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Parashat Shoftim: Even a King Must Be Humble

Once again, the Torah places us in a situation where it recommends, instructs, and guides us on the path of humility. It's challenging to uphold humility in a society where, for instance, when people make a donation, they demand recognition or are offered it, or a plaque is directly placed, displaying: "This person donated such and such."


When an individual donates a building, a synagogue, or some other element to the temple, it's always clear that a gratitude plaque should be present. It's often mentioned that a certain person or family or families made the donation. The question is whether this is humility. The question is whether, when we make a donation because we want to contribute and make something work, we need to prove to people or show people that we are doing it. It's different when we do it in memory of someone who is no longer with us, and through that donation and its mention, what we're doing is elevating their soul to a slightly closer level to the Creator.


Maimonides, the Rambam, in his work Mishneh Torah, establishes eight levels of Tzedakah (charitable giving). Among the higher levels is giving anonymously without knowing the recipient's identity. Following this level is giving anonymously while knowing the recipient's identity.


Parashat Shoftim is intriguing in terms of humility. It teaches us that when the king of Israel ascends his royal throne, he must write for himself a copy of the Sefer Torah, which should remain with him and he should read it every day of his life. This is to learn to fear the Lord his God and meticulously follow all the words of this Torah, all the words of the law and its decrees, and not feel superior to his brothers, nor deviate from the law to the right or to the left. Thus, he and his descendants will reign long in the midst of Israel.


This paragraph is truly audacious and remarkable. It is teaching, in an era when kings were above all and nearly regarded as gods, in a time when kings had to display wealth to demonstrate their power, that the king of Israel should not possess any additional riches, not even excessive wealth, nor should he hold too much power.


Yes, yes, I know, Solomon deviated from all of this, but that was an issue with Solomon. Solomon had many wives, amassed great wealth, and wielded power. However, beyond that and the fact that he was wise, the kings of Israel, as per the Torah's perspective, must maintain a life of humility. They were to write a Sefer Torah and keep it ever-present, reminding them that there is no one above the Creator and that we are all equal.


The fact that one holds a position or a task entrusted, no matter how significant, even if ordained by the Holy One Blessed Be He, does not relate to an intrinsic aspect of the person. It solely pertains to fulfilling the duty bestowed upon them.


Even Abraham at one point said, "Who am I to undertake this task?" Similar to Moses, who said, "Who am I to undertake this task?" And immediately after, Abraham challenges the power of the Holy One, Blessed Be He, stating that there might be a chance for redemption in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, and that the corrupted cities shouldn't be destroyed.


This is the model to follow. We aren't better individuals because we hold a superior job position, a more important task, or abilities. Abilities are gifts we receive and should be grateful for, using them humbly.


The same applies when discussing differences between nations. The people of Israel have their task, and each nation has its own task. The people of Israel have the Torah, that model, and that task of being a light to the nations, "Or laGoyim". Being a light to the nations isn't about being the spotlight that illuminates, but about showing a path that is ours and that others might want to follow. That path, the Torah, the mitzvot, are the light, not us. We aren't illuminated because we possess the light within us as the chosen ones to have it, but because the Torah illuminates us, which we were chosen to uphold and share with those who wish to approach that light.


I'll quote the prophet Micah again to summarize what he himself had already summarized:


הִגִּ֥יד לְךָ֛ אָדָ֖ם מַה־טּ֑וֹב וּמָֽה־יְהֹוָ֞ה דּוֹרֵ֣שׁ מִמְּךָ֗ כִּ֣י אִם־עֲשׂ֤וֹת מִשְׁפָּט֙ וְאַ֣הֲבַת חֶ֔סֶד וְהַצְנֵ֥עַ לֶ֖כֶת עִם־אֱלֹהֶֽיךָ׃


“You have been told, oh mortal, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: only to do justice, to love goodness, and to walk humbly with you God.”


Let’s try again.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Gustavo Geier

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