Is it a Mitzvah to Appoint a King?

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Parsha Halacha – Parshat Shoftim

And The blessing to Recite Upon Seeing Moshiach


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One of the 40 mitzvot[1] in the Torah portion of Shoftim is the mitzvah of appointing a king, as the Torah says, “When you come to the land which the L-rd, your G-d, is giving you, and you possess it and live there, and you say, ‘I will appoint a king over myself like all the nations around me,’ you shall appoint a king over you, one whom the L-rd, your G-d, chooses.”[2]
Thus, when the prophet Shmuel was aging and the Jewish people felt that Shmuel’s sons were not worthy to succeed him, they approached the prophet and asked him to appoint a king to rule over them. In their words, “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now, set up for us a king to judge us like all the nations.”[3]
Shmuel, however, was not pleased with this request, as it says, “The thing was displeasing in the eyes of Shmuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to judge us.'”[4]Indeed, G-d too, was displeased, as the verse continues, “The L-rd said to Samuel, ‘Listen to the voice of the people, according to all that they will say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from reigning over them. Like all the deeds which they have done from the day I brought them up from Egypt and until this day, and they forsook Me and served other gods; so are they doing to you.'”[5]
Shmuel went on to warn the Jewish people of the many burdens a king would place upon them. “He will take your sons and appoint them to him for his chariots … and to plow his plowing and to reap his harvest, and to make his weapons… He will take your daughters for his perfumers, for cooks, and for bakers. He will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive trees… He will tithe your grain crops and your vineyards, and he will give them to his officers and his slaves. He will take your male and female slaves… and put them to his work… And you will cry out on that day because of your king whom you will have chosen for yourselves, and the L-rd will not answer you on that day.”[6]
Indeed, even after Shmuel anointed King Saul, the prophet gathered the Jewish people to rebuke them for having asked for a king. He said “Is it not wheat harvest today? I shall call to the L-rd, and He will send thunder and rain (this was highly unusual weather for the harvest season), and you shall know and see that your evil is great which you have done in the eyes of the L-rd, to ask for yourselves a king.”[7]
What Was their Sin?
The commentaries struggle to explain why Shmuel and indeed, G-d Himself, were angry at the Jewish people for requesting a king when, after all, it is a mitzvah, as mentioned above.
Below are some of the explanations they offer:
  • Not a Mandatory Mitzvah
Some say that the Torah does not actually command the Jewish people to appoint a king. On the contrary, it would be better if they did not appoint one. The Torah is simply foretelling the fact that they will want a king and presenting the rules of how to appoint a king and the rules a king must follow.[8] Thus, the mitzvah of appointing a king is like the mitzvah of the eishet yefat toar (the captured beautiful woman).[9]  There is no mitzvah for a Jewish soldier to desire a gentile woman while at war and take her home and convert her. Rather, the Torah is saying, “If one has an overwhelming desire for such a woman, these are the rules that one must follow to take her.” Similarly, when the Torah says that the Jewish people will sin and should then do Teshuvah,[10] it certainly does not mean that it is a mitzvah to sin. Rather, it is foretelling that we will inevitably sin and instructing us to do Teshuvah when that happens.[11]
  • The Way They Asked
Some say that, although it is a mitzvah to appoint a king, G-d was angry with the Jewish people for requesting a king in an improper manner. According to Rabbi Yehudah,[12] the elders of that generation asked in a proper manner as they wanted a king to judge them according to Torah law. (“Now, set up for us a king to judge us.”[13]) It was the young people who erred. They asked for a king who would lead them in battle and judge them like all of the other nations. (“And we shall be like all the nations, and our king will judge us, go forth before us and wage our wars.”) In fact, they should have trusted in G-d rather than in a human being for this purpose.[14]Some go so far as to say that they wanted the king to judge according to his understanding and not according to Torah law.[15]
  • Rejected the Prophet
The Rambam writes,[16] “Since it is a mitzvah to appoint a king, why was G-d displeased with the people’s request for a king from Shmuel? Because they made their request in a spirit of complaint. Rather than seeking to fulfill the mitzvah of appointing a king, they were simply intent on rejecting the prophet Shmuel as implied by G-d’s reply to him, ‘It is not you, but Me they have rejected.’[17]
  • The Timing was Off
Along a similar line, the Ramban (Nachmanides) explains[18] that the only problem with the Jewish people’s request was their timing. At that time, the prophet Shmuel was their leader. He was a great prophet, a fair judge, and had led them successfully in battle. Thus, asking for a king then was considered a rejection of this holy man and therefore a sin.[19] Since their request was improper, the king they received (King Shaul) was not fully suitable for the position. Had the Jewish people been patient, their first king would have been King David, the progenitor of the Davidic dynasty.  Similarly, the Meiri explains that the Jewish people should not have requested a king until there was a suitable candidate from the tribe of Yehudah since our forefather Yaakov had already predicted that kingship would emanate from this tribe.[20]
  • Kings are for Wars
The Ran[21] says that the proper reason for the Jewish people to have a king is to lead them in battle whereas the judging of the people is better accomplished by the judges who are the Torah scholars and who rule according to Torah law. Thus, the error of the Jewish people in the time of Shmuel was that they asked for “a king to judge us like all the nations.”
The rest of this article will discuss the laws of reciting a blessing when seeing a Jewish king. We will be able to say this bracha when we see the king Moshiach (very soon).
Blessing on a Jewish King
According to the Code of Jewish Law,[22] when one sees a Jewish king, he should say the following blessing: “Blessed are You… who has apportioned from His honor to those that fear Him (ברוך… שחלק מכבודו ליראיו).
  • One may say this bracha even when seeing a wicked Jewish king (G-d forbid) since G-d granted the kingship to his forefathers who certainly were G-d-fearing.[23]
  • If one sees two kings at the same time (this was possible when the land of Israel was divided among two kingdoms), one would only say one bracha.[24]If one saw them at different times, however, one should say separate brachot. If one saw the same king twice, one should only make another bracha if 30 days elapsed in between the two sightings.[25]
  • In the context of this bracha, a king is defined as a ruler whose word cannot be overridden (in his territory) by any other ruler. One who sees other (important) officers may say this bracha without Hashem’s name ((ברוך שחלק מכבודו ליראיו.[26]
  • If one sees a Jewish king who is also an exceptional Torah scholar (as Moshiach will certainly be), one should say two brachot: the one mentioned above as well as the one recited upon seeing an exceptional Torah scholar (“Blessed… who has apportioned of His wisdom to those that fear Him/ברוך… שחלק מחכמתו ליראיו).[27]
  • In addition, when Moshiach comes, we will also say the bracha of Shehechiyanu and the bracha of Chacham HaRazim (the blessing one recites when one sees 600,000 Jews together at one time).[28]
May we soon merit the salvation of G-d towards His people and His land and the building of Yerushalayim with the coming of Moshiach!

