July 19, 2017
Rabbi H. Greenberg in #1077, Matot, Mattos-Massei, Parsha Thought


G-d instructed Moshe to wage war against Midian for causing the Jewish people to sin, causing them much grief. As the last major campaign before he was to pass, G-d instructed Moshe to take revenge on the Midianites, and only then pass on.

Rashi addresses the question of why not wage war against Moav as well? Both Moav and Midian conspired against the Jewish people. It was Balak the king of Moav who hired Bilam to curse the Jewish people and who instigated the daughters of Moav and Midian to lure Jewish men into immorality and idolatry. It would appear from this that Moav was far more culpable of harming the Jewish people than Midian.

Rashi’s answer is that the Moabites had a good reason to engage the Jews; they feared that the Jews would despoil them. The Midianites, by contrast, joined in the conflict for no good reason; just for the sake of conflict.

While this explanation demonstrates the absolute evil of the Midianites, it does not get the Moabites off the hook. They were still extremely evil in the way they treated the Jewish people. Why then were we commanded then, and for all time, not to provoke the Moabites into war?


Rashi offers a second, more compelling reason not to wage war against Moav; Ruth would descend from them.

Rashi was not content to rest his argument on the first explanation because if Moav was just less guilty than Midian that does not excuse them entirely. Rashi’s second explanation provides a more reasonable justification for not waging war against a nation that would in the future be responsible for Ruth and from her the lineage of King Dovid through Moshiach.

What is it about Moav that gave them the privilege of producing the matriarch of the Davidic dynasty, which will include Moshiach? And what redeeming quality shielded them from destruction in spite of their evil efforts to harm the Jewish people?


Shem Mishmuel, a Chassidic work, cites the explanation of Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk that Moav was needed to give the Jewish people the concept of kingship. The entire concept of people empowered to exercise authority over others is foreign to the Jewish ethos. The idea of leadership had to be ‘borrowed’ from Moav.

On the surface, this premise is hard to understand. Moshe was a king and so was Yehoshua, yet, unlike King Dovid, they did not have any biological connection to Moav. How did they become kings?

Second, throughout biblical and rabbinic literature, the position of royalty is greatly extoled. In our prayers we pray for the time when the royal house of Dovid will be reinstated. The greatest human being, Moshiach, is described as a king, Melech HaMoshiach. Kingship occupies the highest spiritual position and not just as a concession to the weaknesses of the people because of their anarchistic tendencies.

Moreover, Chassidic philosophy explains that the function of the king is to bring all of his subjects to surrender themselves to G-d. Honoring a king is not honoring a human being; they are honoring G-d as represented by the king. Why then did we have to “borrow” royalty from the lowly nation of Moav?


We may propose an answer derived from a basic understanding of the role of a king as opposed to another form of leadership.

Contrary to the belief that a king is an absolute monarch, free to do whatever he wants, the Torah places additional obligations and restrictions on a king that a commoner does not have.

For example, a king must have two Torah scrolls written, whereas everyone else can satisfy their obligation with one. Indeed, most people fulfill their obligation to write a Torah scroll, the Rebbe explained, by way of the communal Torah scrolls that we read from in our synagogues. A king, however, has no substitute for this Mitzvah; he must possess two Torahs. Moreover, the king must carry his special Torah scroll with him all the days of his life.

A king has additional restrictions. He may not amass too many horses, gold and silver. Although polygamy was permitted for everyone, without limit to the number of wives a commoner could marry, the king has a restriction on the number of his wives.

King Shlomo violated that requirement because he thought that it will not lead him astray—the rationale given for this restriction. But he was indeed adversely affected by this failure.

In short, a king is subject to more requirements than everyone else.

Neither may a king impose his position on the people. Even King Dovid, anointed by the prophet Shmuel at the behest of G-d, did not acquire the full status of king until the people demanded it of him. A dictator who imposes his will on the people is just that, a dictator; there is no relationship between the dictator and the people. In fact, they are worlds apart because his power and leadership comes from his own might and coercion and nothing from the people.


