4 Elul 5773 / August 9-10, 2013
I don’t know if you heard, but apparently a royal baby was born in England recently. How fitting that in this week’s portion, Shoftim, Moses provides the framework for the Israelites appointing a king over themselves (the one whom God chooses of course) should they choose to do so once having conquered the Promised Land. We learn that the Israelite king may not have too many horses, wives, silver or gold, and that he must have a copy of the Torah nearby at all times, which he must make a habit of studying regularly. Eventually, this allowance resulted in the coronations of our ancient kings, including Saul, David, Solomon, etc.
Ultimately, we learn that even though an allowance was created for instituting a monarchy, God was not thrilled that the Israelite nation decided that it desired a king. Hundreds of years later, in response to the prophet Samuel asking God whether or not to appoint a king per the wishes of the Israelite nation, God responds: “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not be king over them.” [1 Samuel 8:7]
God is upset that the Israelite nation feels to need to have a human king, given that God’s own kingship should have been sufficient.
I struggle with the adoration and attention being given to the British royal family. Aside from the fact that America was founded as a reaction to the policies (and arguably the existence) of the British monarchy, monarchies inherently suggest that simply based on birth, some human beings are inherently better and worth more than others. This runs directly counter to the principle enshrined in the U.S. Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” Granted, while at the time of the Declaration that statement did not include women or minorities, it has (thankfully) since evolved.
The royal wedding cost British taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.
Our contemporary understanding (informed by the Western liberal tradition) of what it is to be a human being and which truths we hold to be self-evident, coupled with our tradition’s emphatic statement that human kings are not pleasing to the Divine, should dissuade us from glamorizing an institution whose very existence runs counter to the spiritual ethos of both.
This week, consider making a contribution to HIAS or the Ellis Island Foundation in honor of the new royal baby.
This Shabbat, reflect on the Divine spark that resides within every human being, regardless of what family s/he is born into.