|Parshat Shoftim provides advance guidance in anticipation of the inevitable request of the Israelites to be like other nations and establish a monarchy. The Torah provides a number of limitations on kings, including a restriction on foreigners and limits on royal wealth and excess.
Two particular rules catch my attention. The first is a warning against one form of excess: “He shall not keep many horses or send people back to Egypt to add to his horses, since the LORD has warned you, ‘You must not go back that way again'” (Deuteronomy 17:16). In the second, the king is given a job to do: “He shall write a copy of this Teaching for himself on a scroll from the one that is in the charge of the levitical priests” (17:18).
A number of questions arise from these two laws:
1. In Biblical times, horse-drawn chariots were necessary for military success. Shouldn’t the King of Israel be able to build an arsenal of chariots?
2. If Egypt and north Africa are the greatest sources of horses, how can a King of Israel not go back there for trade?
3. Why is the King of Israel expected to transcribe this Torah (whatever the word there means)?
4. Can you think of a connection between these two laws?
I look forward to sharing these horse tales on Shabbat morning. When we do, we’ll consider the implications on today’s “kings” and heads of state.