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The Kingdom of Justice and Truth

  • Harav Yehuda Amital
"The Kingdom of Justice and Truth"

 The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Special Holiday Shiur
Yeshivat Har Etzion


The Kingdom of Justice and Truth

By Harav Yehuda Amital

Translated by Yoseif Bloch and Ronnie Ziegler



On Yom Kippur, the High Priest would pray twice for the continuity of monarchy in Israel: 1) in the fifth of seven blessings he recited after reading the Torah before the entire congregation in the Women's Courtyard, and 2) in the "short prayer" he recited alone in the Sanctuary after emerging safely from the Holy of Holies. The fact that he had to recite two different prayers for "malkhut Yisrael" indicates that there are two different aspects to Israelite monarchy, or two different reasons why Jewish sovereignty is significant. Let us examine these two prayers and see what they can tell us about "malkhut Yisrael."

The Rambam describes the first of these prayers as follows (Hilkhot Avodat Yom Ha-kippurim 3:11):

At the time that [the High Priest] reads [the Torah], he blesses before it and after the way we bless in the synagogue. Afterwards, he adds the following seven blessings:

... 5) He recites an independent blessing for [the People of] Israel, its topic being that God should save Israel and their king not depart from them, and he concludes it, "Blessed are You, Lord, Who chooses Israel."

Note that in this blessing, the High Priest is praying for the salvation of Israel on a national level; in the seventh blessing, by contrast, he prays for the salvation of each and every Jew according to his or her needs.

What is most interesting about the Rambam's formulation here is the fact that his source in the mishna (Yoma 68b) merely states that the High Priest recites a blessing "on Israel," without specifying its content. The subsequent gemara (70a) merely adds that the blessing refers to "the Nation of Israel, which is in need of salvation [from enemies]." The Rambam, however, introduces into this blessing the theme of the constancy of the monarchy. The simple meaning of this is that there is a link between the salvation of Israel and the constancy of kingship in Israel. Therefore, though the original topic of the blessing is the salvation of Israel, it is impossible to speak of the salvation of the nation without the emphasis on sovereignty.

The second time the High Priest prays on Yom Kippur for the monarchy of Israel, no one else is present; he is alone in the Temple. This time the text of the prayer is different (Yoma 53b):

What did he pray? ... Rav Acha, son of Rava, concluded it, in the name of Rav Yehuda, "May dominion not depart from the House of Yehuda, and may your nation Israel not need to be sustained one from another, and may the prayers of the wayfarers [against rain] not enter before You."

Unlike the rest of the prayer, which is in Hebrew, the request that "dominion not depart from the House of Yehuda" appears in Aramaic. It is Onkelos's translation of the verse (Bereishit 49:10), "The staff will not depart from Yehuda," and indeed the Rambam (4:1) quotes the verse in its original Hebrew form.

The obvious question is: Why is the entire prayer in the Holy Tongue except for this clause? Even more confounding is that in the days of the Second Temple there were no kings of the tribe of Yehuda, so why would the High Priest mention the verse, instead of simply praying as before, "[May] their king not depart from them"?

It thus appears that the High Priest's second prayer addressed a different aspect of kingship than the first. In the first, he prayed for the constancy of the monarchy, as a guarantee of Israel's salvation through God. In the second, he prayed about the CHARACTER of Jewish monarchy, and therefore he used the verse, "The staff will not depart from Yehuda," to hint at the type of monarchy of which Ya'akov Avinu had dreamed. (However, since at that time, during the Second Commonwealth, there was no king from the tribe of Yehuda, the gemara makes use of Onkelos's translation, which renders "from Yehuda" as "from the house of Yehuda," a broader expression which can be understood as referring to the Jewish people as a whole.)

In his Commentary to the Mishna, the Rambam makes clear that this second prayer was indeed concerned not with the salvation or protection of Israel but rather with the character of the ideal leadership or polity (Yoma 5:1, R. Kapach transl.):

"After this, he would pray for the dominion of justice and truth, as this is the purpose of everything."


Israel's political independence expresses "malkhut Yisrael." From the High Priest's two prayers, we see that this has two connotations. The first is tied to the salvation of the nation of Israel and its security, while the second is tied to the possibility of a "dominion of justice and truth."

