- Posted by Elaine Zecher
- On December 6, 2019
- 0 Comments
Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat. Listen to it as a podcast HERE.
Kings do not need to testify. They don’t need to judge or be judged. Mishnah Sanhedrin 2:2 clearly stated this allowance. Deuteronomy allowed kings to keep many horses but not many wives, lest his heart go astray. (17: 14-17) The king could not amass silver and gold to excess either. Deuteronomy laid out such restrictions for a monarch to protect against royal autocracy. The prophet, Samuel, responded to the people’s request for a king with the following warning:
He said, “This will be the practice of the king who will rule over you: He will take your sons and appoint them as his charioteers and horsemen, and they will serve as outrunners for his chariots. He will appoint them as his chiefs of thousands and of fifties; or they will have to plow his fields, reap his harvest, and make his weapons and the equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters as perfumers, cooks, and bakers. He will seize your choice fields, vineyards, and olive groves, and give them to his courtiers. He will take a tenth part of your grain and vintage and give it to his eunuchs and courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, your choice young men, and your asses, and put them to work for him. He will take a tenth part of your flocks, and you shall become his slaves. The day will come when you cry out because of the king whom you yourselves have chosen; and the LORD will not answer you on that day.” But the people would not listen to Samuel’s warning. “No,” they said. “We must have a king over us… (I Samuel 8:11-19)
The framers of American freedom knew well the pitfalls of a monarchy. They fought to free themselves of the royal grip and replace it with elected officials. Sometimes leaders have fallen prey to a self-induced autocracy at their own peril and to that of their nation. Shakespeare used this human fallibility to his literary advantage.
Deuteronomy and later, the Mishnah dictate a precautionary behavior for a king.
When he is seated on his royal throne, he shall have a copy of this Teaching… Let it remain with him and let him read in it all his life, so that he may learn to revere the Eternal his God, to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching as well as these laws. Thus he will not act haughtily toward his fellows or deviate from the Instruction to the right or to the left, to the end that he and his descendants may reign long in the midst of Israel.
No leader should be above the law. The presence of the Teaching served as a constant and consistent reminder of the path of the upright. Without it, the hubris and haughtiness cause their own demise.