 

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