During the first fifty years of the State of Israel, we internalized the concept of "Jewish sovereignty" in its first sense. To those who survived the Holocaust, political independence provided a sense of liberty; but to those born in the State, "Jewish sovereignty" meant primarily the ability both to defend ourselves and absorb masses of immigrants.

However, we have yet to internalize the second meaning of "Jewish sovereignty," namely, the establishment of a "dominion of justice and truth," which is "the purpose of everything." In fact, we have not internalized appropriately the very concept of "Jewish sovereignty," for if we had, we would be forced to ask ourselves: Why is it meaningful and valuable to us?

They tell of the Chafetz Chayim, z.t.l., that he asked one of his visitors who had come from a great distance, "How are you?" Now, in Yiddish, "How are you?" is "Vos makhst du," literally, "What do you do?" So in answer to this inquiry, the visitor replied, "Thank God, I have a thriving business, and I have no financial problems." The Chafetz Chayim repeated, "Vos makhst du?" and the visitor replied that his family was well. The Chafetz Chayim said to him, "You are telling me what GOD is doing, but I asked you, 'What are YOU doing?' I therefore repeat: 'Vos makhst du?'"

Fifty years after the establishment of the state, we thank God for what He has done for us. However, after fifty years, we have a responsibility to listen to the penetrating questions that we should be asking OURSELVES: Do we truly see the "dominion of justice and truth" as "the purpose of everything?" Is the State of Israel the realization of the dominion of justice and truth? Have we even reached that which the more enlightened of the nations of the world have achieved?

Let us speak in more concrete terms. Do we have a truly egalitarian society? Is everyone equal, or are some people "more equal"? Is opportunity in business, government, and education indeed available to all, or perhaps only to those who are closer, for whatever reason, to the pie? Does the concern for the weak, the ill, the downtrodden, the poor, the unfortunate, truly match Jewish standards? Are we narrowing the gaps between those in different income brackets or are we widening them?

These claims confront every one of us, religious and non-religious, for the basic principles of justice and morality are accepted by all.

The religious community, to our pain and shame, has no right to be proud in this area. If there were a city ruled solely by the religious, would the situation there, in terms of justice and truth, be any better than in other places? We speak a great deal about a halakhic state, about Shabbat observance, but we have spoken very little about the dominion of justice and truth.

The Meshekh Chokhma expresses this idea very powerfully (Shemot 14:24):

[I]f a community is corrupt in their character traits, this is worse than if they are corrupt in their observance of ritual … Therefore, for the Shabbat violation that has, due to our great sins, spread, [divine retribution] will be delayed for them because they constitute [the majority of] the congregation, and even about idolatry the Sages said in the Sifrei: "'The person is cut off' (Bemidbar 15:) -but the community is not cut off." But once they have transgressed the common principles of decency, going forth with swords and arrows to do violence and to steal, and they corrupt themselves with character traits that are like those of predatory animals, then God will decidedly avenge, and will not delay."


We must stress something else: there is a revolutionary historical change here, which we have not yet begun to digest. For two millennia we were the victim, the oppressed, the ruled, and suddenly we have changed from being the victim to being the ruler.

Now, as we come to deal with those over whom we rule (even if they are hostile to us), it is incumbent upon us to apply practically all of the lofty concepts of morality and humanity that we developed when we were ruled over by others. Do we stand this test as we hope to?

There is one paragraph in the Kuzari, at the end of the first section (par. 113), that, whenever I read it, causes me great frustration. The Chaver (Jewish sage) says to the Kuzari king: "I see that you deride us for our poverty and our bad situation - but do not the great men of the various religions pride themselves for [enduring suffering] such as this?" He brings examples from Christianity that specifically those who suffer and do not respond are to be admired, not the kings whose power is expressed through domination and glory.

To this the Kuzari responds (par. 114): "So indeed would the matter be, if your humble state were something you had freely chosen, but it is rather a matter of compulsion; when you have the ability, you too will slaughter your enemies."

Responds the Chaver (par. 115): "You have found the place of my pain, king of the Khazars!"

Although the Chaver's pain does not apply directly to us, I am deeply chagrined by the fact that Rabbi Yehuda Ha-levi puts in the mouth of the Kuzari the claim that we are likely to behave differently when we are in power than when we were powerless.


