Parashat Shofetim- The King and the Sefer Torah
The Torah in Parashat Shofetim discusses the appointment of a Jewish king, and the various rules and restrictions that apply to the monarchy. One of the requirements established by the Torah is that the king must always keep a small Sefer Torah around him arm. At all times, wherever the king goes, he must have a Torah scroll with him. The Torah gives the following explanation for this command: “It shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, in order that he learns to fear Hashem his God…so that his heart is not raised over his brethren…” (17:19-20). In other words, carrying the Torah scroll at all times will help keep the king humble, and protect him from the feelings of arrogance that are so often characteristic of leadership figures.
The question arises, why would a Torah scroll guard against arrogance? How would the king avoid feelings of egotism by carrying a Sefer Torah with him?
One answer, of course, is that the sanctity of the Sefer Torah itself has an impact. If even the worst criminal holds a Sefer Torah in his arm, the holiness of the Torah affects him and refines his character, at least to some degree. Certainly, then, by carrying the Torah with him throughout the day, the king exposes himself to the sanctity of the Torah on a constant basis, which undoubtedly has an impact upon his character.
But there may be an additional explanation, as well. There was once a rabbi who was seen carrying a Humash with him when he left the synagogue. When he was asked about this practice, he explained that wherever he goes, people treat him with honor and respect. They stand in his presence, seek his advice and guidance, invite him to speak, and defer to his authority. He therefore makes a point of carrying a Humash with him, so that he is reminded that the people are not honoring him, but rather the Torah. As a person, he said, he is not deserving of special respect. It is only because of the Torah he carries around with him that people afford him honor.
The same is true of the king. Nobody was given as much honor as the king. Trumpets were sounded whenever he entered a room, and everybody obeyed his command. By carrying a Torah with him at all times, he was reminded that he was really not any more special than anybody else. He realized that the people gave honor not to him, but rather to the Torah. This helped him avoid feelings of arrogance and superiority.
We mustn’t let honor go to our heads. Even if we enjoy the respect of our family and friends, we must always remember who we are and who we are not, that we are not necessarily more important than them. Even the king of Israel was not allowed to feel superior. Certainly, then, we must conduct ourselves with self-effacing humility and never feel that we are more important than the people around us.