We are seemingly instructed in this week’s Parasha, that upon entering Eretz Yisrael, after the initial period of conquering and settling therein, we should appoint for ourselves a King. This King must be divinely chosen, and he must come from within the people (See Devarim Chapter 17 Verses 14 and 15).
The Talmud in Sanhedrin (20b), quoting Rebbe Yehuda, understands from these verses that it is in fact a positive commandment to appoint a King over Israel. Rambam , in his Halachik work, the Mishna Torah, concurs with this Talmudic opinion (see Hilchot Melachim 1:1).
However, these conclusions appear to contradict an episode in the book of Shmuel (Shmuel Alef – 8:1-6). The chapter describes how the people approached Shmuel Hanavi, and requested a King. Shmuel reacted negatively to the request, and Hashem’s initial response was also negative.
The famous question asked by so many of our commentaries is: Why was Shmuel angered by the approach of the people requesting a King, surely, they simply wished to fulfill the positive commandment as described in our Parasha? Even if we could explain Shmuel’s reaction as a human response to the seeming implication that his leadership had been lacking in some way, it is still, nevertheless, difficult to understand the reaction of G-d.
Abarbanel, in his commentary on the Torah, explains: That when the verse states, that after settling in the Land, the people will ask for a King, it is not in fact describing a positive commandment, as the Talmud excerpt referred to above explained, but simply describing a likely reality, and the Torah’s consequent reaction to that reality.
On the contrary, the verse is describing a negative phenomenon that will probably occur. Once the people are settled in their Land like all other peoples, then they will probably want a King, like all other peoples. If and when the situation arises, we are instructed that at the least, the King will be appointed by G-d and not by man, and that that King will be from within the people.
With this in mind, it is easy to understand the anger of Shmuel. Instead of concluding from their military successes that there was no need for a King, that G-d was their King. Instead of understanding from their successful settling of the Land, that they were receiving the mercies of the Almighty King of Kings. The people, as has so often been the case throughout our history, reached the opposite conclusion. They understood, that their successes were due to them and them only. That they needed a human being to insure their continued successes.
Thus the frustration of Shmuel, how could a people, after so many miracles, after having experienced first hand so many wonders, arrive at the opposite conclusion? Was it not so obvious that Hashem is the true King, that there is no real need for any human leader?
Shmuel was surely aware of the verses in Parshat Shoftim, yet he was dismayed when these verses actually realized themselves. The Torah had described this to be a possible outcome of success, yet, nevertheless, Shmuel had hoped, he had worked all his life, in order that the people should understand that there is no need for a King.
Abarbanel, a man with much experience in the world of politics, a man who served as Minister of Finance in Spain, before the expulsion of the Jews, had no doubts in his mind that there is no ideal of a human King, that the Mitzvah as described in the Torah, is in fact a “conditional” Mitzvah. It will only be applied if the people do not reach the right level. In the same way that the commandment of the “Yefat Toar” is certainly not an ideal, but a Mitzvah in relation to a certain reality, so it is with the Mitzvah of the King.
Though the explanation of Abarbanel seems to openly oppose the conclusions of both the Talmud and Rambam, it does explain the episode in Shmuel Alef. It is also very reflective of the reality we find ourselves in today in Israel.
When matters seemed to be losing direction, the people seem to put all of their hope in a particular individual. “So and So will bring security” “So and So will bring Peace”. We tend to cling on to these people as if they have some magic formula to solve an issue that began thousands of years ago, and will not be solved until the days of Mashiach.
What we need to realize, is that there is only one true King. There is only one entity in the universe that can solve the ultimate issues. It is to G-d that we must demonstrate, it is to G-d that we must concentrate all of our efforts, not to the International Press Corps, not to the United Nations. We must always endeavor to do the right thing. We cannot ignore the existence of the world, but our main efforts should be towards the real King.
We are told that following a Shmitta year, the Mashiach will come. What is the connection between Shmitta and Mashiach? Shmitta demands absolute trust in G-d. As the Keli Yakar explains so beautifully in his commentary to Parshat Behar: Shmitta, tests our trust of G-d. We are required to leave our fields for an entire year, to believe that all will be well, that we will have enough to eat, that if we keep G-d’s commandments, then we will be successful in all that we do.
After we keep Shmitta, after we show absolute trust in G-d, then Mashiach will come. Yet if we do not keep Shmitta, then we will be exiled, Heaven forbid. If we do not have faith in G-d then, not only will we not receive Mashiach, we will not be worthy of living in our Land.
Eretz Yisrael is the holiest place on earth. In order to merit living here we must have absolute faith in Hashem, not in man. We are coming to the end of a Shmitta year. It has been a Shmitta year not only in agricultural terms. We have not simply been required to show our faith this year in terms of our agriculture. We have been required to show faith in G-d, on the roads, in the streets, in the restaurants, on the busses. It has been a real Shmitta year in the truest sense of the word. We must realize that if we wish to stay here we must have faith. We must believe in Hashem it is the key to everything. It is the difference between Yehoshua and Calev and the other ten renowned leaders. No one disputed the facts. Eretz Yisrael was as difficult to settle then as it is now. The difference between Yehoshua and Calev and the rest of the spies is that they had faith in G-d. They realized that if we believe then it will be. They were not prepared to sit in the seemingly comfortable oasis of the midbar, with manna, and the well of Miriam. They were not prepared to forgo the ultimate dream of the Jewish people, for the sake of temporary safety. No, Yehoshua and Calev exclaim, we can surely succeed against all the odds. True, our enemies are formidable. Yet we come with the support of Hashem. We call in Hashem’s name. We look above and do the will of Hashem and we succeeed.
Yehoshua and Calev have set for us the example. We do not need a King, we do not need foreign aid. We need to realize once and for all, that we have a King, He is the King of Kings. We must show our King that we can keep Shmitta, that we have the faith that is required, that we will stay here and keep building, that we will stay here, and keep traveling, that we will build and build and build, that we may be frightened by certain realities, but they will never deter us from our ultimate goal of Am Yisrael, Beretz Yisrael Al Pi Torat Yisrael. We will follow the example set for us by Yehoshua and Calev.
We must unite as a people and turn to our real King. With Rosh Hashana just a few weeks away, this must become our major objective. On Rosh Hashana we crown Hashem as King of the universe, having done this we can move on to the Aseret Yemai Teshuva. Rosh Hashana, however, is the prerequisite to all. Before Teshuva, before the Kohen Gadol can enter the Holy of Holies on the holiest day of the year, we must firstly crown G-d as our true King.