For the week of September 10, 2005 / 6 Elul 5765
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 16:18 - 21:9
Haftarah: Isaiah 51:12 - 52:12


No Exceptions

When [the king] takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel. (Devarim / Deuteronomy 17:18-20)

The Torah, in anticipating the eventual establishment of kings for Israel, provides regulations for them. Among these laws are that the king should make a personal copy of the Torah, he is to read it on a consistent basis, and he is to make sure he carefully follows it.

That he should do what the Torah says should go without saying, since the Torah says that the people of Israel were to follows its directives. Isn't it redundant then to dictate to kings specifically that they should do what they read they should do. Aren't kings people too?

Of course kings are people, but as leaders, God knew that they would have a tendency to think of themselves as in a different category of person, and perhaps think that their status somehow permits them to make exceptions for themselves.

That is why when the Torah says that a king should "follow carefully all the words of this law" it also says that he should "…not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left."

This is actually a very revolutionary concept - that a king should not elevate himself over his brothers. Even that the Torah specifically refers to the king's people - not as subjects - but as brothers, emphasizes that while the king has a unique function as a leader of his people, he is always to be thought of as one of them. He is never to think of himself as apart from the community. His special role does not make him better than anyone else. Therefore he too must fully follow God's directives.

Failure to do this is one of the reasons why leaders get into trouble. Because of their level of responsibility and the privileges that come with those responsibilities, it is easy to think that they are better than the rest of us, and should be treated as such. As a result, they are tempted to skirt around the rules that apply to the rest of us, thinking that trouble will not result from their moral, spiritual, or civil mismanagement.

But it is not just the leaders themselves who are to blame for this. Often it is the people they lead that place leaders on a different plane from ourselves. We want our leaders to be superhuman. We want them to be God like. We want to believe that they do not share the same weaknesses and tendencies of the rest of us. So we create images of our leaders that are greater than who they really are, placing them on high pedestals, off of which they inevitably fall.

This is the very thing which Yeshua taught us to guard against when he said,

But you are not to be called "Rabbi," for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth "father," for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called "teacher," for you have one Teacher, the Messiah. (Matthew 23:8-11)

And yet we still do it. We exalt our leaders by using deferential titles, instead of understanding that their roles among us are simply functional. Truly the roles of leaders are of utmost importance, but they themselves are never to be regarded as better than anyone else in the community. We are all the same before God and must submit to the same standards. If anything, leaders must be extra careful to follow God's standards because of the special role they play. Realizing that leaders are people just like the rest of us is a most important step in becoming the community God wants us to be.

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