08 Sep Rabbi Hillel Skolnik’s Torah Spark for Parashat Shoftim 5776
This Shabbat we read from Parashat Shoftim which (stop me if you’ve read this before) continues Moshe’s final speech to the Israelite people. In this week’s section we find, among other things, instructions for a future king of Israel. What is notable, however, is that while Moshe is offering God’s instructions on what to do with the king, the impetus for the king comes not from God but from the people. The verse reads, “If, after you have entered the land that the Lord your God 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…’” (NJPS Deuteronomy 17:14). Notice it is the Israelites saying “I will set a king over me” as opposed to God commanding them to set a king. And that is exactly what happens – in the book of 1 Samuel the Israelites decide to set a king over themselves. As much as we look up to Kings David and Solomon, the list of monarchs of ancient Israel is not filled with huge examples of virtue and glory. Perhaps had the Israelites kept reading the text they would have understood that appointing a king because all the other nations have one is not a good reason to have a king. And that’s our lesson for this week – we are meant to be different and choosing to do something so that we can be like everyone else is not a good enough reason.
Rabbi Hillel Skolnik