It is written in the Torah that “When you come into the Land… set a king over you; only he shall not have too many horses for himself, so he will not return the people to Egypt in order to increase horses, for Hashem has said to you, you shall no longer return on this road again. And he shall not have too many wives, so that his heart, not turn astray; and he shall not greatly increase silver and gold for himself. (Shoftim 16-17)
A Jewish King is not permitted to indulge in too many horses or too many wives nor to greatly increase his stores of silver and gold. We may well understand the warning given with respect to the accumulation of wealth because of the challenges this poses and the warning against too many wives because of the complexities it creates within royal household. But it is far more difficult to fathom why our holy Torah has chosen to create a separate and distinct warning about having too many horses. Are they not merely another form of wealth? Why horses more so than any other possession?
Our Torah explains that it is specifically the accumulation of horses that would cause the people to return to Egypt (Mitzrayim). Why? On a pragmatic level, Mitzrayim is the primary breeding ground for the Arabian horse, considered to be the most magnificent of all of the breeds. These horses have long commanded huge sums of money and are sought after and praised for their prowess and strength. Therefore, it would seem that if the king of the Jewish nation were to collect vast numbers of these horses, the Torah’s warning could well have practical consequences in that the king would set the direction for commerce and trade towards Mitzraim.
While this approach to an understanding of these verses may have practical appeal, there are other explanations which we will now explore. To better understand this section fo the Torah and how they relate to our personal lives, we should first consider the teaching of our Sages that each of us rules over the “small kingdom” – that is oneself. It may be helpful to visualize this “small kingdom” as a small “nation” whose resources flow from three major centers corresponding to three major organs – the brain, the heart and the liver whose roles are crucial to the development of the mind, emotion and physical energies.
And who is the king of this microcosmic kingdom? That is ideally the soul (neshoma) – the leader within us that governs and directs our inclinations – Thus the word king (melech) is an acronym for the three major organs: The (m)em corresponds to the (m)oach/mind; the (l)amed corresponds to the (l)ev/heart; while the (k)af corresponds to the (k)aved/liver.
The mind (moach) is the throne of the intellect which governs the thought processes. Its two upper faculties are wisdom and understanding. When these faculties are properly balanced they coordinate synergistically to produce knowledge (da’as). The lev/heart is the pump that circulates life sustaining blood throughout the entire body. To nourish our spiritual existence the heart, as the seat of the loftier emotions, propagates those motivating forces which consist of a range of moods and dispositions, from inspiration and joy to fear and sorrow. The third of these essential organs is the liver (kaved) that filters and purifies the blood on the physical level, while on the spiritual level it ideally refines and sanctifies the physical desires for use in the service of Hashem.
With this introduction we can now infer that the Torah’s reference to the Jewish king is also a beneficial prescription for every individual for establishing the proper balance in life.
Horses, particularly those connected with Mitzrayim, epitomize the symbol of strength and prowess on the physical level. These qualities parallel the attributes of the natural instincts of man (nefesh behamis). This potent nature if harnessed constructively can be a tremendous asset in the pursuit and fulfillment of one’s goals in life. However, such an energy must be used judiciously, avoiding “racing” too fast or recklessly. Thus the Torah has provided a “warning sign” not to acquire too much , so to speak, “horse-power” in order to stay safely within the spiritual “speed limit.”
Next, the Torah commands the king not to have too many wives. The husband-wife relationship belongs to the heart (lev), because it is motivated by the loftier emotions that emanate from the heart such as love, loyalty and devotion. Too many wives symbolizes a lack of this unity.
Then the king is warned that he “shall not greatly increase silver and gold”. Besides its monetary value, silver corresponds to chesed which is rooted in wisdom whereas gold symbolizes gavurot whose roots are in understanding. Wisdom and understanding are crucial tools for positive growth, however, the single-minded accumulation of intellectual assets or material wealth without a corresponding accrual of humility and submissiveness in the acknowledgement of the Source of these blessings can lead to an unbalanced portfolio with insufficient resources allocated to spiritual values.
Ironically, the Torah permits the establishment of a king and yet almost at the same time warns against the possible consequences. Now perhaps we can better understand the meaning of this seeming dichotomy by noticing the inverted order that is written in the Torah. Horses listed first, correspond to the liver (k)aved; then wives are listed paralleling the heart (l)ev; and finally silver and gold relating to the attributes of the mind (m)oach. The Torah is thereby teaching us that living a lifestyle that pursues “too many and too much”, chas vi-shalom, inverts/transforms the power of the kingship (m)e(l)e(k) to the state of humiliation and disgrace k)e(l)e(m).
To avoid this and dedicate his thoughts, words and actions purely to the service of Hashem, the king is commanded to write two Sefer Torah: “It shall be with him, and he shall read from it all the days of his life, so he will learn to fear Hashem his G-d, to observe all the words of the Torah and these decrees, to perform them, so that his heart does not become haughty over his brethren and (so that he will) not turn from the commandment right or left, so that he will prolong his years over his kingdom, he and his sons amid Israel.” (Shoftim 17:18-20)
Through following this prescription we coronate Hashem as the King of kings thereby bringing closer the geula and the rebuilding of the holy Temple (Beis HaMigdash), may it be soon in our days.
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