There are three Mitzvot that apply when B’nei Yisrael enter Eretz Yisrael: to appoint a king, to wipe out Amaleik, and to build the Beit HaMikdash. Amaleik is the root of all evil, so it’s not surprising that Hashem commanded Bnei Yisrael to destroy them. We can also understand why we need to build the Beit HaMikdash; human beings require a physical place of spiritual worship. But, why do we need a king? And is having a king an ideal situation? Even when we established one, Hashem and Shmuel took it as a rejection!
To understand this, we must analyze the word “Melech.” The Kabbalists explain that the Mem stands for the Moach (brain), the Lamed for Leiv (heart), and the Chof for the Kaveid (liver). The job of the liver is to refine the blood, and the heart’s job is to pump that blood to the brain. This signifies intellectual and spiritual refinement; every idea we have needs to be expanded upon before being sent to the brain because otherwise, we may miss a valuable insight. This resembles the king’s job. The king must be a guide for his people, much like the Torah. The king is a servant of his people to lead the people into becoming Hashem’s servants. So, Hashem was angry when the nation asked for a king because their demand for a king was an attempt to place their responsibilities on someone else, not a request for a religious mirror: a king who would guide his people by reflecting their spirituality. This is the opposite of the role of a Jewish king! Maybe this is what is stopping us from receiving preventing Hashem from sending us the Mashiach, we are refusing to take upon our spiritual responsibilities.
The Kli Yakar explains that Shmuel rejected the nation’s request for a king because kingship is only a Mitzvah when the intention is to put a king over you, for better or for worse. However, Bnei Yisrael wanted a king to supply their every desire. Rabbis are the spiritual leaders of their community, but they are also followers in a certain respect. Sanhedrin 97a says that the leaders will be like dogs, and Rabbi Yisroel of Salant comments that just like a dog often runs before its master but then looks back to check where its master is, a rabbi too must make sure that their community is going in the right direction. During the Galut, Rabbis seem like leaders but are actually following the spirituality of their community. As Jews during this time, we must accept their leadership, rather than force these leaders to follow us.
The Netziv is bothered by the word “VeAmarta,” “and you shall say” (Devarim 17:14). It seems like the Mitzvah of appointing a king depends on the will of the people, but this contradicts the Gemara’s statement that there are three Mitzvot from when we enter the land. The Netziv explains that this is because the Mitzvah to appoint a king does indeed depend on the people. It can’t be a simple positive commandment because it involves matters of life and death! However, once the Jewish people declare that they would like a king it becomes a Mitzvah to fulfill that request. In Shmuel the people didn’t want a king for the proper reasons, so there was no a Mitzvah to anoint one.
One of the responsibilities of the Jewish nation’s king is to write two copies of the torah. The commandment uses the phrase (Devarim 17:18) “Mishneh HaTorah”. Rashi interprets this to mean that two torah scrolls should be written, one for the king’s treasury and the other to carry around with him at all times. Rav Eliahu Meir Bloch explains that the king needs two torah scrolls “because a monarch must be sensitive to his generation”. What does this mean? There are generations that cannot accept all of the torah at once, and the king needs to recognize and prevent the possibility of overburdening the people with the torah. Rav Bloch cites a Pasuk from the Nevi’im that suggests this idea: “Hashem Elokim Natan Li Leshon Limudim Lada’at La’ut Et Ya’eif Davar Yair BaBoker BaBoker Ya’ir Li Ozen Lishmoah KaLimudim” “Hashem, My L-rd, has granted me a tongue for teaching, to understand the need of the times in conveying matters to those who thirst (for knowledge)" (Yeshayahu 50:4). The king needs to strengthen the people, but sometimes he can’t do it all at once because the people don’t always operate productively. The king must have a special Torah that he takes everywhere. He must have one Torah scroll as a guidebook for when he speaks to the people. But, there must also be a master copy, the Torah scroll that the king keeps in his treasury. The Torah scroll in the treasury house is the gold standard for every other Torah scroll; if it is changed, every other Torah would have to be changed to match it. The reason to have one in the treasury is to keep a standard, and to ensure that no one thinks it ever changes.
The reason for a Jewish king, and the way the king is and the people relate to each other is derived from Parashat Shoftim. We learn that a king must actively inspire his people to become Ovedei Hashem, and not let the people force him to lead in any other way.