For fifty years we prayed with the text of the High Priest's prayer in the Women's Courtyard. We prayed for continued sovereignty as a means to attain God's salvation from the dangers that confronted us. After fifty years, the time has come to pray with the text of the High Priest's prayer in the Sanctuary. We must pray for a dominion of justice and truth, which is "the purpose of everything," or in the words of the old translation of the Rambam's Commentary to the Mishna: "After that he would pray for the continuity of the sovereignty of integrity and honesty, as this is what is most needed."

We all know that that we live in an independent state, but we have yet to internalize in our consciousness that we have JEWISH sovereignty. We are still insufficiently concerned with the question of the nature of our Jewish state, in terms of justice and integrity.

We religious Jews have a problem with the concepts of political independence and Jewish sovereignty. When we wish to assign value to a certain phenomenon, we attempt to integrate it into some halakhic framework. However, it is difficult to place the concepts of political independence and Jewish self-rule in a halakhic context. Some people assign the state halakhic importance solely as a means to fulfill the commandment to settle the land of Israel (Bemidbar 33:53), and therefore prefer to see Yom Ha-atzma'ut as the holiday of the land of Israel rather than as the holiday of our emancipation.

In addition, we Jews have always had a problem with the very concept of monarchy, as the prophet said, "But the Lord is your King!" (I Shemuel 12:13) - however, this is not the place to review these issues.

It is interesting that neither the generation of the founders, the "Generation of 1948," nor the generation born after the establishment of the state, succeeded in internalizing the historical sense of political independence and the revolutionary historical fact that instead of being dominated, we now have Jewish dominion.

These two generations did not internalize this concept for different reasons. The Generation of 1948, which consisted in large part of Holocaust survivors, refugees from Europe and other lands where they had been accustomed to degradation, suddenly won freedom and emancipation. This sense of freedom was so overwhelming that it blinded them, preventing them from seeing the historical implications of this great revolution, which brought about the establishment of the state. As for the young generation, they were born into freedom, and therefore the concept of freedom held no emotional charge for them. They took political independence for granted, and never stopped to consider its revolutionary significance in Jewish history, nor did they ask themselves what is its purpose.

Regarding these two generations, we encounter the opposite of the situation described by Ezra (3:11-13) at the time of the rebuilding of the Temple:

They responded in praise and thanks "to the Lord, for He is good, for His kindness lasts forever," and the entire nation shouted a great shout in thanks to Lord on the founding of House of Lord. But many of the elder priests and Levites and chieftains, who had seen the First Temple on its foundation, wept with a great noise when they beheld this [Second] Temple, though many were shouting in joy, to raise their voices. The people could not distinguish the sound of the shout of the joy from the sound of the people's crying, for the people were shouting a great shout, and the noise was heard to a great distance.

In our time, the situation is reversed: the elders, who were witness to destruction and degradation, raise a noise of a joyous shout, while the youths, who did not witness the great fall which preceded the rise, are the ones who display apathy before the renewal of our independence.

The commonality between these two generations is that they lack the historical sense that after two thousand years we are living in the kingdom of Israel under Jewish dominion. Certainly, it is not meaningful to them to the extent that they ask themselves: How, beyond the Law of Return and the absorption of immigrants, must Jewish political independence and sovereignty be expressed?

The Rambam calls the dominion of justice and truth "the purpose of everything," for he sees in this a great principle of our Torah, a fundamental based on the commandment, "And you shall do what is upright and good" (Devarim 6:18), and on the commandment of following God and emulating His ways (Devarim 8:6). In this, the Rambam sees the very purpose of the Jewish nation, as God says of our patriarch Avraham (Bereishit 18:19):

For I have known him, for that he will command his children and his house after him, and they will guard the way of Lord, to do righteousness and justice, so that Lord will bring on Avraham that which He spoke concerning him.

The Rambam expresses his yearning for and anticipation of the return of the faithful kings of Israel, whose agenda will be to fill not only their country, but the entire world, with justice, and to uplift the true religion, that is, to disseminate the Unity of God (Hilkhot Melakhim 4:10):

[The king's] actions must always be for the sake of Heaven. His agenda and his thought should always be to uplift the true religion, to fill the entire world with justice, to break the power of evil, and to fight the wars of God. For we do not crown a king in the first place except to do justice and wage war, as it says (I Shemuel 8:20): "Our king will judge us, and he will go out before us, and he will wage our wars."


(Originally delivered on Yom Ha-atzmaut 5759 [1999].)