Parshas Shoftim; Malchus
The subject of authority is one which crops up lots in this week’s sedra of shoftim; and indeed is the title of the sedra too. For example, the concept of a melech (King), as well as a rebel preacher (zaken mamre), Kohan and Levi stuff, and witnesses (who have power to turn cases) are amongst such topics mentioned in the sedra. But the subject we shall be discussing this week is that of Malchus or Kingship. [the vast vast majority of this is taken from a tape I heard by Rav Pinkus.]

Anyway, today the prevalent system in the world is democracy (apologies to any Afghans reading this!), and as such we neither appreciate nor associate with the idea of malchus; but the Torah seems to set it up as the ideal system; “You shall place upon yourself a King” (17;15). Moreover, this is the first mitzvah we are commanded to do upon entry to the Land of Israel (Ramabam hil. Melachim 1;1

), and we constantly refer to HaShem as melech on Rosh Hashana; to the extent that if we say ‘ha’kel hakadosh’ instead of ‘hamelech hakadosh,’ one must repeat the Amidah (conditions apply. See your local shulchan aruch for terms and conditions). Given that Elul is the month of preparation for Tishrei, the subject of malchus is appropriate for this time of year especially.
Anyway, there are 2 questions regarding this mitzvah. Firstly, why is the appointment of a King specifically connected to entry to the Land of Israel? And secondly, why does the pasuk use the phrase ‘place upon me/you a King’ (17; 14-15) – why not something like ‘appoint’ or ‘select for yourself?’
In order to attempt answers for the above questions, we must understand exactly what a Jewish King’s role is…
In gematria, there is a rule that one can always be ‘1 off’ (I can’t remember examples off hand) – thus, if the two words have a different numerical value of just 1, we say that the ‘gematria matches.’ Now given that things are extremely precise in Torah, why should this be so? The idea is that it is not that ‘it’s ok to be 1 off because we ignore the 1,’ but that we add something called the ‘kollel’ (which has a numerical value of 1) to equal the numbers. What is the kollel? It is the sum of all the parts – the entire whole. For example, let’s say for argument’s sake that the gematria of table is 5 – because there are 4 legs plus 1 top board. Now 4 legs and 1 board do not necessarily make a table; I could have 2 legs in one room, 1 in another, and 1 in a third room, and a board in the loft! This would have 5 parts but would not be a table. Once I bring all 5 parts together and join them up, we have what is called ‘a table,’ and this is a new single entity – which can be described either as ‘5’ (after it’s parts) or as 1 (because it is one entity) – and describing it as 6 is accurate too. This new single entity is called ‘the kollel,’ and is what we add to equate gematrias. Thus, we are not ‘ignoring a difference of 1,’ but rather we are adding another perfectly valid description of the object. Now, apparently, in the early sefarim this ‘kollel’ is called ‘Malchus’ and sheds much light on what a King is.
The last pasuk in sefer shoftim (21;25) remarks ‘in those days there was no King, each person did what was straight in one’s eyes.’
The idea is that the King is that vehicle which merges the distinct and numerous people into one whole – he gives them their singular communal identity (like the table example above). Thus, a King is described as the example of a giver in the gemara (nedarim,) and a human king is compared to an extent to HaShem, the ultimate King of Kings (see Sanhedrin 20b) in that both give identity and existence to people; thus HaShem, the Ultimate Source, is referred to as Melech for this reason. This principle is summed up by the Rambam (hil melachim 3;6) ‘his [the king’s] heart is the heart of all of kehal yisrael’ – again, that the King encompasses the nation and merges them into one single kehal. Thus, there are halachos of fear of the king (eg one cannot ride his horse), for this is one way he is able to fulfil his role of bonding the people – they must accept him for that role – and thus he cannot relinquish his kavod. Bur he must be internally ‘low of heart and humble’ (ibid 2;6) for this kavod should be of external use to achieve its purpose only.
In fact, this idea seems to be hinted at in the word ‘melech’ itself – the 3 letters of ‘melech’ can be split up into ‘Mem Lecha.’ Mem is 40. The Maharal points out that the number 40 is the expression of a creation (yetzirah). Thus, the mabul of Noach times was for 40 days and 40 nights, 40 days to get the Torah, and the 40 days between Elul and Yom Kippur should be days of recreating ourselves via teshuva too. A King gives the people of a nation a new identity; and is thus ‘mem (a new identity) lecha (to you).’

This is also why a King is needed to fight the nation of Amalek (Sanhedrin 20b), for this unity and strength (spiritual) is needed to beat Amalek as a nation and as an ideology. Thus, amalek attacked us first in refidim, which chazal tell us is where ‘we weakened our clinging to the Torah’ (Shemos 17;8) – for this was their chance of success. [One might ask ‘how could we fight Amalek in the desert if we had no King?’ An answer (I heard Rav Shteinberger once say, and just now read it implied in the Rambam hil. Melachim 2;6) is that Moshe had the halachic status of a King in the desert.]
Using all of this, we can go back to our original questions (doesn’t it seem so long ago now…!). They were: 1) Why is King connected to Eretz Yisrael?
And 2) Why the phrase ‘upon you?’
Regarding the 2nd question, the phrase ‘upon you’ is highly appropriate, for the king is that external means which is put upon the people to change them; it is not merely an ‘appointment’ or position of authority disconnected to the people, but rather the king is put upon and amongst ‘you’ to give that new identity. Lastly, the office of king is connected to the Land of Israel, for the people have a role to play too. Until now we have discussed the role of the king in merging the people into one. But what do the people have to do? They must allow themselves to be merged. A table will not become a table if one of the legs insists ‘I do not want to join and give up my identity – I want to stay as a solitary leg!’ That leg is a fool for not giving up his own glory for the sake of a bigger and more useful structure (which will ultimately achieve more than the sum of its individual parts.) Perhaps this is why the Land of Israel is central to Kinship. For the job of the king and people is not merely to bond into one whole, but to do so with the task/aim of reflecting HaShem in this world – a King must write and constantly carry around with him a sefer torah. And we got the Torah (instructions to this task) only when we were united as one people; like one man with one heart (kli yakar). Thus, the real gain of a king is where the people have a direct kesher with HaShem; in the Land of Israel. Thus, there was a king (Moshe) in the desert, for this was also the time of direct connection with HaShem, as the daily miracles and the almost immediate response to a sin attest to.
Have a great shabbes,
And hope this sheds more light on the line in ‘shalom aleichem’ of mi melech malchei hamelachim HaKadosh Baruch Hu!

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