Hebrew Leadership Demands Love and Responsibility

SHOFTIM deals primarily with statutes pertaining to Israel’s leadership. Because leadership is not a position of honor for the individual but rather a burden of responsibility for the welfare of the Jewish people, the Torah sets down specific guidelines in order to steer our leaders towards attaining their full potential.

“It shall be that when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself two copies of this Torah in a book, from before the Kohanim, the Levi’im. It shall be with him, and he shall read from it all the days of his life, so that he will learn to fear HaShem, his G-D, to observe all the words of this Torah and these decrees, to perform them, so that his heart not become haughty over his brethren and not turn from the commandment right or left, so that he will prolong years over his kingdom, he and his sons amid Israel.” (DEVARIM 17:18-20)

A melekh (generally translated into English as “king”) is commanded to write and read his own Torah in order to prevent his position of leadership from creating within him a feeling of arrogance toward his brothers. By delving into the deeper secrets of Torah, a melekh can gain a higher awareness that although we may each play unique roles in Israel’s national life, we are all in fact parts of a greater whole and no man can truly reign supreme over others. Even learning the Torah on a surface level enables a leader to understand the past failures of his people in order that he personally strive to correct these shortcomings and lead the Jewish people in fulfilling our collective destiny.

The ideal Torah concept of melekh differs greatly from the monarchs who rule over other peoples. A melekh is the concentrated expression of the collective Israeli soul – Knesset Yisrael – that manifests itself in our world through millions of bodies revealed in space and time as individual Jews. The melekh does not actually rule over Israel but rather embodies the mission and aspirations of his nation to the extent that he becomes a microcosm of the entire Jewish people and his personal identity is absorbed into Israel’s collective national identity.

On BEREISHIT 36:3, Rashi quotes our Sages as teaches that just like a single person getting married or a gentile naturalizing into Am Yisrael, one who rises to high office has his previous transgressions wiped clean.

The Maharal of Prague elaborates in his Gur Aryeh on Rashi’s commentary that “The reason for all three is that they are new human beings… a prince who rises to high office – before he was an individual person and now, so to speak, he ‘is’ his entire people.”

Rashi also understands the verse “And Israel sent emissaries…” (BAMIDBAR 21:21) to teach: “When the melekh (in this case Moshe) sends, it is as if the entire nation sends. That is why when a leader takes power, he is a new person and his previous sins are forgiven.”

As is clearly exhibited in the behavior of David, a true melekh leads Israel not by behaving with arrogance but by displaying greater passion and fervor in serving HaShem.

“David danced with all [his] strength before HaShem; David was girded in a linen tunic. David and the entire House of Israel brought up the Ark of HaShem with loud, joyous sound, and the sound of the shofar.” (SHMUEL II 6:14-15)

David remains the paradigm of the ideal melekh, setting the ultimate standard for all future Hebrew leadership.

“His [the melekh’s] heart is the heart of the entire congregation of Israel.” (Hilkhot Melakhim 3:6)

Like the heart, which is one of the smallest organs of a body yet provides for that body’s entire life force, a melekh generates and directs the character and vitality of the entire Hebrew Nation. In this vein, the Midrash states that “The leader of the generation [represents] the entire generation.” (Bamidbar Rabbah 19:28)

To assist our leaders in properly fulfilling their roles, the Torah offers statutes to promote an attitude of responsibility, such as the commandment for a melekh to write for himself two copies of the Torah, as well as the following verses found at the end of SHOFTIM:

“If a corpse will be found on the land that HaShem, your G-D, gives you to possess it, fallen in the field, it was not known who smote him, your elders and judges shall go out and measure toward the cities that are around the corpse. It shall be that the city nearest the corpse, the elders of that city shall take a heifer, with which no work has been done, which has not pulled with a yoke. The elders of that city shall bring the heifer down to a harsh valley, which cannot be worked and cannot be sown, and they shall axe the back of its neck in the valley. The Kohanim, the offspring of Levi, shall approach, for them has HaShem, your G-D, chosen to minister to Him and to bless with the Name of HaShem, and according to their word shall be every grievance and every plague. All the elders of the city, who are closest to the corpse, shall wash their hands over the heifer that was axed in the valley. They shall speak up and say, ‘our hands have not spilled this blood, and our eyes did not see. Atone for Your nation Israel that You have redeemed O HaShem: Do not place innocent blood in the midst of Your nation Israel!’ Then the blood shall be atoned for them. But you shall remove the innocent blood from your midst when you do what is upright in the eyes of HaShem.” (DEVARIM 21:1-9)

