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Shoftim. Can Our Leaders be Humble?

​​It is election season again. Today, we are frequently disappointed by the moral calibre of world leaders, and at times, we have concerns regarding their integrity. (I won’t name names, but you can probably thing of a leader or two.) So, when the Torah legislates the notion of a king in this week’s parasha, it certainly gives us pause to think about how the biblical conception of a political leader might differ from our own.

I want to focus upon one detail regarding the Torah’s depiction of the king, and that is something that relates to the leader’s ego, their self-image. Repeatedly the Torah refers to the king as “a brother.” Seemingly, there is no blue blood running in his veins. The king is “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

"Set a king over yourself, one of your brothers; you must not set a foreigner over you, one who is not of your brothers. … He shall have a copy of the Torah scroll … read in it all his life, so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God, to observe faithfully every word of this Torah laws. So that he will not raise his heart over his brothers …a nor deviate from the Torah...” (Deut 17:14-20)

This is of course surprising. One bows to a king. The very notion of sovereign power places the ruler on a pedestal. And yet, over and over, the sovereign is referred to as a brother! Is this practicable? Can a king be “one of the people?”


“In the political theology typical of the great land powers surrounding ancient Israel, the king was either a God, an incarnation of a God, or a semi-mythic human king who was elected by the gods to serve as a necessary mediator between the divine order and the human world. …the deification of kingship and general veneration of political authority meant that an unblinking look into the moral trespasses, ambiguous virtues, and personal shortcomings of monarchs