Sunday, September 25, 2011

Malchus & Rosh Hashah - By the Author of The Moon's Lost Light

Baruch Hashem, I am zoche to post, on what I believe is an exclusive basis, an essay by the author of The Moon's Lost Light, Devorah Heshelis, who's written here before. Enjoy and k'svia v'chasima tova!
One of the main themes of Rosh Hashana– perhaps the main theme – is proclaiming Hashem as king over all of creation. But what does kingship mean to us? Can we who live in an era of democracy, rather than monarchy, relate positively to the idea of kingship? Weren't the kings of old despots who exploited the people for their own gain? Why, then, should we compare Hashem to a king, when monarchy has such negative connotations for us?  

The piyut, melech Elyon (upper king) which is recited on Rosh Hashono and Yom Kippur compares the greatness of Hashem, the melech elyon, with the poverty of the melech evyon, a human king below. The upper king, Hashem, lives forever, the lower human king dies. The upper king has no physical needs, the human king must sleep. This is what is found in most machzorim today. If you look, however, into the machzor of Breslav you will find another major difference between Hashem and human kings that was deleted by the censors. The melech evyon, the human king, is "moleh resha" – full of evil!  

So it was for the majority of kings in history. This is the reason that the modern world threw off the yoke of the melech evyon and chose democracy instead. Unfortunately, however, the modern world also threw off the yoke of the melech elyon, the true King of Kings, who is only goodness, and actually chose to follow the m"elech zoken uksil" (the old and foolish king) who is the yetzer hara (Koheles). For if we do not follow Hashem then we bow the will of the yetzer hara. There is no in between. 

What does the word melech actually mean?  The Hebrew word melech comes from the word molich which means to lead, or literally, to cause people to go or walk in a certain way. This is different than a moshel, a ruler. A moshel rules by forcing an unwilling populace to obey him. A king must also be obeyed but the people want him to be their leader. The Rambam actually says in hilchos mlachim that if a king is not accepted by the people he may not collect taxes, and if he does, he is a robber.  A king, is someone who is both loved and revered by the people.  

This doesn't mean a king doesn't use force or that he bows to the people's wishes. On the contrary; a king must use force to keep people in line, for as Pirkei Avos says "were it not for the fear of malchus a man would swallow his friend alive". And the king cannot consistently bow to the people's wishes for then he is not leading them at all, they are leading him. 

But why should the king not bow to the wishes of the people? Wouldn't this be making them happy?  

In those instances when the people's wishes are both good and wise, then of course the king should accommodate them, since his job is to help the people. But in those cases where the king sees that the people's wishes are either unwise or morally wrong, then he should definitely not give in to public pressure in order to be popular. The people are interested in getting what they want but the king must give them what is truly good for them. This is true for kings in general, but all the more so for a Jewish king. He is appointed by Hashem and his entire job is to represent Him. The purpose of a Jewish king is to get the people to do what Hashem wants, instead of what the yetzer hara wants.  

Yet although the Jewish king exists as Hashem's representative, he is not an angel but rather one of the people. The Torah tells us that he must be their brother. Only someone we know is part of us, and truly cares about us can be our king. This king feels our pains and understands our very human needs and weaknesses. He is also a human being with a yetzer hara, just like the rest of us (which is why so many kings failed); but that is his very advantage. He can understand our tests, and he can show us that they can be overcome, and that if we fail then we can do tshuva and go on.  

It is for this reason that Dovid Hamelech is the example of Jewish kingship.The Sfas Emes on Parshas Vayigash asks why it is Moshiach ben Dovid (who is a reincarnation of Dovid himself) who is the primary who is connected othe soul of Yosef).  Wasn't Yosef even greater than Dovid? Yosef was tested by the wife of Potiphar and succeeded in defeating the yetzer hara. Dovid, on the other hand, failed in his test with Bat Sheva. Why, then, is Dovid the main moshiach rather than Yosef?  

He answers that Dovid is the main moshiach because it is he that people can learn from most. Very few people are on the level of a Yosef. Most of us have failed in one way or another. Dovid teaches us that this is not a reason to give up. Do tshuva and go on!! Your relationship with Hashem is not lost as it says, "שובו אלי ואשובה אליכם" – return to me and I (Hashem) will return to you".   

And so the main redeemer is Dovid, because the Jewish King is not someone we cannot relate to. He is our brother who can direct us because he understands us. 

What are the other jobs of a king? 


The king is there to protect the nation. In Shmone esrai we call Hashem, מלך עוזר מושיע ומגן, the King who helps, saves and protects. The human king must do the same. He represents Hashem by protecting us from all outside dangers. He must be at the forefront in all our wars, fighting against our enemies. 


The Jewish king must see that the Torah is known and enforced, as it says in Eicha, מלכה ושריה בגויים, אין תורה. When the Jewish king and officers are in exile there is no Torah, for there is no one to enforce it. A king must write his own sefer Torah and keep it with him at all times. In addition he must read the Torah to the entire people in the Beis HaMikdosh on the festival of Succos at the end of each shmitta cycle. In this way, the Jewish king is Hashem's mouthpiece.  


