When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees. — Deuteronomy 17:18–19
The Torah portion for this week is Shoftim, which means “judges,” from Deuteronomy 16:18–21:9, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 51:12–52:12.
More than 25 years ago, Robert Fulghum wrote a list of powerful life lessons and called it All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Sixteen million copies later, it is still one of the most loved and read pieces of advice for people of all ages. What Fulghum learned in kindergarten includes “share everything,” “don’t hit people,” “put things back where you found them,” and “say you’re sorry when you hurt someone.”
Indeed the entire list is comprised of lessons that resonate deeply with adults, just as they do with children. We may have all learned these basic life lessons in kindergarten, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that as adults we have mastered them. If only we lived in a world where every grown-up did the things that we teach our children to do!
In this week’s Torah reading we learn about the laws regarding an Israelite king. One of the requirements is that each king must personally write a copy of the Torah for himself, and he is to have the Torah with him at all times. Wherever the king goes, the law goes with him. The Jewish sages ask: Why would the individual in charge of enforcing the law need to have a copy of it at all times? Certainly the one who instructs the law should know it better than anyone else.
The sages explain that those who are in charge of enforcing the law often want to bend the law for themselves. A person who essentially serves as the boss of everyone else is susceptible to forgetting that he has a boss, too –named God! This is why the king must be especially attached to the law and God’s Word. He must never forget that he is not above the law or anyone else; rather he is bound to the law – even more so than everyone else.
While there hasn’t been an Israelite king in thousands of years, we can all learn an important lesson from this law. The lesson is to practice what we preach, as parents, as teachers, and as a society. We are not above the laws of kindergarten! As Fulghum quips, “Think what a better world it would be if we all had cookies and milk about three o'clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.”
What we teach our kids in kindergarten is our job to model as adults. Because if we can’t master the most basic life lessons, how can we possibly expect our children to do so?
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President