by Reb Gutman Locks at Mystical Paths
A dvar Torah on Deuteronomy 16:18 - Shoftim.
One of the many laws discussed in this week's portion applies to the king whom we are to set over us. This king is warned "not to have too many horses for himself, so that 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.'" [i]
The literal meaning of this law is just as it says: The king is not to desire too many horses. And the reason is just as it says: so that Israel does not return to Egypt for horses.
But this warning does not make a lot of sense. Would a king of Israel really crave such a large number of horses that he would return his nation to Egypt to get them? And this, coming after what happened there? Also, why is he warned only against Egypt? Aren't horses also available from other places, too?
Although certainly the literal warning is correct, it is much easier to understand this law from its allegorical perspective. Horses represent material wealth. Today, a wealthy person will have a lot of expensive cars.
Obviously, a lot of horses are not needed for the king's use. Note that this law applies to horses " for himself." A king might think it befitting his position to have a lot of horses to show off his wealth, even though they are not needed. He might even direct his people to return to Egypt to work to acquire these horses.
We see here a warning not to lead the Jewish People to slavery in order to accumulate things that are not even needed. This behavior is the sure path of returning to the slavery of Egypt. And lest you find this farfetched, just look at the majority of people in America who work harder and harder to get things that they really do not even need.
The king of Israel should conduct his affairs to prevent our return to Egypt, not to encourage it. Hashem warns, "You shall no longer return on this road again."
When we leave an evil place, we must be careful not to do anything that might lead us back there. We should not even look back at that place. When Lot was fleeing the destruction of Sodom, his wife looked back and God turned her into a pillar of salt. [ii]
When you realize that you are going in the wrong direction, do not stop. Turn. If you stop there, you may get stuck in the wrong place. Often, it is not wise to back up. Instead, turn away from the wrong direction and keep on going.
[i] Deut 17:16
[ii] Gen 19:26
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