"Moshiach is ready to come now-our part is to increase in acts of goodness and kindness" -The Rebbe

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The lesson from a Jewish king

On 12th of Teves 5747, the Rebbe encouraged the chassidim to spend a month preparing for Yud Shevat, and one of the things that he encouraged was strengthening the observance of the practice to appoint a personal Rav, a spiritual mentor. In this light I thought it apropos to post the sicha I have translated below:
There is a known question concerning the Mitzvah to appoint a king—“You shall surely appoint a king over yourself”[1]:
When the Jewish people asked the prophet Shmuel, “give us a king,”[2] he was very displeased. Hashem also said, “they have despised Me.”[3] But was this not a Mitzvah that Hashem had commanded the Jewish people? This is especially so according to the statement of our Sages, “The Jewish people were given three Mitzvos when they entered the [Holy] Land: to appoint a king for themselves ... ” Thus, this is a very lofty Mitzvah, and one of the Mitzvos dependent upon living in the [Holy] Land.
On the other hand, if their demand for a king at that time was undesirable, why did Hashem then instruct the prophet Shmuel to concede to the Jewish people and appoint a king over them?
Chassidus explains that there are two reasons for appointing a king, one superior to the other:
1) A simple reason: as the Mishnah puts it, “were it not for the fear of the government, a man would swallow his fellow alive.”[4] The king must guide the citizens of the country and bring them to behave properly.
Even when one’s intellect understands that one should behave properly, that is insufficient, because “the eye sees, the heart desires ... ”[5] Thus, fear of the king is vital, for it brings people to behave ethically.
2) When the minds rules over the heart constantly, it is unnecessary to appoint a king for the above purpose. However, there are certain areas where the people do not have insight to understand how to behave. Only the king, whose greatness is such that “from his shoulders and above, he is higher than all the people,”[6] understands them, and also issues edicts concerning how one should act, and the citizens of his country obey, because such was the king’s decree.
This is the inner, deeper purpose of appointing a king over the Jewish people. Their master and king is G-d, and the human king one appoints is the intermediary who reveals Hashem’s sovereignty to the Jewish people.
The Jewish people are believers by nature. They understand and feel that their life stems from G-d. This ought to call forth a sense of self-nullification to G-d. But when they are in a state where this sense of self-nullification is lacking, they need a person of flesh and blood to fear. This brings them to fear and nullify themselves before the King of all kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.
However, when the Jewish people behave properly, and reach this level of self-nullification on their own, then appointing a king has a higher purpose: There are certain levels of G-dliness that the Jewish people cannot reach on their own, because these levels are beyond their comprehension. The king, however, who is so great that he understands these levels, draws these levels down to the Jewish people. This also brings the Jewish people to a higher level of fear and self-nullification, one that transcends their comprehension.
This answers the above questions:
Shmuel wanted the Jewish people to have reached a [basic] level of nullification to G-dliness on their own, without needing a king. The king’s function would then be to bring them to a higher level of self-nullification and fear.[7] However, the Jewish people asked for “a king to judge us like all the nations,”[8] i.e., one to ensure that “a man [not] swallow his fellow alive.” This indicated that they were lacking the level of fear of Heaven that they ought to have reached on their own. Therefore G-d said that “they have despised Me”—they are lacking fear of Heaven.
However, G-d’s concession in ordering them to appoint a king nonetheless is logical: If a Jew is lacking fear of Heaven for whatever reason, then although he ought to reach this level of self-nullification on his own, without the influence of a king, we cannot wait and allow him to be a Jew without the yoke of Heaven[9] until then.
He must immediately appoint a king for himself, who will ensure that he adheres to this basic level. Then, with time, he will reach this level of self-nullification on his own [i.e., the lower level], until the king will also bring him to the spiritual levels of the second type described above.
We should derive a lesson from everything in our service of Hashem: Although during the age of exile we do not have a king, our Sages say, “Who are the kings? The rabbis.”[10] Just as the Mitzvah to appoint a king exists, so must a Jew follow the command of “the kings, the sages,” to “make for yourself a Rav.”[11]
Concerning this we can learn a lesson from the above concept: Certain people imagine that when it comes to lowly matters, they can understand and decide on their own; thus, they need not ask a Rav about such a thing.
However, the Mishnah says to “make for yourself a Rav.” This means that every Jew must have a Rav. They imagine that it was only intended [that one consult about] lofty matters; however, when it comes to simple things he believes in himself—he doesn’t need the influence of a Rav. This he can accomplish on his own.
He thinks that the fact that time goes by and he remains on the same lowly level is not sufficient reason for him to go to a Rav. He will wait “until a spirit awakens him from Above,” until he becomes inspired with proper fear and rectifies everything that he ought to rectify—on his own.
This is the lesson we can derive from appointing a king in the spiritual sense nowadays: It is true that for Jews the main purpose and function of a king is to bring them to a higher spiritual level. However, when one is in a state of “they have despised Me,” G-d forbid, or one has reason to be concerned that this is so, one must immediately use fear of the king for this.
Some say that they cannot find a Rav. They should know that this is a scheme and enticement of the [evil] inclination, because “the Jewish people have not been widowed,” and it is not possible that no Jew exists with greater love of G-d and fear of G-d than him, enabling that person to act as his Rav.
However, for this he must exert effort and search, until he finds a Rav. (This is alluded to in the expression “make for yourself a Rav”: the word “make”[12] could also mean force, as in the expression, “we force people to give charity.”[13]) For one cannot rely upon oneself, as our Sages say, “do not believe in yourself”[14]—one must have a Rav.
The Rav will teach him the sections of the Torah publicly read by the king at the Hakhel gatherings: “Shema” and “V’hoyo im shomoyo.”[15] First he will teach him the Shema, which represents accepting the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven, and then “V’hoyo im shomoyo ... ve’osafto degonecho” [“If you listen [to Hashem] ... you will gather your grain]—he will explain to him thoroughly how even “gather[ing] your grain” [i.e., material prosperity] depends upon “If you listen.”
Once the Rav has inspired him to the lower level of self-nullification and acceptance of the yoke [of Heaven], he will then draw down to him the higher level—“higher fear.”
All the above has a special connection with the age of “the footsteps of the Moshiach,”[16] the time immediately before the coming of Moshiach, for he represents both aspects: he will be a teacher, and teach everyone, even the Avos and Moshe Rabeinu, and he will be a king—“the King Moshiach.”
Simchas Beis HaSho’eivah, year of Hakhel 5713,
Printed in Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 24, pp. 104-107.
[1] Devorim 17:15.
[2] I Shmuel 8:6.
[3] ibid. 8:7.
[4] Pirkei Avos 3:2.
[5] Bamidbar 16:39.
[6] I Shmuel 9:2.
[7] “Yirah ila’ah”—“higher fear.”
[8] I Shmuel 8:5.
[9] See Tanya ch. 41: “As explained in the Zohar (Parshat Behar): ‘Just like the ox on which one first places a yoke in order to make it useful to the world ... so too must a human being first of all submit to the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven ... and only then engage in divine service; and if this [submission] is not found in him, holiness cannot rest within him ... ’”
[10] See Gittin end chap. 5.
[11] Pirkei Avos 1:6.
[12] In Hebrew, “asei.”
[13] In Hebrew, “me’asin al ha’tzedoko.”
[14] Avos 2:4.
[15] Sotah 41a.
[16] cf. Bereishis Rabba 42:4.

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