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Parshat - Shofetim

Parshat - Shofetim

Thursday, 24 August, 2017 - 4:46 pm

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This week’s Parsha, Shoftim, teaches how a monarch should behave. Although today the concept of monarchy seems archaic, and for good reason, and the Jewish monarchy will only be restored by Moshiach, there are nevertheless lessons to be learned from the Torah’s description of the ideal king. Kings throughout history were not particularly known for their humility. A typical king would do whatever he could to amass treasure, would have a harem with lots of wives, and of course the best horses. The Torah commands a king not to have a lot of horses, only as many as he needs for his use, not to amass treasure beyond the needs of the government, and not to have a lot of wives. All of this in order to ensure that he remain focused on his mission and not have his heart turned toward material pursuits. In addition, the king would write a special Torah scroll that he would keep with him at all times, and read it every day of his life. As the Torah says: In order that his heart not be lifted above his brethren, and that he not stray from the commandments right or left.” In the Holy Temple, when the name of Hashem was mentioned by the Kohen (priest), the people would prostrate themselves for a short while. The king, however, would prostrate himself and remain in that position for the entire service.

The role of the king in Judaism was to inspire the people to follow Hashem’s commandments and adhere to the Torah way of life. On one hand the king was to be greatly respected and was not permitted to tolerate any kind of insubordination. On the other hand, he had to humble himself before Hashem, even more than the rest of the people. The two go together; if he is truly humble and recognizes that he is simply a messenger from Hashem to help promote and protect the people’s connection to Hashem, then his authority is that given to him by Hashem. When he enforces his authority, it is not his personal position he is protecting, but the monarchy that Hashem has set up. If, however, he is purely promoting his own status and position, then he will lead the people astray and have the opposite effect. It is very easy for a leader to let the power go to his or her head and to forget that the primary focus of leadership is service. The heady feeling of control over others often leads a person to feel that it is all about him or her. The Torah reminds the ruler that he must be humble before Hashem and not allow his heart to rise above the people.

We all have some areas of leadership in our lives. This applies not only to a CEO or a government leader, but also a parent, a teacher, a person with a sphere of influence, or even just among friends and associates, we are sometimes called upon to provide leadership. In a certain sense we are also called upon to provide leadership to ourselves – to have our brain control our impulses and to ensure that our actions and behavior are consistent with our values. The key to effective leadership is to remember: It’s not about me. It’s not what I want or what I think is right. True leadership is about guiding people, and ourselves, in the path of fulfilling our mission on earth. When it is not about our feelings of power and control, but about helping those we are influencing reach their potential, then we have a shot at providing effective leadership.

Our Sages tell us that when Moshiach comes, he will personify this concept of the two seeming opposites. He will be the greatest Torah scholar, on the level of Moshe and the Forefathers, yet he will learn with the simplest, illiterate people. That is his greatness, may we merit to see it soon. I wish you a good and sweet New Year.

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