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Home » Emor, Politics

Emor: The Role of the King

Submitted by on May 1, 2011 – 4:11 amNo Comment | 2,663 views

The Nature of Monarchy

The world was enthralled with the royal wedding between the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. It was more than the star power of celebrity
that drew our attention; to the British Commonwealth this was personal – England received its future queen and it’s prince took a wife This stimulates disturbing thoughts because our feelings on monarchy and the king’s role are complicated.

Since the French Revolution, the Western World rejected monarchy in favor of democracy and self-rule, a radical shift from the way power was
exercised for generations. Governance was always exercised from the top down, but when corrupt leaders abused their subjects and raided
royal coffers the people rebelled. Today we guard zealously our independence and freedom. We don’t want to return to a state of monarchy, where a single man plays lord to a nation.

Then again, as we watch the Royal Family marry off its Prince something stirs the heart. It is not merely the pageant, pomp and ceremony that
attracts, though there is a bit of that too, it is that a future monarch has tied the knot. Pride wells in the British as they see their parading prince; he is the embodiment of their country; the glue that binds them. In a word, the king is the nation.

Such thoughts are taboo in our times; they aren’t spoken in polite company, but I wager that in their heart of hearts most will acknowledge this truth. It is not a shameful truth. It is good for a country to look up to its monarch so long as its monarch is not corrupt and does not exceed his power.The King's Role Innerstream

Our uninhibited embrace of freedom and rejection of monarchical control is reflective of the Divine spark within us. No one human has more life than another and no one human is made more in the Divine image than another; in that sense we are all equal. But this does not mean that societies do not require leadership; every society requires a leader, a focal point, around which the nation can rally.

Duel Roles: Embodies the Nation And Leads To G-d

Every life is a complete universe. It is impossible for a community of universes to coalesce into a nation unless a focal point brings them
together. In the monarch the nation finds an embodiment of itself. Its varied interests, it’s vast country, its multi layered culture
and character are all embodied in the monarch. It is not so much the person as the office; a quintessence that represents the nation.

Through him the people become a nation and find a cause greater than themselves; a purpose worthy of sacrifice, an idea worthy of serving
and an ideal worth defending. It lifts them above parochial self interest and grants them a national concern. This is the king’s role.

The obvious question is, what’s next? How is serving the interests of the nation better than serving their own? In what way are national needs
more noble than personal ones?

This is where the Jewish viewpoint comes in. The king’s role is to lead the nation closer to G-d. Maimonides said it best, when he wrote, the king; no one is above him, but G-d. He stands above the nation, but he serves neither his interests or theirs, he serves G-d. He is selected on account of his piety and is charged with enhancing theirs.

Before G-d all are equal; the king is on the same footing as his subjects. On earth the king stands at the apex only because only he is able to
lift the nation out of their narrow interests and inspire them serve G-d. That is why King David’s lasting legacy is his book of Psalms rather than the battles he fought. With this book he inspired and continues to inspire.

The king’s role is admirably fulfilled when he enhances the nation’s Divine spark. But the king that usurps his power, abuses the nation and oppresses his people surrenders his mandate. Such kings deserve to be deposed by nations that rise up to cast off his shackles.

The monarchy is important to us and where we don’t have one we create a look alike. The American Presidency is surrounded by so much  pomp and ceremony as to resemble a monarchy. We don’t crave a ruler, but transcendence; someone who represents an ideal greeter than
ourselves. When this person discharges his duties successfully we are ennobled and happy. When the office is abused we are disheartened and revolt.

A Historical Perspective

Shortly before the fall of the first Temple Nebuchadnezzar exiled many Jewish leaders to Babylon. He appointed a number of these men to important positions. Three sages in particular, Chanaya, Mishael and Azaryah, were appointed royal advisers.

Nebuchadnezzar was a megalomaniac and insisted that he be worshiped. Of these sages he demanded, did your prophet Jeremiah not declare, “The nation that shall not worship Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon shall I punish with sword, famine and pestilence?” (1) Either you fulfill the
first half of the verse or I shall fulfill its second half.

To this the sages responded with a rhetorical question. Jeremiah, they told Nebuchadnezzar, identified you as Nebuchadnezzar, king of
Babylon when either of the two titles would have sufficed. If he had said Nebuchadnezzar we would know he was speaking of the Babylonian
king. If he had said King of Babylon we would know he was speaking of Nebuchadnezzar. Why did he use both your title and name? It was to
teach us that to levy fines and taxes you are king, but as to this other thing you demand of us you are merely Nebuchadnezzar. You and
the dog are equal to us as Nebuchadnezzar means to bark like a dog. (2)

Indeed, so long as the king fulfills his Divine mandate and brings the people to G-d he is entitled to their adoration, honor and respect. The
moment he strips them of their dignity and Divine spark, the image in which, they were created, he loses his mandate and is no greater than
a dog. When we see the Prince tie the knot we respond to the potential of the monarchy. We hope that this time it’s vast resources
will be put to good use; ennobling the nation, nourishing its spirit and restoring its connection to G-d.


I once heard Rabbi Tzvi Freeman argue that the book of Leviticus is perhaps the most revolutionary book in the annals of history. When
the Torah was written nations did not publicize the rules that governed its priests and ruling class. The masses were kept
illiterate and the perception was nurtured that the governing class had unlimited authority.

When G-d instructed Moses to publicize the laws that restrict the priesthood he signaled to the nation that the ruling class is meant
to serve. They are restricted by the most laws because they are charged with the highest mission; to engender within us a palpable
sense of G-d’s presence. To the extent that we are led to enhanced worship of the Divine, the priests are worthy of our support and
respect. Because our respect gives them opportunity to succeed and when they do, we too succeed.


  1. Jeremiah 8
  2. Vayikra Rabbah 33:7