[1] As enumerated in the Sefer HaChinuch
[2] Deut. 17:14-15
[3] Shmuel I, 7:5
[4] Ibid, 6
[5] Ibid, 7-8
[6] Ibid, 11-18
[7] Ibid, 12:17
[8] Rav Nehorai, quoted in the Sifri on the verse and in Sanhedrin 20b.
In the Sifri, Rav Nehorai goes on to say that the Jewish people’s reason for requesting a king was so that they could be instructed by him in idol worship!
[9] Deut. 21:10-14
[10] See Deut. 4:25-40
[11] Abarbanel on Deut. ibid
[12] In Sanhedrin, ibid and Sifri, ibid
[13] Shmuel I, 8:5. Although that very verse continues and says “like all the nations,” the Maharsha explains that those words were said by the young people, not the elders. See below.
[14] Me’iri and Yad Rameh on Sanhedrin
[15] Maharsha, Maharatz Chiyut and Etz Yosef on Sanhedrin.
[16] Laws of Melachim and Milchamot, 1:2
[17] Shmuel I, 8:7
The Meiri questions the Rambam’s view because the Jewish people only asked for a king when Shmuel was old and in light of the fact that his sons had not followed in his path. In their words “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now, set up for us a king to judge us like all the nations (Shmuel I, 8:5).”
[18] On Gen. 49:10
[19] This view echoes the words of Rabbi Yehudah in the Sifri “Why were they punished? Because they asked too soon.”
[20] See Gen. ibid “A scepter shall not depart from Yehudah.”
[21] Cited in Abrabanel on Deut. ibid
[22] O.C. 224:5 based on Brachot 58a.
The Rambam in Hilchot Berachot, 10:11 says (apparently based on a different version of the Talmud) that the bracha should be “Blessed are You… who has given from His glory and might to those who fear Him (ברוך… שנתן מכבודו ומגבורתו ליראיו.”
[23] Rashash on Berachot, ibid
[24] See Olat Tamid 224:5
[25] Radvaz, vol. 1:296
[26] Ibid
[27] Responsa of Teshuvah MeAhava, vol. 2:237.
See Michtevei Torah of the Imrei Emmet (the 3rd Gerrer Rebbe), letters 77 and 78, who says that perhaps these two brachot can be combined into one (“Who has apportioned of His honor and wisdom to those that fear Him”).
But see Minchat Shlomo, vol. 1:91, ot 27 that one may not combine two blessings unless the sages explicitly allowed such a combination.
[28] Ibid
Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom!
Aryeh Citron

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