The king must be a judge of the people, making sure that there is fairness and justice in the land. Just as Hashem is called   ,מלך המשפט the king of justice, so the human king must also save the weak from their oppressors, and punish the evil doers. 


The Jewish king must exemplify kdusha. Although the king has wealth and all physical pleasures he must not allow these to control him. Although he uses the physical world he must do so not for self gratification but only lishem shomayim. He is the representative of the גוי קדוש, the holy nation, and he must emulate Hashem who is "המלך הקדוש".  

In this sense the kdusha demanded of the Jewish king is higher than that demanded of the Kohen Gadol or the nazir, because to be surrounded by physical pomp and pleasures and yet not be lured by one's power or wealth is much harder than to abstain from them altogether.  

An example of this aspect of kingship is demonstrated by Rabbi Yisroel of Ruzhin who wore golden boots yet at the same time he walked barefoot because these boots had no soles. So, too, do we find that Dovid Hamelech had the finest food for his royal table; but he didn't eat it. As Dovid testified about himself, he broke his yetzer hara through fasting.   

Shlomo Hamelech attempted an even higher level of kdusha. As it is says in Koheles, he denied himself no pleasures, yet he did this only to use everything in the world for Hashem's sake. (The Sfas Emes explains that Shlomo Hamelch took a thousand wives from all the gentile city states in order to bring these princesses and their countrymen to serve Hashem. They, however, were not yet ready for this, and so he failed.) 


And finally, the Jewish king represents אמונה, faith. The king must be totally faithful to Hashem, and we must be totally faithful to him. This level of faithfulness requires being ready to die for Hashem's sake and for the sake of the Jewish People, Hashem's children. This essential trait of malchus applies to all Jews, for we are all connected to malchus, we are all Hashem's representatives, and all that is required of the Jewish king is required of all of us on our own level.  

Another aspect of our faithfulness is to spread the knowledge of Hashem throughout the world. Although Jews do not actively proselytize, they must show the world by example what it means to be loyal to Hashem. In addition, when a Jew has the opportunity, he should also speak to others about Hashem, as we find Yosef doing with Potiphar's wife and with Pharoh. Dovid Hamelech also testified about himself that he spoke about Hashem's laws before kings and was not ashamed (Tehillim 119:  ).  And if is true that we must teach Hashem's will even to non Jews, it is true all the more for our own fellow Jews. Kiruv is an aspect of malchus, for anyone who truly loves the King wants everyone to serve Him and love Him as well. 

And now that we understand malchus in its human application we can also relate better to the malchus of Hashem. He is our King who helps, saves and protects us, and so He makes us feel secure and cared for. Yet we also fear Him for He punishes evildoers. This fear, however, is not a paralyzing or depressing fear, because it's purpose is not to hurt us but to help us, as it keeps people from perpetrating evil. That is why Hashem created tshuva. The purpose is not to punish us but  us but rather to have us do His will and so if we fail, He will accept our true tshuva. 

He wants us to be loyal to Him and have perfect faith in Him. At the same time He is totally loyal to us, He will never abandon us. Just as we must be willing to suffer and die for Hashem's sake, (ואהבת את ה' אלקיך בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך ובכל מאדיך) so the Shchina, Hashem's indwelling presence, suffers in this world for our sakes, leaving its own heavenly abode to be together with us in our suffering (עמו אנכי בצרה). The Tiferes Shlomo says that for the Shchinah this is like death; death for us means leaving this world; for the Shchinah it means leaving the upper world, and residing in a world of spiritual darkness, where Hashem's malchus is hidden. Hashem allows all the spiritual filth and all the hiddeness of His might and glory for our sakes, so that we can have the merit of choosing good over evil, and proving our loyalty to Him. And even when we fail, He patiently allows us more time, even as the Shchinah itself suffers, so that we can do tshuva and make it in the end. For as the Tiferes Shlomo writes in his drush for Rosh Hashono, in the end we all make it to olam habo, which is our ultimate purpose. 

How does malchus relate to Rosh Hashono? 

One obvious connection is that Rosh HaShono is the day of din, judgment, and the King is the supreme Judge. Together with judgment comes the call for tshuva, and Rosh Hashono is the first day of the ten days of tshuva. 

But the most simple explanation is that אין מלך בלא עם , there is no king without a nation. Adam HaRishon, who was created on Rosh Hashono is Hashem's nation. Since all the souls of all mankind were in Adam HaRishon, who came into existence on that day, on Rosh Hashono, so to speak, Hashem, became king.  

(The angels had already been created before Adam, but they are not Hashem's true "nation" for they serve Hashem automatically. Hashem wanted an "am", a nation that would choose to accept Him of their own free will.)  

And that is the greatest manifestation of Hashem's malchus.
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