While it may be difficult to imagine why anyone would suspect a pious city elder of responsibility for a mysterious local murder, Rashi explains that the elders must publicly absolve themselves from guilt in order to clarify that they were not negligent in providing the necessary security that would have prevented the spilling of blood. Sforno adds that such defensive measures include ensuring that no known murderer is permitted to roam the area. A Jewish leader must never be negligent when dealing with the welfare or security of his people.

A great lesson is taught here – a lesson in responsibility, Ahavat Yisrael (love of Israel) and the duty that a leader bears for the defense of his people. It is clearly not enough for an individual to personally refrain from murder. He must also do everything in his power to prevent blood from being shed. And in order to save innocent people from danger, it is often necessary to neutralize whatever security threats might exist. The Torah teaches this to be a major responsibility of both local and national leadership.

The Maharal offers a profound insight on this point. He teaches that these verses imply that the murder could have been avoided had the victim been escorted by someone from the city. While there is no legal requirement to accompany a traveler all the way to his destination, the Maharal explains that when a host takes the trouble to escort a stranger on his journey, he demonstrates solidarity with a fellow Jew and with the entire Hebrew Nation. This is achieved by the mere performance of going out of one’s way for another, even if not specifically mandated. When one demonstrates such Ahavat Yisrael, HaShem provides extra protection and the possibility of a tragedy occurring is diminished.

True love breeds responsibility. A Jew cannot exist independent of his people and Hebrew leadership demands the attributes of compassion and responsibility in order to succeed in guiding and protecting the Nation of Israel. Our Sages teach that Jerusalem’s second Temple was destroyed as a result of baseless hatred between Jews. The third Temple will arise as a result of a limitless love – a love that will breed courage, humility and collective responsibility, ultimately shining its light to the entire world and engulfing humanity in the Divine blessing of HaShem.

Hebron: Connecting to Our Roots

Today is called Yom Hevron (Hebron Day). It is the day where the Nation of Israel through one Rabbi, Rav Goren conquered an entire city during the Six Day War.  Hebron is the burial place of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs as well Ruth, Yishai, and many more ancient graves. It is our roots, our past, and the foundation for our future Kingdom. More than anything it is the testament that this Land is ours. The Cave of the Patriarchs is the oldest Jewish building stills standing dating back nearly 2000 years, built by Herod as a monument over the ancient cave where Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah are buried.

Hebron is a city of conflict.  It is a place where we the Jewish people have struggled, fought, lost, and now have returned.

Our roots are our source of strength and faith. These roots are what gives us our ability to push forward even at times where we have no strength.

When the 12 Spies entered the Land under the orders of Moses, Joshua and Caleb understood that they would be on their own. Joshua was given an extra letter to his name to strengthen him, yet Caleb had no extra protection.  He split off from the group and the midrash says he went to Hebron, to the Cave of the Patriarchs and laid upon their graves.  This gave him the faith and trust in his true purpose to not fall into the sin of the spies.  Caleb merited to inherit Hebron upon his entering into the Land years later.

We as a nation have come home.  The source of our amazing and miraculous return is the roots that dig deep into the Land.  When Abraham bought the Cave where he buried Sarah and where he himself would be buried, he understood that its acquisition is for perpetuity.  This is the strength of Hebron and this is why the war over it is fought so strongly by our enemies. Without Hebron there is no past and therefore no future, even in Jerusalem.

Over 15 years ago when I first went to Hebron, I was nearly gunned down. Most people would have never returned, yet I was drawn to the struggle, to be close to my ancestors. I returned over and over again and my family and I eventually made our home just South of the city. There has been both joy and pain over the years, but Hebron has been our divine motivation to hold on and build our path to Redemption.

I thank the Almighty for the merit to have returned to the place where my ancestors began their journey to connect with the Divine and where King David began his rule.

