Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Korach

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity.
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Parashat Korah 5759/1999

The Basis of the King's Authority in Israel

(Haftarah: I Samuel 11)

Rabbi Yaakov Ariel

Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan

"Samuel said to the people, 'Come, let us go to Gilgal and there inaugurate (Hebrew unehaddesh) the monarchy'" (I Sam. 11:14). Why did the monarchy have to be inaugurated? After all, had not Saul already been anointed by Samuel, the Lord's prophet (I Sam. 10:1), and chosen by the entire people, saying, "Long live the king!" (10:24)? So why was it necessary to renew the monarchy?

Commentators explain this on the basis of the context of these verses. Two verses earlier we read, "The people then said to Samuel, 'Who was it who said, "Shall Saul be king over us"? Hand the men over and we will put them to death!'" (11:12). These people, who above (10:27) are called "scoundrels," said, "'How can this fellow save us?' So they scorned him and brought him no gift" (10:27). In other words, there was a marginal minority group among the people who did not accept the majority decision and did not acknowledge Saul's sovereignty. Now, circumstances having changed, Samuel felt it necessary to appoint Saul king again, this time with full consensus. Without such consensus there was something lacking in Saul's appointment, notwithstanding the fact that a clear majority supported the choice of Saul and that Samuel himself had anointed Saul in fulfillment of G-d's word. Thus we see that the monarchy in Israel must have the people's full support, and the wider this support, the greater the authority of the king.

David's Monarchy

That the people are the source of the king's authority is stressed several times in the way David was made king. First the prophet Samuel secretly anointed David in the name of G-d in Bethlehem (I Sam. 16:12). At this point David did not exert his royal authority, even though he had been anointed, save for one incident: the case of Nabal of Carmel whom David sentenced to death (25:13), presumably for rebelling against the king's authority (cf. Sanhedrin 36b). Since David was the accepted ruler in that area and was responsible for security (I Sam. 25:16), he considered that his anointment gave him royal authority. Abigail, however, made clear to him his error. She pointed out that indeed he was destined to become king--"And when the Lord has ... appointed you ruler of Israel" (v. 30)--but that meanwhile he was not yet actually king, and therefore executing Nabal at that point would be tantamount to "shedding blood needlessly" (v. 31). As the Sages put it, "his coin had not yet become accepted in the world" (Megillah 14b). David thanked Abigail: "And blessed be your prudence, and blessed be you yourself for restraining me from seeking redress in blood by my own hands" (25:33).

On the basis of this passage, Maimonides derived his definition of the source of the king's authority: "How does this apply? When a king's coin is accepted currency in a certain land it means that there is consensus among the people of that land, accepting him as their liege" (Hilkhot Gezelah 5.18). The use of a coin expresses de facto recognition of the authority of the person who issues it. Therefore in most kingdoms a picture of the king's head was stamped on their coins, and in Israel, the name of the king.[1] After Saul's death David was anointed again by the people of Judah in Hebron (II Sam. 2:4), and a third time by all Israel (II Sam. 5:3). Only then was David recognized as king both at home and abroad.

Deposing the King

Since the king's authority derives from the people, the people also have the authority to depose the king. This happened to David when Absalom rebelled and David fled across the Jordan river. According to the Jerusalem Talmud (Horayot 83), during that period David made an offering of a she-goat as a commoner instead of an offering of a he-goat as king.[2]

David's restoration to the throne was similar to his first crowning, except that the order of events was reversed: first he was acclaimed king by the ten tribes, and then by the tribe of Judah (II Sam. 19:10-15). Killing Absalom, his rebellious son, was not sufficient for David to be restored to the throne. His kingship had to be renewed by popular acclaim. Things reached such a state that there was tension between the tribe of Judah and the ten tribes as to which group the king "belonged to" more: "But the men of Israel answered the men of Judah, 'We have ten shares in the king'" (II Sam. 19:44).

The People as the Basis of Authority of Other Kings

Rehoboam did not inherit the throne automatically from his father Solomon. He had to be acclaimed by the people: "For all Israel had come to Shechem to acclaim him as king" (I Kings 12:1). The people laid down conditions to Rehoboam: "Now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke which your father laid on us" (v. 4), and when Rehoboam refused to follow their directive the ten tribes turned their back on him and made Jeroboam their king (vv. 16-20). Similarly with the appointment of Omri's dynasty: "Then the people of Israel split into two factions: ... Those who followed Omri proved stronger than those who followed Tibni son of Ginath" (I Kings 16:21-22). And likewise with Joash (II Kings 11:4 ff.), and with Azariah: "Then all the people of Judah took Azariah, ... and proclaimed him king to succeed his father Amaziah" (II Kings 14:21), as well as Jehoahaz: "Then the people of the land took Jehoahaz; they anointed him and made him king in place of his father" (II Kings 23:30).

Thus we see that the monarchy in Israel was not a dictatorship. It derived its authority from the people. This in no way contradicts what Maimonides said in Hilkhot Melakhim 1.3), that the Sanhedrin and the prophet are the ones who appoint the king. Indeed, the legal procedure of appointing the king must be done by the prophet and the Sanhedrin. Maimonides himself placed Hilkhot Gezelah (Laws on Theft) before Hilkhot Melakhim (Laws on Kingship), where he stated that the people's acclaim is the source of authority to rule as king (Hilkhot Gezelah 5.18). Ibn Ezra interpreted the verse, "Do you mean to reign over us? Do you mean to rule over us?" (Gen. 37:8) as meaning: "We shall make you king, or you shall rule over us by force." The Vilna Gaon further elaborated on this point in his commentary on Proverbs 27:27.

Likewise the Messiah shall rule over the Jews and the entire world by virtue of his spiritual authority and complete consensus: "He shall not break even a bruised reed, or snuff out even a dim wick. He shall bring forth the true way, ... and the coastlands shall await his teaching" (Is. 42:3-4).

[1] Cf. Bava Kama 97b, and Rashi and Tosafot there.

[2] Cf. Parashat Derakhim, 11. Also cf. Avnei Nezer, Yoreh De'ah 312.11-29.

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