By contrast, in Jewish law a king has a powerfully close relationship with his flock and they with him.

This is the meaning of the well-known expression, “there is no king without a nation.” This does not simply mean that you cannot be king over yourself; it means that a king depends on the will, devotion and empowerment from his nation to be a true monarch.

The relationship between a monarch and his people is even more complex.

Chassidic thought describes the various faculties of the soul. For example, we all possess the trait of kindness and love, though it may lie dormant in our sub-conscious. A little praise from others could do wonders in aiding us to actualize that trait. It may take praise or seeing the pitiful state of a hungry beggar to evoke feelings of kindness and compassion. But if we possess that trait—and most of us do—it does not take too much of a stimulus to elicit it.

Even our intellectual powers may need some prodding by others to help us in actualizing our intellect, as well as other talents. That is why we are so often counselled to give our children and students, among others, positive reinforcement. Praise is the excavating tool that helps us uncover our own talents and virtues.

There is one exception to this rule; the power of royalty. This power is so deeply rooted in a leader’s consciousness that conventional methods of exposing it will not suffice. There is a much greater need for the people whom he will lead to unequivocally, totally, sincerely and voluntarily surrender themselves to him. Otherwise a king will not possess the requisite power of royalty.

This explains why the Torah describes the way subjects proclaimed “Yechi HaMelech-long live the king,” especially at the time a king was crowned. They were not just expressing good wishes for good health and long life; they were actually bestowing upon him and channeling to him the life of a king by opening up heretofore totally concealed reservoirs of royal-life.


This may explain why royalty had to be “borrowed” from Moav. The power of royalty is difficult to actualize. It is so deeply ensconced in our soul’s psyche that it required us to borrow this power from another source where it was far easier to reveal.

The above analysis describes a royalty that is holy and positive. There is also its counterpart in the world of impurity, which lies very close to the surface and is too easily expressed. It is the unbridled quest for power that most of humanity possesses in different measure. In this mode, royalty is not a virtue but a vice, consistent with the saying “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

The need to borrow the power of royalty from other sources is a two-edged sword. While it can serve as a boost to actualizing one’s latent power of royalty, it may also take the monarch in the opposite direction, in which he emulates the Moabite source of power.

This may shed some light on the shockingly evil monarchs who were direct descendants of King Dovid. Menashe, the son of Hezekiah, the most righteous of kings, was diabolically evil for most of his life. He murdered his grandfather, the prophet Isaiah and brought idolatry to the Jewish people, among other atrocities.

This moral stain may be ascribed to the Moabite source of royalty. While it may have helped his forebears actualize their royal potential, it took Menashe in the opposite direction: tyranny.


Since the power of legitimate royalty must come from the governed, we can now understand our role vis-à-vis the ultimate monarch, Moshiach.

If every true monarch needs the input of the nation, it is no less true of Moshiach, the final and ultimate monarch. The higher a person’s authority, the deeper the power of royalty is embedded in his soul, which requires greater effort on the part of the nation to have him actualize this power.

Moshe did not accept the leadership position for a full week, even after G-d ‘‘pleaded’’ with him to accept it.

The Rebbe added that since every Jew possesses a spark of Moshiach, we have an even greater role in enhancing Moshiach’s life as a king, thereby empowering him to usher in the final Redemption.

For Moshiach to reveal himself we too must voluntarily and sincerely accept upon ourselves his leadership. Since Moshiach’s role is to facilitate greater observance of Torah and Mitzvos, our acceptance of his authority entails a greater commitment and dedication to Torah study and Mitzvah observance.

We also express our dedication to Moshiach and our desire for him to be fully revealed by declaring “Yechi HaMelech,” which will help to enhance his life as the ultimate monarch who will usher in the final Redemption.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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