Baal Haturim Deuteronomy: Shoftim
Lions of Judah
There is something behind the throne greater than the King himself. –William Pitt, The Elder Chatham
The Bible itself as well as subsequent Rabbinic commentators have mixed feelings regarding a monarchy. On one hand it seems to be a command that the nation of Israel should have a king. On the other hand, it seems that a monarchy may only be established if the nation desires one. If the nation wants a king, then there are certain guidelines as to the qualifications of a king as well as what he can and cannot do.
Not much after the nation of Israel conquers the land of Israel, we have the death of Joshua and the loss of centralized leadership. That time period is known biblically as the era of the Judges when over the course of a few hundred years the nation of Israel descends into civil war, chaos and anarchy. However, with the subsequent establishment of the monarchy of Israel, we relatively quickly get to corruption, idolatry and oppression, and a few hundred years after that, destruction and exile. In the long term, the difference between not having a monarchy and having one seems to be the difference between social madness and organized social madness.
Nonetheless, the Bible gives a tremendous amount of respect and importance to the historical monarchy. The desire for a king and the need to follow one to the people’s liking is the source of much drama in the biblical books of Samuel and Kings and leads to the schism between the southern tribes (Judah and Benjamin) that remained loyal to the House of David and the ten northern tribes that went through various non-Davidic rulers. The Baal Haturim on Deuteronomy 17:15 points out to us that the kings of Israel are meant to be descendants of the tribe of “Lions”, the tribe of Judah (as David, Salomon and their descendants were – and would indicate the northern tribes were ostensibly in the wrong in following non-Judean rulers, despite God’s command and repeated intervention in the election (and assassination) of the kings of the ten tribes).
The error of non-Judean kings was repeated again during the second Temple era after the Hasmonean Revolt, where the successful Maccabees took the helm of political leadership despite being a Cohanic non-Judean family. The initial victory turned to ashes generations later as the Hasmonean line became corrupt and ends with Herod, who while an impressive builder, was a greater enemy of the Jewish people.
May we merit leadership of noble traits and correct pedigree, be they kings or otherwise.
To the two lions who included Montevideo in their courageous Halachic Adventures: Dr. Ari Greenspan and Rabbi Ari Zivotofsky.