This week, the Torah teaches us about royalty and its symbiotic relationship with humility. The concept of the Jewish king is discussed in this week’s portion, He is given a tremendous amount of power, but there are caveats as well. He is told not to amass a large cavalry, nor shall he have too many wives lest they sway his heart. Third, he is warned against amassing an excess fortune of gold and silver. But in an interesting addendum, Hashem puts a roadblock to haughtiness in front of the king in a surprisingly different manner. “It shall be that when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself two copies of this Torah in a book, from before the Kohanim, the Levites. It shall be with him, and he shall read from it all the days of his life, so that he will learn to fear Hashem, his G-d, to observe all the words of this Torah and these decrees, to perform them so that his heart does not become haughty over his brethren and not turn from the commandment right or left, so that he will prolong years over his kingdom, he and his sons amid Israel.” (Deuteronomy 15:15-17).
It seems that this Book of chastisement and its message of restraint need be with the king everyday of his life.
Need that be the case? Why not have a court castigator, a prophet or clergy who would sermonize monthly or even weekly. Does the King truly need to constantly carry and read a Book of ethics to forever keep him in check? Rav Yosef Poesner, was the son-in-law of the Nodeh B’Yehuda, the esteemed Rav of Prague. He was a brilliant scholar and an amazingly righteous individual.
During his entire life, he seemed to be plagued by a nagging wife who would belittle him at every opportunity. After a brilliant lecture, she would come into the room, and belittle him. During meetings at which his opinion was prominently sought, she would serve the company food, but at the same time she made sure to deride him. During all these outbursts, he never said a word. He never defended himself. In fact, he hung his head low, as if to agree with her words of derision.
Then, suddenly, he passed away. Hundreds came to the funeral. All of the gathered contrasted his greatness to the difficult life he had led, by being married to a shrew of a wife who was about to bury him.
After the eulogies, his wife suddenly appeared before the coffin, crying uncontrollably.
She begged his permission to speak and then burst into tears.
“All these years,” she cried, “I fulfilled the adage that a loyal wife fulfills the wishes of her husband. And due to my loyalty and respect to you and your greatness, I did whatever you had asked me to. But now that you are in the world of the truth, I can finally say the truth.” She began to declare her respect for his greatness and humility, his piety and patience, his kindness and compassion.
The people near the coffin were shocked to see this woman transformed into a loving, grieving widow. And then the true shock came. She continued her soliloquy.
“Despite, how difficult it was for me, I kept the promise and commitment you had asked me to make. Any time you were treated honorably, or were asked to fulfill a prestigious role, you told me to come in and belittle you as strongly as possible. You were afraid that the honor they afforded you would make you haughty. I only complied because that was your will!”
“But now I can finally say the truth!” But that was only in front of people!
“You know how much I appreciated and cherished you!” She continued to cry over the great tzadik and lifelong companion she lost. The stunned grievers were shocked at the tremendous devotion of the Rebbitzin, who deemed herself a harrying nag all for the sake of her husband’s wishes.
Humility is not easy to attain. And for a man thrust in the limelight of power, flashbulbs popping, the media pressing, and servants waiting, it is an even more arduous task. The only antidote is constant mussar, day in day out. The Torah “shall be with him, and he shall read from it all the days of his life.” Every day. All mussar all the time. No weekly speeches nor sporadic sermons. If the Torah must be cherished like a wife, it also must be asked to nag us into reality. And then, it will serve its men not only delicious desserts, but also humble pie.
Dedicated to Baila bat Rachel, and Aharon ben Leah for a complete recovery- refuah shelaymah – with Hashem’s Help- by Devorah.
Dedicated by Mr. & Mrs. Peter Chatzinoff in memory of Jesse Chatzinoff In memory of Reb Yishia ben Reb Zev Wolf of blessed memory – 5 Elul
Copyright © 2001 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Dean of the Yeshiva of South Shore.