A State of Law? G-d Forbid

The expression, ‘a state of law and order’ has been bandied around a lot in Israel over the past few years.  Most recently, the mantra has taken on a renewed and intense fervor.  Yet, it’s fevered declaration not only undermines the actual rule of law, but has become to be an existential threat to the very nature and destiny of the Nation of Israel.

Israel is charged with being a nation of Justice and Righteousness, and while the rule of law plays an important role in establishing justice, it is not the only, nor even the central pillar.  There have been many states built around the value of law that were anything but righteous.  Many societies that placed the value of order above all else, were void of any semblance of justice.

In fact, elevating the value of law and order above all others precludes the creation of a just and righteous nation.  In such a society, law and order simply become a vehicle for demanding loyalty to a repressive state bureaucratic mechanism.  It creates a society of rules, not mores; demanding obedience through fear of punishment and retribution, not compliance through consent and approbation.

A society focused on ‘law and order’ creates an adversarial  dialectic between the state and its citizens, whereas when society’s emphasis is on the values of justice and righteous, a natural harmony between the nation and its leadership can flourish.  

In a Torah society, magistrates and and marshals (police) neither create nor are they above the law.  In fact, the opposite, they are held to a higher standard.  Even a king is subservient to the Torah.  

While the political elite in the State of Israel shout their mantra of  ‘law and order,’ a recent survey by the Midgam Institute, reveals that nearly three quarters of the population thinks that these same elites are buried up to their  elbows in corruption.  

The Torah demands that there be ‘shofitm’ (judges or magistrates) and ‘shotrim’ in every gate.       The two go hand in hand.  Not only does the Torah recognize that local leadership is key for the vitality of the nation, it suggests that enforcement without adjudication is a detriment to the health of the community.  Pushing for a police station in every town, without local courts and judges will eventually lead to a type of a police state, in function, if not in name.

We see this dichotomy through the Bible’s description of two very different models of government, that of King Saul’s and King David’s.  

While King Saul was a leadership was favorable and popular  at the beginning of his rule, when his kingship lost legitimacy (despite retaining the reigns and power), Saul became ruthless and oppressive, lashing out at anyone who he perceived (even without evidence) as a threat.  King Saul even ordered the slaughter of the kohenim-priests and the Tabernacle at Nov.  (The parallel with the current regime restricting Jewish access to the Mount should not be lost).

Yet, when King David ‘loses’ the kingdom, by losing the heart of the nation, he accepts the judgment, and despite retaining the tools of power (including a well fortified capitol), he doesn’t fight the people’s will, but recognizes the judgment leaves.  David’s stepping down from power, recognizing that he was no longer leading, allowed him to later return to lead the nation.   It is no small coincidence either that the Temple (the heart of the nation) plays a central role in David’s rule.  In fact, it is David’s purchase of the field on Mount Moriah, the building of an altar and the bringing of offerings that stops the plague caused by Saul’s destruction of Nov.   Justice and righteousness is the salve for strict authoritarianism.

According to the Torah model, the leaders are not only under the same law, they are actually held to a higher standard.

The Torah does not demand fealty to a bureaucratic state mechanism (this is not to suggest that conformance with societal rules and norms is not a value), but rather demands loyalty to G-d, His Torah, and His prophets.  Unlike some who have suggested otherwise, an observant Jew does not ‘believe in the state,’ but rather, it is the observant Jew’s duty to push the state into becoming a vehicle of G-d’s Will.  A state that expresses any other will is an anathema to the Torah ideal, and does not represent the Jewish Nation.  

Parshat Vayeishev – From Darkness to Light

Our Sages explain human history to be characterized by the incessant struggle between good and evil. The Kadosh Barukh Hu places forces of darkness into our world as an essential ingredient to enable free will and human growth. This evil has been Divinely tasked with attempting to prevent the Children of Israel from fulfilling our national mission of bringing mankind to the awareness of HaShem as the timeless ultimate Reality without end that creates all, sustains all, empowers all and loves all.

As any good story requires a formidable antagonist, these forces of darkness are placed into the system of Creation in order to ultimately be defeated by the Jewish people, who must struggle to overcome the earthly manifestations of this evil – whether in the form of enemy nations or in the form of our own destructive inclinations – in order to reveal HaShem’s Oneness to humankind.

