The King and the Commoner by Yosef Aryeh Kahan


In Parashat VaYikra (VaYikra 3:22-31), Hashem tells Moshe what type of Korbanot should be offered if a person commits a sin. If a regular person commits a sin, he is supposed to offer a female goat. If a leader, like the king, commits a sin, he must offer a male goat. The Torah here is talking about a case where the leader personally committed a sin, and did not cause the nation to err. The procedure for offering the Korban is the same for both an ordinary person and a leader of the nation. First, the sinner places his hands on the Korban. The animal is then slaughtered. A Kohein takes the blood from the goat and places some of it on the four corners of the Mizbei’ach; the rest is poured. Finally, the animal is completely burned up on the Mizbei’ach.

The fact that a king and commoner have to bring essentially the same Korban is somewhat puzzling. Considering a king’s exalted status and divine mandate, shouldn't his sin be considered to be worse than a commoner’s transgression? One could try to say that there is a difference -- the king has to bring a male goat. After all, there is very little difference between a male goat and a female goat. Furthermore, the procedures for both Korbanot are identical!

The answer, I believe, lies in the Torah’s view of monarchy. Throughout history, and especially during the time that the Torah was given, monarchs have traditionally been viewed as gods or like gods. Pharaohs were famous for this. Rashi (Shemot 7:15) citing Shemot Rabbah, describes how Pharaoh deified himself. Several Roman Emperors, such as Augustus were declared by the Senate to be gods and sons of the gods. When Henry VIII split from the Catholic Church, Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy, declaring that he was “Supreme Head on Earth of the Church of England.” This idea of deifying leaders still exists today.

For example, according to a report delivered to the Chinese government by Wang Guosheng, a Communist Party Secretary of the Qinghai province, people living in the Qinghai province have begun to view Xi Jinping, head of the Chinese government, as a Buddhist deity. Deification of leaders, however, is resoundly rejected by Judaism. When the Jews ask for a king in Sefer Shemuel, they are severely reprimanded. The Torah also places restrictions on the king, such as limiting the permitted number of wives, indicating that the Torah understands that kings are human. Interestingly, The Pasuk describing the atonement offering starts “Asher Nasi Yecheta” “When a leader sins” (4:22).  According to the Seforno, however, the Pasuk should have read “Im Nasi Yecheta,” “If a leader sins,” using the conditional word Im (if) to begin the Pasuk. But since a person in a position of power will inevitably commit an Aveirah, the Pasuk does not use the word Im, clarifying that the Torah does not consider the king to be a divine being. Although the king is given some divine authority by Hashem, this is not due to the king’s merit. Rather, the king is given his power because there is a societal need for a central authority. As the final pasuk of Sefer Shoftim (21:25) records, “BaYamim HaHeim Ein Melech BeYisrael Ish HaYashar BeEinav Yei’aseh,”  ”In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did as he pleased.” The numerous foreign powers that invaded Eretz Yisrael in Sefer Shoftim clearly demonstrate that this is not a recipe for a safe and prosperous society. To counter this, a central authority was needed and the Jewish monarchy was established. The kingship, however, is, in reality, undesirable. When the Jews first request a king, Hashem laments to Shemuel  “Ki Oti Ma’asu MiMeloch Aleihem,” “They have rejected me as their king” (Shemuel I 8:7). In the eyes of the Torah, a human king is a necessary evil; this is why the King offers the same Korbanot as everyone else. He is not a divine being whose Avierot would merit a unique type of Korban. In the eyes of Hashem, there is little difference between the King and the commoner.

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