A Time For Kings

Tsvi Weingarten • 2008

The laws of kings, the beginning of Elul and the trials we face.

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Every seven years the mitzvah of Hakhel is fulfilled. On the first day of Chol Hamoed Succot following the Shemitta year, all men, women and children of Israel gathered in the Beit Hamikdash to hear the king read aloud selected chapters of the Torah. Amongst other things, these portions include the commandment to coronate a king.

In relation the Mishna tells us of the following occurence:

King Agripas stood, received the Torah and read standing and the sages praised him. When he reached the passage reading: “You may not appoint a Gentile as your king [one who is not your brother” his eyes began to tear. They said to him: Have no fear, Agripas, you are our brother, you are our brother.

Mishna tractate Sota, 7, 8.

The Gemara concludes that Agripas was standing in Ezrat Nashim, where the king (like everyone else) is permitted to be seated.

Agripas, who was of mixed heritage, descending from the house of David on one side, but from the house of Herod the Edomite on the other, felt that it was not his prerogative to be seated (as was the customary for kings of the house of David). It would seem that Agripas felt it inappropriate to compare himself with the historic dynasty of the kings of Israel.

The Gemara however challenges the praise given Agripas (for waiving the honor due him) as it opposes the ruling that a king cannot waive the honor due him from his subjects. The response to this challenge is that he may do so in regard to a mitzvah such as this in which he showed honor to the Torah he was reading.

This is not only an explanation of what Agripas did, but of the idea of this mitzvah.

Who is the Mitzvah of Hakhel directed at? We would presume it is for the nation. But here it is presented as focusing on the king himself. He stands and reads the torah before the nation but also before god, and in such a situation it is more then likely that he would feel the duty waive his honor and stand.

The king reads these commandments in a manner unlike anybody else. We read these commandment without them having any meaning in our day to day lives, therefore we can discuss them in a detached metaphysical and exaggerated way, without a personal context. But when the king is reading to the nation, he is placing himself on trial - have I done well? He asks, has my heart been haughty over my brothers?

Perhaps another reason can be given for the praise given to Agripas. By standing before God, the sages see his ability to comprehend the meaning of Hakhel as the king standing as if he were on trial.

Parshat Shoftim is read during the first Shabbat of Elul. As an introduction and beginning of preparations for the high holy days we read a portion that deals with the establishment of a communal system of judicial proceedings, its law-enforcement officers, king and military. This system is not within our immediate aspirations, but its details regard each and every one of us - at least the system inside of us that needs mending. This system includes not only giving ourselves credit, seeing ourselves as the sons of kings, but also the judgment and the willingness to be judged, and the commitment to stand before God, and ask: has the goal of all our ways been the acquiring of much silver and gold? Has our heart turned away? Have we been haughty over our brothers? May the amendment and improvement of ourselvs during the month of Elul prepare us for the new year, with a hope of an amendment of the world under god’s kingdom, the meaning of which, according to Rav Shagar, is the amendment of social injustice.

ישיבת שיח יצחק גבעת הדגן - אפרת, מיקוד: 90435