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Queen for a Day?

Friday, 6 September, 2019 - 5:31 am

Though few and far between in today’s world, true monarchies still exist. I remember standing with awe as I observed the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace some time ago. But, the Queen is largely a figurehead in the United Kingdom. Real kings decide whatever they want.

Actually, this week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, talks about kings. We are commanded, “You shall set a king over you.” In our storied history this concept of a monarch has caused great concern, admiration and discord. Of course, that was all a long time ago.

In light of the great progress we have made, how should we view the Torah’s eternal command to “set a king” over ourselves? Isn’t the notion of a monarch archaic and regressive?

Certainly, Judaism rejects the common assumption of absolute control that is often associated with royalty. The Jewish version of a king never could be equated with a tyrant.  A cursory review of the verses in Chapter 17 of Devarim/Deuteronomy reveals that a Jewish king was under greater regulations than the average citizen, all in order “so that his heart will not be haughty over his brothers.”

What, then, was the primary function of the king?

Chassidic thought teaches that the king served as the central model of authority. While there are many contributors to society, there is only one king.


In microcosm, the idea of a king as authority is just as relevant today as it was in the days of David and Solomon. The Talmud teaches that everyone should, “Assume for yourself a master (teacher).” The Talmud does not insist that we find teachers and masters (plural). Rather, the Sages demand that we accept the authority of one teacher.

In this day and age of instant gratification and spiritual hubris, it’s easy for us to pick and choose. We’ll take a little from this teacher, a bit from that rabbi and a fair dose from the other guru. It’s certainly good to learn from everyone, but the Talmud is telling us to appoint one unequivocal mentor. When it comes to charting the course of my spiritual journey, too many cooks spoil the soup.

If I allow myself to arrive at conclusions on my own, or on the advice of many, I will ultimately allow my personal biases to govern my decision-making. Not that I don’t have any bright ideas. Indeed, I do – but they are also subjective. A single individual that has my best interest at heart is not only a good way to get out of the echo chamber – it’s also more objective and produces far greater results.

We can escape our subjective viewpoint by surrendering ourselves to a mentor and role model. It may be the more difficult path, but it is the safer and – in due course – more rewarding one.

Kings and Queens aren’t the norm today. But, just as a nation gains much from a singular voice and direction -- so do each of us.


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