Commentary for Shoftim

3 Sep

This week’s parshah contains three mitzvot that are commanded specifically to any king the Israelites might decide to appoint over themselves. One of these commandments is for the king to write a Torah Scroll of his own (Deut. 17:18). Writing a Torah is a long and exacting process. Each of the 304,805 letters needs to be copied perfectly, with different sections sometimes having different formats, and even certain letters being larger in one instance than they are in another. If a mistake is made, the old letter must be fully scratched out then started from scratch. If a mistake is made while writing God’s name, the entire sheet of parchment (three columns) must be taken out and buried, and a new sheet sewed in its place, which must then be started from scratch. The whole thing must be written using a feathered quill dipped in special ink, written on specially treated parchment or kosher animal skin. This process usually takes a full-time scribe well over a year to complete. Why, then, does God require a king, who also has many important affairs of state to deal with, to go through this demanding process himself?


The next two verses answer, “Let it remain with him and let him read it all the days of his life, so that he will learn to revere the Lord his God, to observe faithfully every word of this Torah and all of these laws so that he will do them. Thus he will not act haughtily toward his fellows or deviate from the Commandment to the right or to the left, to the end that he and his descendants may reign long in the midst of Israel (Deut. 17:19-20).” While this answer certainly makes sense, it begs the question: why couldn’t the king do this with a Torah Scroll that someone else wrote? Why does the king need to be the one to do the writing?


The more closely we are involved with something, the stronger the connection we feel to it becomes. It is possible to be a fan of a sports team by simply checking the score in the paper every morning and being happy if they win or sad if they lose, but the connection between fan and team will not be as strong as it is for a fan who watches the games on TV or goes to the stadium for games. The same is true for Jewish ritual. Reading about the mitzvah of waving the lulav and etrog is nice, but it does not create the same connection- the sound of the rustling of the leaves and branches, the smell of the etrog and the myrtle- as actually doing it. By requiring a king to go through the long and demanding process of writing a Torah Scroll himself, the Torah creates an extremely strong connection between the king and all of the laws of the Torah, so that the king will best be able to fulfill the important responsibilities of being a leader that this section requires of him.

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