We don’t keep the Torah because we know, or don’t know, the reason behind the commandments. No one is wiser than God.
This week’s Torah portion is Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9), and in it we read about the mitzvah (commandment) to appoint a king. On that note, it is interesting to note that the Torah’s ideal form of governance is a combination of democracy, monarchy and theocracy. More about that another time.
The king had several rules he had to follow: He could not collect too many horses, he could not marry too many wives (a maximum of 18!), and he should not allow himself to get too wealthy. As the Torah says:
You shall surely appoint upon yourself a King whom the Lord your God will choose…only he should not accumulate a multitude of horses …and he should not have too many wives in order that they not cause his heart to go astray; and he should not have too much silver and gold…
Unfortunately, King Solomon slipped in some of the laws. The Midrash teaches that King Solomon created all types of excuses why the restrictions of a king do not apply to him. For example, we are told that Solomon thought to himself:
Why did God command that a King should not have too many wives? The Torah clearly says why: so that the king’s heart not go astray. This does not apply to me. I won’t be affected by my wives. They won’t influence me, I’ll influence them!
King Solomon ended up marrying a thousand wives. He was wrong. Solomon’s wives led him astray, even to the point of idolatry. They had a very detrimental effect upon him.
The lesson is clear. As the saying goes, “nobody is above the law,” and in this case, we are referring to the laws of the Torah. How many of us have transgressed Torah laws only because we claim to know the reason why God issued a prohibition and then rationalized that the reason no longer applies? Indeed, notice how the Torah does not often give the reason for its commandments. The purpose is usually hidden. The prohibition against a king marrying too many wives is one of the exceptions to the rule, and here the Torah actually does tell us why it is forbidden.
If a person so great as King Solomon was wrong about the effect of ignoring a commandment whose reason is given, how much more so would we be wrong by trying to rationalize seemingly small transgressions when we don’t know the reasons they were given? For example, there are those who suggest that the reason the consumption of pork was forbidden was due to some type of health concern that no longer exists. As such, they argue, it should be permitted to eat pork nowadays. But where does the Torah give a reason for forbidding pork? Where does the Torah give a reason for any of the kosher laws, for that matter? It doesn’t. There are many more examples of this type of rationalization.
Bottom line: We don’t keep the Torah because we know, or don’t know, the reason behind the commandments. We keep the Torah because we are a holy nation that stood at Mount Sinai and was given a charge to live a certain way and to serve as a light unto the nations. Don’t make the mistake of Solomon. The Torah knows what’s best for us, and we should relish the opportunity to keep its commandments and serve God as He so decreed. Solomon may have been the wisest man ever, but no one is wiser than God.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, spiritual director, United with Israel
For more insights by Rabbi Ari Enkin on this week’s Torah reading, click on the links below: