JUSTICE-2/ King Solomon’s Throne of Justice

Noahide Seven Commandments Torah classes

© 2016 by Rabbi Zvi Aviner

Torah Class JUSTICE-2/The King Laws and the Torah’s Laws
“Justice, justice you shall pursue”

1: Defining JUSTICE

The Wikipedia presents several theories of JUSTICE. The common thread is the notion of FAIRNESS, EVENESS, and IMPARTIALITY. JUSTICE attempts to REPAIR DAMAGE and RESTOR things to their former state. JUSTICE calls for retribution, vengeance, so that the perpetrator would feel the pains he has inflicted on others. The absolute justice would say “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”

But the Wikipedia lacks the essence of JUSTICE: bringing the truth to light. The judge’ mission is to find out the truth and act accordingly. Sometime finding the truth and announcing it to the world is all what the victim of injustice wants. The remedy, the repair process and the compensation are secondary.

Finding the truth is difficult because it is often buried under a thick mantle of lies and denials. The perpetrators of injustice rarely admit their evildoings, even if they know the truth in their hearts. Certainly they would hesitate to admit it in public to the court or to their friends or families. One the perpetrators have set up their position they would resist any retraction from it. They would continue to lie, blame the other party and deny their guilt. The judge’s task is to remove that thick defensive layer of lies and expose the truth to the world. But even after the judge has issued a verdict the losing party would tend to appeal to a higher court, never conceding.

And what makes the finding of the truth so difficult is the fact that each litigant BELIEVES in his own truth. Moreover, to issue a truthful verdict the judge ought to consider not only the dry facts but also the motives and circumstances. For instance: two people raise their guns, shoot and kill another person. The person who’s shot an enemy in a battle is a hero, whereas the one who’s shot a bank taller in robbery is a criminal. The ACTION is the same. Both shot and killed; but their INTENTIONS differ.

It comes out that one needs a divine wisdom to decide a truthful verdict. The Torah says “Justice, Justice you should pursue” (Deut. 15:19) implying that Man should pursue Justice to the end but may never reach it.
Let’s see the text where that verse is written:

King Solomon’s Throne
1: Six negative Commandments

In the Torah’s Fifth Book (Deuteronomy) Moses says to Israel about JUSTICE:

“Judges and police officers you shall appoint in all your gates which YHVH your ELKM give you throughout your tribes And they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.”
Deut. 15: 18)

In these introductory words to JUSTICE Moses orders the establishment of the judiciary system in Israel. It is the counterpart of the Noahide Fifth Commandment of Justice. Here Moses orders Israel to elect qualified judges, build for them court houses and set up a loyal police to enforce their verdict.
Unlike the Noahides Judiciary system, Israel should have a High Court of 23 judges (Small Sanhedrin) for each of the twelve tribes and a Supreme Court of 71 judges (Great Sanhedrin) to serve the entire nation.
It is mandatory for the Supreme Court to sit in the Temple’s courtyard to be able to issue a capital punishment. They must have the inspiration and the blessing of the Schechina. The Torah courts use only the Torah’s written and oral laws to arrive at a “righteous judgment.”
This introductory verse is followed by six ‘negative’ commandments that address the process of judging:

1. “Thou shall not wrest judgment”
2. “Thou shall not respect persons”
3. “Thou shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the righteous.
Justice, Justice thou shall pursue for that you may live….
4. “Thou shall not plant a (beautiful) tree of any tree near the altar….”
5. “Thou shall not erect for yourself a pillar….that your YHVH ELKM hates”
6.”Thou shall not sacrifice to YHVH ELKM oxen or a sheep which has a blemish or anything evil since it is an abomination…..”
(Deuteronomy 16: 18-22, 17:1)

It is easy to see that the first three of these six are dealing with Justice. But it is difficult to see how the last three have anything to do with Justice. Thus commandment (4) prohibits the planting of any tree in the Temple courtyard, obviously to avoid worshipping it. Commandment (5) prohibits the erection of a stone pillar to worship it, and Commandment (6) forbids to bring ablemished animal to the altar.
What do the last three have in common with Justice?

Yet tradition is adamant that all the six Commandments are related to JUSTICE, since they were all inscribed on King Solomon’s Throne of Justice!

King Solomon’s throne had six stairs. On every stair stood mechanical animals that roared loudly as the king ascended on them. On the first stair stood lions, on the second one hovered eagles, on the third one roared crocodiles and so on. Their fearful look and harsh noise was designed to scare the witnesses.

Moreover, on every stair was inscribed one of these six negative Commandments. On the first stair was written: “Thou shall not tilt the judgment” and on the second one “Thou shall not respect peoples” and so on. Thus the King’s eyes SAW the warnings as he ascended to sit as a judge. In addition, an announcer stood by and announced the Commandments one by one as the king was ascending. Thus the King also HEARD the Torah warning in his ears, to scare him.

And when the king finally set on the top of his throne, a mechanical handle swung in from his left side holding a Torah scroll that the king himself had written, and pressed it against the King’s hear. This was done to fulfill Moses’ words:

“And it shall be that when he sits upon his throne of his kingdom
That he shall write for himself a copy of this Torah in a book
Out of that which is before the priests the Levites
And it shall be with him and he shall read therein all the days of his life
That he may learn to fear his ELKM to keep all the words of this Torah and these statuses to do them….”
(Deuteronomy 17: 18):

Indeed,” the King of Israel did not walk four amots without the Torah scroll in his hand” (RaMBaM.). Since the entire Throne was dedicated to Justice, the entire six Commandments must have a message concern JUSTICE. But before analyzing these Commandments let’s ask:

2: The King’s Laws

What did King Solomon have to do with Justice? Kings in ancient time (certainly in our times) had never indulged themselves with the mundane task of doing justice. Kings were supposed to be engage with hunting, partying, waging wars and wielding power. King Luis the Fourteenth cared about dancing, fancy costumes and gorgeous women. The Chinese emperors saw it a demeaning task to get involved in anything besides ‘presiding.’ Why would King Solomon dedicate his Throne for JUSTICE?

And why would King Solomon get involved in JUSTICE, when he had the Torah Court doing the same?
To emphasize the dilemma let’s notice that the King and the Rabbinical Torah Court were set in different locations: The King set in his palace, whereas the Rabbinical Court set in the Temple’s Courtyard. Why then the duplication?
In other words: Is there a difference between the King’s Laws and the Torah Laws?

Examples of the King’s Laws
There are several examples in the Bible for the King of Israel using his own Laws.
Take for example the case of King Solomon’s justice. When he inherited his father crown the people questioned his validity. As you remember, King Solomon’s mother was Bath-sehva, the beautiful woman whom David had badly coveted. Her first son died at birth but her second child Solomon grew up to become David’s heir. Would such a history qualify him to be the King?

Then, as he first set on his Throne, two prostitutes women came to him for justice. Each had given birth to a son, one of whom had subsequently died. Now each woman claimed the surviving son as hers. Hearing them the young King Solomon ordered his guard to cut the son to two halves and give each woman her half. One woman cried out in vengeance: “good, this boy would be neither mine nor yours,” whereas the other woman cried out in horror: “Don’t touch the boy! Give him to her!“ The young King then ordered: Give the child to the second woman, since she is the mother!” The Bible says that when Israel heard the wise verdict they accepted his kingship.

Wise the verdict was, yet the rabbis later wondered under what law did the King ordered to cut the contested baby to two halves? There is no Torah Law that would support him! Moreover, it is generally forbidden to trick the litigants! And their answer was: King Solomon acted here out of his own logic and the King’s Laws. The King of Israel had the authority to act as needed without considering the Torah Laws.

Another example is King David and the Amalekite man. As you remember, David was considered a renegade by King Soul who sought to kill him. David and his men found refuge in the Judean desert. Meanwhile a war broke between Israel and the Philistines, which Israel’s army lost. King Soul found himself surrounded by enclosing troops of the enemy. Fearing that he would be captured and tortured, King Saul asked the boy standing by him to kill him. The boy refused, and King Soul fell on his sword and died. Then an Amalekite man escaped from the defeated Israel’s camp and came to David with the news about the fall of his arch rivals, King Soul. Looking forwards for a great reward, the Amalikite told David that he himself had pushed King Soul on his sword. But when David heard the story he ordered to execute the man for ”You’ve dared to kill the anointed King (Messiah) of Israel!”

Now the rabbis argued about David’s action. Under what law did he order the execution of the Amalikete man? Under the Torah Laws, a person can’t be executed based on his own confession. In fact, that is precisely why there was never an inquisition in Israel.

The answer given by the Rabbis is that, again, King David had the authority to act as needed above and beyond the Torah laws fopr the welfare of the country.

Another example of the King’s Laws is the case of Joshua and Achan. The Book of Joshua tells that when Israel waged a war against the city of Ai, Joshua warned his troops not to take any loot. One person, Achan, could not resist his temptation and he stole something from the city, the result of which was that several Israelite solders died at the war. Joshua then found Achan and executed him.
Again the rabbis asked under what law did Joshua execute Achan? Certainly not under the Torah’s laws. And their answer was that Joshua acted as a King, above the Torah’s laws.

So far we’ve learned that Israel had two parallel systems of Laws:
The King Laws that dealt with public issues like war and peace, raising taxes and tolls and customs, as well as other monetary issues. The King acted in his common sense and according to what he perceived as needed.
The Torah Courtswho followed only the Torah Laws.

The need for the two systems
Many Torah sages like the RaN (16th century ) and the “Hatam Sofer” (19th century) pointed out that the two systems are complementary and a country can’t be run without them. For instance, a country can’t be run exclusively by Torah laws, since it would be very difficult to punish perpetrators by Torah Laws. You need witnesses who are thoroughly scrutinized, they need to warn the perpetrator ahead of his crime, and so on. The King’s laws, in contrast, are more lax. The Torah therefore recognizes these two systems side by side.

Implications to the State of Israel
The issue has become hot in the State of Israel. Many have wandered how a modern state would be run by the ancient Torah’s laws. Should the State of Israel adapt Civil Laws from other, none Jewish countries? Could the Israeli Parliament issue its laws by a mere common sense?

The late Rabbi Kook Ztl wrote that the new Jewish State should follow ancient Israel by setting up the two parallel systems: The King’s Laws and the Torah Laws. As in the past the Israeli Government should follow “common sense” while many of the personal issues like marriages, divorces, births and burials would be run by the rabbinical courts.

3: It started with Moses

The duality of the judiciary systems started with Moses. As you remember, Moses’ father in law, Yithro, who was also the first Noahide, came to visit Moses in the wilderness. This took place before the giving of the Torah on Sinai (as the simple reading of the text implies.) Seeing that Moses was judging the masses all day long by himself, Yithro offered Moses to select qualified judges and set up a judiciary system based on decimal, military structure. Thus it would have officers in charge of ten, hundred, a thousand and ten thousands peoples. Moses agreed and he set up that system.

The question arises: in what capacity did Moses judge the people? The answer: as the King of Israel.
Moreover: since the Torah wasn’t yet given, what laws did Moses use?
And the answer: He used his own common sense, no different than the “Children of Noah.” Moses and Israel were at that time Noahides. They were obliged to observe Noah’s Seven Commandments plus Abraham’s Eighth, Circumcision, plus Jacob’s ninth: the Sciatic nerve prohibition.

It was only after the receiving of the Torah on Sinai, that Moses erected in addition the Torah system of judges based on 3, 23, and 71 judges. Henceforth he became known as “Moses our Rabbi.” Under Moses and Joshua down to the Kings of David\s House the two systems of Justice operated Side by Side as described above.

An example: the Prophet Isaiah.
Isaiah combined the two systems:
First he was a member of David’s House. His uncle was King Amaziah, his daughter was married to King Hesekiah and his grandson was King Menashe. In fact, the rabbis said that in Isaiah the promise to Tamar was fulfilled. She was promised to have “kings and prophets” descending from her. Isaiah was that prophet from Tamar.
Isaiah was also a member of the Torah Court (Sanhedrin.) The rabbis said that he “drew his prophecy” from his greatness in Torah.
That is why Isaiah so effectively rebuked both systems, the King’s Judges and the Torah Judges, as shown in Isaiah chapter one.


4: The stairs of King Solomon Throne

let’s focus on the six negative Commandments inscribed on King Solomon’s throne:

1. “Thou shall not wrest judgment
2. “Thou shall not respect persons
3. “Thou shall not take a bribe for a bribe blinds the eyes of the righteous Justice, Justice thou shall pursue for that you may live….
4. “Thou shall not plant a (beautiful )tree of any tree near the altar….
5. “Thou shall not erect for yourself a pillar….that your YHVH ELKM hates
6.”Thou shall not sacrifice to YHVH ELKM oxen or a sheep which has a blemish or anything evil since it is an abomination

1. “Thou shall not wrest judgment
This Commandment warns the judge to utter his verdict without hesitation, without caving to external or internal pressure.

