One of the banes of society these days is the leadership of various countries and groups. Ideally, leaders should be guiding their people and deciding based on wisdom and working with others in their respective governments or groups to achieve the best and most efficacious outcome for their people. Unfortunately, this is the exception, not the rule.
The Torah is very specific on this point and it is covered in this week’s portion, “Shoftim”. “Shoftim and Shotrim…tzedek, tzedek tirdoff”. Judges and officers…justice, justice shall you pursue. The repetition of “justice” is the Hebrew way of emphasizing the word and In this case, the concept.
In the previous portions we were shown the review of many commandments and in some cases, new commandments. Now, the leaders who will implement these commandments are highlighted. The judges and officers of the court are men (male-dominated society) who will adjudicate and enforce secular and mundane judgments. We then have the Cohanim (priests) and Levites (ministers) who will be teaching the holy scriptures to people and inspire them to spiritual achievement. Finally, there are the kings.
In Judaism, kings are the ultimate civil servants. They are not dictators who are above the law; rather, they are leaders that rule by example. They were the ultimate civil servant, there to serve the people. They must follow the laws and teachings and demonstrate how to live a righteous life and then implement and enforce and rule according to those holy teachings. For a king to ignore laws and rule by their own mandate is alien in our culture. The times when kings went their own way ended tragically for them.
For kings to rule in accordance with Hashem’s teachings, they needed to know Torah. To know Torah, they had to write two Torahs. One would be for the Palace Library, the other for his personal use. If his father had passed down a Torah scroll, then he would only have to write one. But, he still had to write that Torah.
Many people remember their school days and taking notes. We learned through our fingers, so to speak. This is what the kings are doing. They are learning Torah the best way available, by writing it all out. And they had to keep that Torah with them so they could refer to it. This way, this ruled in accord with G-d’s Law.
Quite a contrast to what we see today. And yesterday. And the day before that. And the day before that.
People get to be in charge and think that they are the law. They ignore what’s written down and on the books and think that since they are the leader, what they say goes. They believe that they are above the law.
And how does this persist? Simple: there’s no one to challenge them. Sometimes there are. Most of the time, unfortunately, the masses go along with their rule and don’t challenge them. Either they are intimidated by the leader’s position, or the leader has minions (cronies or military) that enforce their rule.
Elie Weisel said that silence helps the tormentor, not the tormented. Those who stand by and do nothing are allowing the leader to dictate. Some leaders believe their power is absolute.