Posted on August 13, 2021
Imagine a king.
We do not live in a monarchy but I venture a guess that you had no problem conjuring up an image of a king. Maybe he wore royal robes of red and gold velvet. Maybe he was sitting on a throne. Maybe he held a scepter. But I highly doubt that your imaginary king was carrying a Torah scroll.
Yet that is what our Torah portion for this week tells us. The people were to enter the land, possess it, and settle down. They were to appoint for themselves a king. And in addition to not amassing an excess of silver, gold, or wives, the king was to have his own copy of the Torah scroll. Some say that he was even to copy the Torah himself. He was to study it, to learn from it, and to have it with him at all times.
Does adding a Torah scroll into the arms of your imaginary king make you laugh? It did me. How could anyone, let alone a king, carry a Torah scroll all the time? Moreover, why should he? We get very little Jewish law directly from the Torah itself. Jewish law comes from the extensive body of rabbinic tradition and interpretation. If the image of the king carrying around a Torah scroll seemed like a reach to you, imagine the king carrying around a full set of Talmud. And then pile all the other books of Jewish law on top of that.
But the image of the leader being subject to the same laws as the common folk, the image of the leader taking the time to learn those laws, should not make us laugh at all. And the idea of the text being accessible to leaders and common folk alike is an excellent one. Maybe he should carry the Torah scroll after all.
Once upon a time computers took up a whole room and the idea of carrying around a computer must have felt even more ridiculous than carrying around a set of Talmuds. But now we all carry huge computing abilities in our pockets and we call them phones. We have access to — almost anything.
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