At historic points with great potential for the emergence of light and the advancement of Israel’s national development and mission, the forces of evil fight tenaciously to prevent the light of our redemption from breaking through to this world.

“Many days had passed and Shua’s daughter, the wife of Yehuda, died; when Yehuda was consoled, he went up to oversee his sheepshearers – he and his Adullamite friend, Ḥirah – to Timnah. And Tamar was told, as follows, ‘Behold your father-in-law is coming up to Timnah to shear his sheep.’ So she removed her widow’s garb from upon her, covered herself with a veil, and wrapped herself up; she then sat by the crossroads which is on the road toward Timnah, for she saw that Shelah had grown, and she had not been given to him as a wife.” (BEREISHIT 38:12-14)

The righteous Tamar had been Divinely ordained to be the ancestress of the Davidic dynasty. Sensing her importance to the story of mankind, she fervently yearned to carry out her role. But at the moment when the seed of David would come into being through the union of Tamar with a son of Yehuda, there was ferocious resistance from the Sitra Aḥra (evil forces). Both Er and Onan – Yehuda’s two eldest sons – were mysteriously enticed to commit offenses stretching beyond the normal standards of human lust.

Following the transgressions and subsequent deaths of his sons as a result of what he believed to be their marriages with Tamar, Yehuda kept his third son Shelah away from his twice widowed daughter-in-law. Feeling deprived of the opportunity to participate in the story of Am Yisrael, Tamar resorted to the distasteful measure of posing as a prostitute in order to bring about a union between herself and Yehuda.

“When Yehuda saw her, he thought her to be a harlot since she had covered her face. So he detoured to her by the road and said, ‘Come, if you please, let me consort with you,’ for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law.

And she said, ‘What will you give me if you consort with me?’

He replied, ‘I will send you a kid of the goats from the flock.’

And she said, ‘Provide you leave a pledge until you send it.’

And he said, ‘What pledge shall I give you?’

She replied, ‘Your signet, your wrap and your staff that is in your hand.’ And he gave them to her, and consorted with her and she conceived by him.” (BEREISHIT 38:15-18)

While such a ruse would normally not have worked on a man as virtuous as Yehuda, our Sages teach that he was Divinely compelled to consort with the mysterious harlot.

“R’ Yoḥanan said, Yehuda sought to pass by Tamar. The Kadosh Barukh Hu dispatched the angel of lust to trap him. The angel said to Yehuda, ‘Where are you going? From where will kings arise? From where will great men arise?’ Yehuda then detoured to her by the road. He was coerced, against his good sense.” (Bereishit Rabbah 85:8)

Tamar’s disguising herself as a prostitute and Yehuda’s consorting with her were acts that provoked no resistance from the Sitra Aḥra. But the union resulted in the birth of twin boys, of which one would become the ancestor of King David and the future Mashiaḥ that will lead the Jewish people in ushering in a perfect world.

The episode of Yehuda and Tamar is not unique in the messianic lineage. David’s great grandmother Ruth had initially been born a princess of Moav, a nation from which the Torah instructs Israel not to accept gerim (outsiders who naturalize into the Hebrew Nation).

“An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the congregation of HaShem, even their tenth generation shall not enter the congregation of HaShem, to eternity, because of the fact that they did not greet you with bread and water on the road when you were leaving Egypt, and because HaShem, your G-D, refused to listen to Bilaam son of Beor, of Pethor, Aram Naharaim, to curse you.” (DEVARIM 23:4-5)

The nations of Ammon and Moav came into being under shameful circumstances, resulting from incestuous unions between Lot and his two daughter (BEREISHIT 19:31-38). One of the daughters went so far as to brazenly publicize the deed by choosing to name her son Moav (from father).

Moav had been so determined to prevent Israel from entering our homeland and establishing the kingdom that would manifest the Divine Ideal that they even sent their daughters to seduce Hebrew men into sin. The Torah therefore bans Moabites from marrying into Israel. While our Sages explain this prohibition to apply only to Moabite males and not females, this legal opinion took time to gain acceptance and, as a result, both Ruth and her great grandson David experienced difficulty getting married until the issue was finally settled following generations of legal debate (Brakhot 28a, Yevamot 76b, Ruth Rabbah 7). Our Sages teach inYalkut HaMekhiri that even David himself was considered for some time to have been the child of an illicit relationship.