2. “Thou shall not respect persons
This Commandment addresses the judge as he sits in the process of judgment. He or she should not ‘recognize’ any litigant’s face, showing familiarity. The judge should be oblivious to the status of the litigants, their wealth or function in the community.

3. “Thou shall not take a bribe
This Commandment addresses the judge before he/she enters the room. The judge should not take bribe because it would “blinds the eyes of the righteous.”
The Torah adds: Justice, Justice thou shall pursue for that you may live….” The judge should pursue the association of other truthful judges. He should learn from them (Midrash). We’ve also said earlier that the verse implies that seeking justice is an endless process, and that the truth may never be reached.

4. “Thou shall not plant an ashera tree of any tree near the altar….”
This Commandment stands, first of all, on its own foot. It forbids the planting of a beautiful tree, or any tree at the altar because it would turn into idol worshipping. But the Commandment as it appears on King Solomon’s throne has another meaning that is related to JUSTICE.
The rabbis said that it prohibits the election of unqualified peoples as judges. So here the Commandments deal with the judge himself, his personality. We should not elect a person who cares only about his external look, his posture and beauty and how he’d be seen on TV . Elect only rightful, qualified judges.

5. “Thou shall not erect for yourself a pillar….that your YHVH ELKM hates”
Again, the Commandment stands on its own meaning. A blemished offering is an abomination. But since it appears on the King throne it must have a message for justice. Tradition says that it warns the judge not to use the judgment to make himself a name, to become famous, since this is what YHVH hates.

6.”Thou shall not sacrifice to YHVH ELKM oxen or a sheep which has a blemish or anything evil since it is an abomination
The Commandment warns, first of all the priest from ruining the offering by alien thinking. The priest has to concentrate on six issues when he brings the offering on the altar: on YHVH name, on the name of the offering, the name of the owner, on the confession and forgiveness. If he misses any of these mental works the offering is ABOMINATION. It is something that HaSheM really disgusts.
But the Commandment also has a message to the judge: Do not be absent minded when you sits on the case. Do not think about the stock market or about your girlfriend. Remember that what you do as a judge is a service of ELKM. If you forget this, your service becomes ABOMINATION, FILTH.

5: What happened to King Solomon’s Throne?
The Throne was much coveted by the nearby nations.
Several generations after Solomon, Pharaoh the Lame swept his armies over Judea and took the throne to his palace in Egypt. Thinking that he had inherited the Crown of Israel Kingship he proudly stepped up the stairs. He hears the voices, he was the inscriptions on the stairs, but being a pagan who can’t read Hebrew, he did not comprehend the throne’s messages.
When he heard the voices of the lions and the eagles and the crocodiles, he thought to himself: wow, all this is to my glory!
And when he set on the top of the throne, the handle from the left side came in and hit his chest. Being a very fat man, Pharaoh was pushed off the chair and rolled down the stairs till he hit the ground, dislocating his hips. This is how he became known as Pharaoh the Lame.

The throne then fell into the hands of the King of Babylon as he conquered Egypt. Then Persia conquered Babylon and the throne fell into the possession of King Achashverosh, whom you know from the scroll of Esther. He too thought that he had become the heir of the Israel’s crown and therefore was entitled to sit on the throne. Lo and behold, he too did not comprehend the throne messages and he could not even read the Hebrew. Al he thought about was his own glory. As you may expect, the handle toppled him down the stairs to his shame.

These stories tell us what happen to those who think they have inherited Israel’s Crown and yet they can’t read Hebrew or understand the throne’s messages.

Rosh Hashanah
In just a few weeks we’ll celebrate the anniversary of Adam creation, the Rosh Hashanah (RH) High Holiday.
It is a day when the Heavenly King ascends on the Throne of Justice, and all the inhabitants of the world pass before Him as He assesses everyone and decides their fate for the next year.

Thus all year long we address Him as “The King Who Loves Justice.”
But on RH we address him as “The King Who Is the Judge.”