כ״ד בכסלו ה׳תשע״ו (December 6, 2015)

Sota 41a-b: The Passage Concerning a King

The Mishna on our daf describes an event that it calls parashat ha-melekh. The reference is to hakhel, a biblical commandment obligating the entire Jewish people to gather on Sukkot following the Sabbatical year (see Devarim 31:10). This event included a public reading of certain parts of the Torah by the king.

The Mishna relates that during the times of the Second Temple, King Agrippas read the Torah publicly, and broke into tears when he reached the passage describing the obligations of the king, and the rule forbidding the people from accepting upon themselves a non-Jewish king to rule them. The response of the people was to cry out, “Do not fear, Agrippas! You are truly our brother!”

This incident refers to King Agrippas I, King Herod’s grandson, who ruled from 10 BCE until 44 CE. In his youth he grew up in the Caesar’s court in Rome, where he became friendly with the family of the Caesar. He was particularly close with Gaus Caligula, who, upon ascending the throne in Rome, granted him rule over part of Herod’s kingdom. Later on, after Agrippas played a role in establishing Claudius as Caesar, he was rewarded with control of Judea, effectively taking over Herod’s entire kingdom. Upon his arrival in the land of Israel, King Agrippas developed close relationships with . He publicly showed his connection with the Jewish people and their traditions by his active participation in fulfilling the mitzvot, behavior that was praised by the Sages.

Agrippas was active in developing the defenses of the city of Jerusalem, including a new wall that enclosed suburban areas within the city proper. He died – possibly poisoned by Roman government agents who were concerned about his activities – after ruling in Judea for just four years.

In response to this Mishna, the Gemara quotes a baraita that criticizes the Sages for their flattery of Agrippas.

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