Torah fit for a king

King David's Torah study influenced his advice to the people. That is why he arose to learn at midnight.

Rabbi Yaakov Shapira ,

Rabbi Yaakov Shapira
Rabbi Yaakov Shapira
Flash 90

In this week’s parasha, we learn about the unique status of a Jewish monarch, charged with ruling the nation after they settle in the land. Among many other halakhot, a king is instructed to write two Sifrei Torah that he must keep with him at all times:

“He shall write for himself two copies of this Torah…it shall be with him and he shall read from it all the days of his life".

It is important to qualify that this halakha is not necessarily an imperative regarding the king’s schedule of Torah study or his aptitude and skill as a scholar. The Chatam Sofer explains that when it comes to leadership and issues of public policy, the king must act in a way that reflects the singular wisdom of the Torah.

The Gemara relates that King David would arise at midnight and study Torah until dawn. In the morning, the wise men of Israel would come and consult with King David about issues that related to the welfare and financial security of the nation.

Rabbi Elazar Abuchatzeira asked a question about this story: Why does the Gemara need to tell us that David studied Torah in the early hours of the morning? While it is certainly impressive that King David was an organized and efficient person who made good use of his time, of what relevance is his study schedule to the rest of the story?

He explains that the wise men of Israel sought out David’s advice about worldly matters, not only because he was their king, but because he was a person who was steeped in Torah. David’s nocturnal Torah study had a direct impact on the quality of the advice that he was able to offer in the morning, even though he was being consulted about things that were not connected directly to Torah law or practice. The Torah had a profound influence on David’s character, on his leadership, on his intellectual capacity, and on his ability to grasp and understand matters that lay far beyond halakha.

The following story further illustrates this principle: Many years ago, a young rabbi in the Israeli army was asked an extremely difficult question about the halakhot of Shabbat. He went to consult with Rav Shlomo Goren, who served as the chief rabbi of the IDF at the time. Rav Goren remarked that it was indeed a difficult question and asked this man to bring him a Masekhet Bava Kamma from the shelf, so that they could study Perek Merubeh (the eighth perek of Bava Kamma that discusses ye'ush, the halakhic principle of despair with regard to recovering a lost object). This young rabbi was baffled. He had come to ask Rav Goren a question about the laws of Shabbat! Why were they about to embark on an intricate discussion of the halakhot of ye'ush?!

Rav Goren saw that this man was perplexed, and explained: “I know that this Talmudic discussion is not relevant to your question per se. Nevertheless, when we need to render a complicated halakhic decision, we must first immerse ourselves in the Torah’s wisdom and logic. Only when we are fully engaged in the Torah is it possible for us to determine the correct approach to the question that you have posed.”

When the king is commanded to write two Sifrei Torah, he is being instructed and charged to engage in a style of national leadership that issues forth and is transferred from the Divine Torah – its Godliness, its wisdom, its logic, its insight, its morality, its sanctity, its judgment system.

This is truly the Torah that is fit for a king.

Rabbi Yaakov Shapira is the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav in Jerusalem