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Shoftim 5780 ~ Aug. 22, 2020

The Torah understood that the people residing in the Promised Land were no different than any other nation in the world at that time.  Sensing that they too would want a king, the Torah provides specific instructions for a monarch. For example, in order to keep his heart in the right place as a leader, he could not have multiple wives nor could he have too many horses in his stable. One would surmise that having too many horses might lead to a king who was most interested in military conquest, rather than maintaining a just and God-fearing land.  Too many wives, beyond the implications of a palace of immorality, might lead to a king having to make political decisions based on his different wives’ needs and whims. There are many instances of palace intrigue that surrounded the requests and demands of the kings’ wives, mistresses, and children. The stories are illustrative of how difficult it was for King Saul, King David and King Solomon to lead effectively, both politically and militarily, when confronted by their wives and children. The Talmud states: “In his old age his wives made his heart go astray.” (Sanhedrin 21)

What strikes me as most relevant today is that the king was required to have by his side a copy of the Teachings. It was his responsibility to make his own copy of it and to read it all of his life so that he would remain not only God fearing, but a morally responsible leader who followed the laws and values of the Torah. As the Torah states: “Thus, he will not act haughtily toward his fellows or deviate from the instruction, right or left.” (Deuteronomy 17:20)

The commentaries suggest that it is not only the king, but the people themselves who need to read the words of the Teachings as well. While the country was ruled by the monarchy, the religious leaders (kohanim), the prophet of the day, the judges and magistrates, and the people themselves were equally responsible in ensuring that the land was a God-fearing land that not only followed the laws of Torah, but understood the Teachings.  It was important that the king, was not only guided by his own will and whims, but by how others interpreted the words of the Teachings as well. 

I am certain that many of you reading this Torah study might understand this teaching in relationship given the fact that during this past week, and the week to follow, virtual political conventions are taking place. We have the opportunity to listen to the platforms and the rhetoric of the two main political parties. You may ask, which party’s platform, that “leans either to the right or the left” may be the correct path for our nation to follow during the next four years? How many horses might each candidate own? How might they be influenced by their political influencers and which ones are trustworthy and reliable? How do the words of Torah guide us in making our own personal political identity and choices for this specific election year? In a year where our world has swiveled on its axis in a most upending manner, the real question might be, “How have our own understanding of what is right, and what is left, been redefined?”

Should we use the admonitions of the Torah to understand who might best be qualified to serve our country, both in the White House and in Congress? Hopefully not only the Teachings, but also the laws and values will guide us.  The beauty of Jewish life guides Jewish voters to more than just one party’s platform. But as the rabbis teach us, we must be mindful of what constitutes a correct right and a correct left, even at times when our own constitution might suggest otherwise.  The Talmud itself is a compendium of dialogue between the rabbis and the influences in their society. Best known to us are the differences of halakhic rulings of the schools of Shammai, which leaned to the right, and the school of Hillel, which leaned to the left. The goal in the dialogue was to find a means to a solution for the many issues of the day.

One might use these same Torah words to admire the UAE and the Israeli government for understanding the valuable lessons of both religious traditions in finding peaceful solutions. How fitting it is that this resolution of conflict is called the Abraham Accords. As one reads through the stories of Abraham’s grandsons, Jacob and Esau, we learn both from their animosity and jealousies, and from each finding his own path to a peaceful coexistence as Jacob returns from Haran to Canaan.  Keeping the Torah and Koran by their sides, moving from rhetoric to understanding, the architects of the plan and the heads of state built this new-found modern peacefulness that, as I write, is being sought out by other Arab nations as well. The sidestep around the Palestinian leadership might be a most significant change to the Middle East and its century misguided principles known as the Nassar Plan. Needless to say, the UAE needs Israel as much as Israel needs the UAE.  It is not simply peace between the two nations, but a continuing shared security threat that brought the leaders to this agreement. One can only hope for the future not only of Israel, but those who find peace with her.

Today we begin the new month of Elul. In our tradition, beginning with Rosh Chodesh Elul, we hear the tekiah of the shofar during our morning services.  The sound of the shofar calls us to recommit to the values and ideals that Moshe taught. As we reflect upon those words, let us remind ourselves of what we gleaned during this past year of what is truly important to us. As the Torah commands the king, let us resolve to live by its words:  to not act haughtily toward our fellows or deviate from the instruction, right or left. Let us pray and work for a world that will find the right path to walk down together.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi K

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782