The Torah is only a Tree of Life, if it Guides us in Our Lives

We learn in Parashat Shoftim:

“’I will set a king over me, as do all the nations about me,’ you shall be free to set a king over yourself, one chosen by the Lord your God.” (Deut. 17:14-15).

The Torah then interestingly adds that when this sovereign is seated on the throne, he shall have a copy of this Torah written for him by the priests. This way, he will not act haughtily toward his follows or deviate from an ethical life.

The king being required to have their own Torah scroll written for him is an important teaching. The Talmud points out that even if a king inherits a Torah scroll from their ancestors, they must have another written. Lest they forget these ethics, the act of rewriting reminds them of these values to live by and govern by. Torah is meant to be lived, not only studied. In fact, Torah ends up being worthless if it is only studied and doesn’t ultimately guide us in our lives. The need for a sovereign leader to have a Torah scroll is also to remind them that society – and humanity – must be guided by these same ethics and values.

The Talmud adds that a king must write their Torah scroll as an amulet, a miniature scroll, to be attached to their right arm, like a Quarterback who during the huddle looks at the notes on his forearm for guidance on the next play. The Torah would accompany them constantly, wherever they went: in the palace or sitting outdoors, during war and peace. They would never forget the values that guide them in their decisions.

There was a second reason though that a king must write a Torah. It was  to remind us that this Torah was everyone’s Torah. This Torah – these ethics —  were the same ethics for sovereign and citizen. No matter one’s position of power, no one is above the law. Let me repeat: no matter one’s position of power, no one is above the law! No one is exempt from morality. May this be a reminder to us all. Let’s not compare ourselves to ourselves, but instead focus on ourselves individually, guided by the same ethics and morals, a reminder that the Torah, just as it was with kings, shall be on our right arm, to guide us through lives always.

-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

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