The Royal Rules by Leo Metzger


In Parsahat Shofetim, we read about the three laws that govern the possessions of a Jewish king. These rules are given to safeguard the nation as a whole, by governing the number of wives, riches, and material possessions a king may possess. The exact number of wives a king may have is derived from a conversation between David HaMelech and Natan HaNavi (Shmuel II 12:8). The Chachamim derive from this conversation that David could have had three times more wives than the six he already had, or up to eighteen wives. The limitation on how many wives a king may have is speculated to be a protection against the potentially idolatrous influence of his wives. This phenomenon is seen in a Midrash (cited in Rashi to Bereishit 27:1) which records that Yitzchak Avinu’s vision deteriorated from the smoke that was created when Eisav’s wives burned incense to foreign gods.

Eisav originally had the potential to become a great Torah scholar but, instead of engaging in spiritual pursuits, like his twin brother Yaakov, he chose to leave the shelter of his father’s house and hunt in the field. There, he was influenced by foreign people and culture. As he began to integrate himself into their society, he adopted their desires for wealth, women, and material possessions. This ultimately led him to marry wives from the same idolatrous nations that had influenced him as a fledgling hunter. The influence of these women destroyed any chance Eisav had to attain great heights in the service of Hashem.

The mistake of ignoring the three laws meant to safeguard a nation was passed down through the generations to those described by Chazal as Eisav’s descendants: the Romans. The Romans created one of the greatest empires in history, and reached unprecedented heights in culture, philosophy, and academia. They dominated most of the known world but the once great Roman Empire eventually began to fail as a result of its own ambition for gold, women, and material possessions, specifically land. As they began to fall apart, barbaric tribes invaded and destroyed their empire. The world was plunged into the Dark Ages, an age marked by its lack of any type of advancement; it took nearly 300 years to recover from this fall. The Roman Empire violated all three laws designed to safeguard a Jewish (though it in theory would fit for others as well) monarch and his kingdom, and collapsed as a result. Perhaps if the Romans, after seeing how the Jews prospered in every age, as well as how many great empires had prospered while adhering to Hashem’s advice and laws, had not been so ambitious, and had instead listened to the age-old rules that governed a Jewish monarch, they would not have fallen so dramatically.

We see from the failures of Eisav and the Romans that Hashem’s laws, whether their reasons are unknown or blatantly obvious, are in place to help us avoid the pitfalls of society.

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