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General High Holidays Jewish Spirituality Rabbinic spirituality

Malchuyot: Celebrating Divine Sovereignty

During Rosh Hashanah, there are three major themes that make up the extra amidah, or the Mussaf amidah. These are:

  • Machuyot (Sovereignty)
  • Zichronot (Remembrance)
  • Shofarot (Trumpeting)

Each year, as I approach these, I find myself trying to figure out how to relate to them. They are the high point of the prayer service, in which we sound the shofar, but the prayers themselves don’t necessarily speak to me. Instead, I tend to focus more on the general themes. In this blog post, I’ll focus on Malchuyot (a bit more seriously than I did a few years back).

God as king is a troubling metaphor for us in the contemporary world. To begin with, it is no longer a particularly useful metaphor, in that we no longer have kings, in the sense of an absolute ruler with absolute authority over us and our lives, and who is also responsible for our welfare. Metaphors work because they relate something unfamiliar to something familiar. In this case, both halves of the metaphor are unfamiliar. So we need to work a little harder at understanding the concepts behind it.

The king is remote, not approachable, but makes decisions which impact our lives. Just as the universe, or luck, or fate, works in ways we don’t understand, can’t anticipate, and find ourselves reacting to, so too do we envision God (not necessarily as separate from the Universe, Luck or Fate). When we pray regarding the King, we are often praying for individual attention or notice, although it seems unlikely to us that we may receive it.

But the King is more than just ancient ruler. The King also stands for the ordering principles of the universe. The King is God of nature, gravity, and all the physical laws that make the universe and life possible. The King is the force that makes for a natural world.

The King is also the force we cry out to for mercy. The one who can grant pardon, no matter what we may have done. The King is the one who can forgive that which we, ourselves cannot forgive.

I pray to the King when I am at the end of my rope, and need strength and hope. I pray to the King when I wonder at the sunset, or the fact that gravity works, despite it’s seeming impossibility. I pray to the King when I need a structure beyond science for the universe and my life.

The King is both remote and immediate. The King is, perhaps, the most traditional understanding of God. And the King listens always, but doesn’t always respond.

Categories
General High Holidays humor Jewish Spirituality

Rosh Hashanah: Celebrating the King.

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is coming remarkably soon. With it comes God-imagery that many of us find difficult to relate to, the image of God as King. So I thought I might take a little time to help explicate this, and maybe introduce a new piece of liturgy for the central part of the Rosh Hashanah service: Malchuyot, or Sovereignty.

First off, it is important to understand that we are not speaking of a democratically elected president. No, The King is something entirely different, with great power, and praise, aclaimed by all. The relationship to the King is complex, a mixture of love, fear, trembling. Therefore, I offer this new arrangement of Malchuyot verses for use in services this year.

We approach the King with Awe and Trembling, as much as with Love. As it is written:

My hands are shaky and my knees are weak
I can’t seem to stand on my own two feet
Who do you thank when you have such luck?
I’m in love I’m all shook up
Mm mm oh, oh, yeah, yeah!

This is one image of our relationship with the King. Yet there are others. There is the demand that we, in turn, love the King:

Love me tender,
Love me true,
All my dreams fulfilled.
For my darlin I love you,
And I always will.

Yet the king is not all love. There is also the anger and disappointment:

You aint nothin but a hound dog
Cryin all the time.
You aint nothin but a hound dog
Cryin all the time.
Well, you aint never caught a rabbit
And you aint no friend of mine.

When they said you was high classed,
Well, that was just a lie.
When they said you was high classed,
Well, that was just a lie.
You aint never caught a rabbit
And you aint no friend of mine.

Yet through this all, through the turmoil of life, the travails, we are reminded that must celebrate. Even when we feel that we are in the “jailhouse”, it is incumbant upon us to celebrate, and cling to our Rock.

The warden threw a party in the county jail.
The prison band was there and they began to wail.
The band was jumpin’ and the joint began to swing.
You should’ve heard those knocked out jailbirds sing.
Let’s rock, everybody, let’s rock.
Everybody in the whole cell block
was dancin’ to the Jailhouse Rock.

But in the end, it comes down to our assertion, that there is only one King:

Only you
Can do make all this world seem right,
Only you
Can do make the darkness bright,
Only you, and you alone
Can feel me like you do
And do fill my heart with love for only you.

And let us say, Amen.

 

Now, there are those who say that we ought to more gender-neutral, and praise the Queen as well as the King. However, the problem with that is this: The Queen is known to be bitchy, and therefore fearful beyond our ability to pray. Thus do we pray to the King, and hope that the Queen will be absent when it comes time for the Judging.