Behar Bechukotai


King Charles’ Coronation has been a rich feast of symbolism, some of it drawn from biblical sources. Last week, we referred to the Jewish roots of the anointing of a monarch.

For thousands of years, we have crowned kings in a ceremony to mark their investiture.

The Book of Chronicles (II Chronicles 23:21) describes the Coronation of the boy king, Yoash, by the High Priest, Yehoyada.

“They brought out the King’s son [Yoash], set the crown on his head and the regalia (ha’edut) upon him, and declared him king. Yehoyada and his sons anointed him and proclaimed, ‘Long live the king!’”

We know what a crown is. But what does the edut or regalia refer to? Could it be a sceptre?

We know that biblical kings had a sceptre. In Genesis (49:10) we read “The sceptre shall not pass from Judah.” Later on, in the Book of Esther, the queen knows that unless Achashverosh extends his sceptre towards her, she may well be killed.

However, in case of the Coronation of King Yoash, Rashi explains that the regalia refer to a unique symbol of Jewish kings: the Sefer Torah.

In Deuteronomy (17:18) we read something astonishing. A king had a special requirement to write a Sefer Torah himself. Not only that, it had to accompany him wherever he went.

Maimonides writes (Laws of Kings 3:1):

[It] should not move from his presence…When he goes to war, this scroll should accompany him. When he returns, it should accompany him. When he sits in judgement, it should be with him. When he dines, it should be opposite him, as Deuteronomy 17:19 states: ‘It should accompany him and he should read it all the days of his life.’

There is no parallel to this in any other monarchy, ancient or modern.

Consider the impact of this law.

King Charles dutifully proclaimed his loyalty to his people with his pledge at the beginning of the Coronation service: “I come not to be served but to serve.”

For Jewish kings, the continuous presence of a Sefer Torah powerfully reinforced this idea every waking moment:

“… he shall read from it all the days of his life  not considering himself superior to his kinsfolk, or straying from the commandments to the right or to the left” (Deut. 17:19-20).

In the words of the late Rabbi Lord Sacks: Humility is the essence of royalty, because to lead is to serve.