The recognition that David – the biological and conceptual forbearer of the eventual messianic king destined to lead Israel in fulfilling our national mission – came into this world through a series of challenging and legally questionable circumstances, guided the attitudes of many great Torah giants towards the Zionist movement in its earliest stages.

While many scholars condemned Zionism due to the ignorance of Torah values prevalent among the movement’s leadership, others recognized a Divine process of redemption to be at hand. They understood that had practical political efforts to return the Jewish people to sovereignty in the Jewish homeland been led by Torah giants and traditionally pious Jews, the Sitra Aḥra would have fought to frustrate these efforts and obstruct the redemption process. But from the labors of Zionist leaders largely disconnected from our Torah eventually rose the State of Israel – a great leap forward in advancing the Jewish mission of establishing a kingdom that would manifest HaShem’s Ideal in all spheres of human existence and lead mankind towards a future in which all peoples and movements find full expression and fulfillment under the unifying canopy of G-D’s Divine Truth.

Even with all the confusion surrounding modern events within Israel, the redemption process continues to unfold in ways often difficult for many to understand. As active participants in history, we often find ourselves astounded by how the story actually unfolds. Events we might expect to play out a certain way have a habit of coming about through means that often surprise us. These plot twists are partially due to the fact that the light of redemption is so incredibly bright that it must be hidden from those forces seeking to obstruct the process. The light therefore appears in a distorted fashion that lulls the Sitra Aḥra into passivity.

In these generations of national rebirth, it is crucial to strengthen and deepen our understanding that it is the Author of history who has returned Israel to the world stage. As characters in the story, we must adjust our own perspectives rather than stubbornly refuse to accept the nature of His plan. This higher awareness and acceptance is central to effectively participating in the redemption process, a process destined not only to restore Jewish independence in our homeland but also to lead all humanity towards an era of internationalist brotherhood, universal fulfillment and total Divine blessing.

Ishmael’s World of Chaos

A darkness has descended upon the World.  We have been here before. Mayhem, destruction, and terror are all too familiar to us. The War has spread now from the frontlines in Israel to the entire World.  There is fear in New York and trauma in Paris.  Yet, when Jews are killed in their homeland the World is silent. There are no rallies for us. No country waving the Israeli flag. No vociferous politician wearing a Je Suis Yaakov shirt.

We are alone.

The truth is we have always been alone. Now we have realized it.  Our blood is too cheap to defend. We have become a burden to the World.

What is this burden?

We remind the World that within everyone there is a divine spark and that this spark must be protected and nurtured.

This is why we are losing this war. Our enemies do not look at the World the way we do. Ishmael thrives and wins through bringing chaos to the World. Rules are changeable as necessary for victory. Women can be targets, lies can be spun, and children brainwashed as long as it draws victory closer.

So how do we overcome this darkness and walk in the light of a new era promised to the Kingdom of Israel? We must realize that our fate is not the fate of the West. We are not caught off from the root source of our own history since we are the root itself. We are source of the ethics and morals the West drew its strength from.

Ishmael’s chaos is set to engulf the World to the point of its breaking. Through the collapse of the West more Jews are dying as sacrifices to our collective desire to hold onto the last visage of our National Exile.  The stormwinds will eventually end.  From chaos there will be order. The destruction though does not have to be complete we can harness our collective divine energy and rise through this.

And how do we do this?

King David gives us the answer in Psalm 125:

“Those who Trust in God are like Mount Zion that cannot be moved, enduring forever. Jerusalem hills enfold it, and God enfolds His people now and forever.”

We will not lose no matter how dark it seems. All we need is to trust the One Above.  That is the secret weapon of the Nation of Israel.  In the midst of Ishmael’s chaos a new order is being born.  We are the ancient Kingdom of Israel, which has returned to its Land after sojourning in exile for the last 2,000 years.  Our roots are still strong.  The stump still protrudes from the ground even after all these years. Now it is set to shoot forth, bringing order to a World on the verge of destruction.