by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – August 21, 2012
In the Torah section of Shoftim, we read (Devarim 17:18), “And when he [the king] sits on his throne, he shall write two copies of this Torah for himself.” Whereas every Jew is commanded to write a sefer torah (torah scroll), a Jewish king is commanded to write two – one to keep at home and one to accompany him wherever he goes.
In commenting on the aforementioned (Rabbi Frand on the Parashah, pp. 270-271), R. Yissocher Frand notes that some commentators are of the opinion that the king must do more than just reading the Torah each day. He has to see his own life as it reflects in the Torah and be guided through the Torah. Moreover, R. Frand notes that the Sages consider all Jews to be princes (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 67a). Consequently, R. Frand suggests that, like a king, all Jews have an obligation to relate their lives to what they see in the Torah.
R. Frand then continues to relate an anecdote concerning R. Yaakov Kamenetsky who, after first coming to the United States, served as rabbi in Seattle, Washington, for a short time and then in Toronto, which did not have much of a Torah community at the time. At one point, while still in Toronto, when he was walking back home after Shavuot prayers, during which megillat Rut (the scroll of Ruth) was read, R. Kamenetsky expressed his consternation.
R. Kamenetsky said to his companion: “I am no better than Elimelech. Elimelech left the Land of Israel for financial reasons. He went from a Jewish place to the fields of Moav, a place without Jews. He was prepared to sacrifice the education and environment of his children, just so he could escape the famine in the Land of Israel. Why am I here in Toronto? It does not provide the best environment. It is because I have a job in Toronto, and I do not have a job elsewhere. I am wrong! This is why Elimelech was punished. I must move to a more Jewish environment.” Having so decided, R. Kamenetsky shortly afterwards moved to a much more vibrant Jewish community.
Whether one agrees with his final conclusion or not, R. Kamenetsky acted out of a feeling of obligation to relate to the Torah and its teaching and values, as well as have those teachings and values relate to him. He saw his own life as it reflects in the Torah and wanted it to guide him. May we all learn to try to do the same in our lives.