Friday, September 26, 2008

MALCHUYOS: HASHEM IS OUR KING - Guest Posty by R' Chaim Morgenstern

By Rabbi Chaim Morgenstern
(Reprinted from the booklet with permission from the author)

The Shacharis davening of Rosh Hashana is ushered in with the chazan singing “Hamelech” – the king. In fact, the most often-mentioned word in the Rosh Hashana davening is “melech” and the central theme of the Rosh Hashana davening is “malchuyos” – proclaiming and recognizing Hashem's total sovereignty over the entire universe. Additionally, Rabbeinu Saadia Gaon writes that the shofar blowing symbolizes the coronation of Hashem over the world (just like trumpets are sounded when crowning a new king). It is for this reason that the Gra was extremely joyous during the shofar blowing, explaining that just as a nation is joyous when they coronate a king, so too, we must be joyous because we are coronating Hashem over the universe (Rav Chaim Volozhin, Kesser Rosh #204).

However, if we were to give this concept of malchuyos a second thought, we may discover that we are very distant from perceiving its profound meaning and implications.
Rav E. Dessler writes that even though we inwardly believe that Hashem controls the entire world, nevertheless we fall short of feeling this belief in our day-to-day lives. This is because we are accustomed to use the terms "nature” and “miracle.” Many people think that “nature” is all that transpires naturally once Hashem put the earth into motion, while a miracle is an occurrence that is outside the laws of nature. However, this is an error. In reality everything is a miracle, and it's only because we are so used to it happening that we term it "nature." For example, we accept the fact that techiyas hameisim – resurrection of the dead – is a miracle. However, a seed that decomposes and starts growing is no less a miracle, nonetheless we term it "nature.” Yet it is only the will of Hashem that makes a seed grow no less than bringing a dead person back to life. Science knows how things function, but not why. The “why” of a growing seed, force of gravity, and thousands of other "natural" occurrences and phenomenon are the ratzon Hashem, the will of the Creator. Therefore, concludes Rav Dessler, there is no difference between a miracle and nature except that we are so used to the term “nature” (and associate it to “natural”) that we cease to see all the miracles necessary for nature to function (Michtav M’Eliyahu Vol. 1, pp 177-8).

One of the reasons why it is difficult to envision and fully comprehend the concept of Hashem’s supremacy over the world is simply because there are no kings today to set an example of a supreme ruler. By observing the absolute authority of a king and how his nation is totally subservient to him, one is able to set an example for himself of how to properly honor, revere and serve Hakadosh Baruch Hu (Sefer Hayashar of Rabbeinu Tam, Shaar Ha’rishon).
Rav Shlomo Wolbe adds that this is one explanation of " מלכותא דארעא כעין מלכותא דרקיע " – an earthly kingdom is similar to a heavenly one. Observing the reverence and honor given to a melech basar v'dam – an earthly king – is just a slight glimpse of what must be accorded to Hashem. Before 250 years ago, kings were absolute rulers. Their word was final – if they decided to execute someone, it was carried out without any delay. However, they began to misuse their authority and became ruthless despots. The French Revolution ushered in a new era in history by introducing the concept of democracy, which soon spread to most of the world. The absolute power of the king was now replaced with a president or prime minister elected by the populace, whose authority was now controlled by another governing body (parliament or congress). Rav Wolbe writes that this drastic change was not coincidental. It was a heavenly decree resulting from our own misdeeds of being lax in emunah – belief in Hashem. The purpose of an absolute monarch is to give us an actual picture of human subservience to a living king, who can serve as a role model of how to honor, revere and serve Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Once people started losing their emuna in Hashem, there was no purpose in having kings in the world and Hashem abolished this system (Alei Shur, Vol. 2 pp 425-7).

Since we lack a model of a supreme ruler, we must seek other methods to conceptualize the malchuyos theme of Rosh Hashana in order to feel that Hashem is in absolute control of all that transpires in the universe.

We can start by studying Hashem's dominance over the physical world. Let’s pick up a rock and observe it. The smallest component of this small stone is an atom. If the tip of a pinhead contains 25 million atoms, then the amount of atoms in a stone held in one's hand is immeasurable. (Even 25 million is an amount that's hard to perceive. Can you imagine this amount of matches before your eyes?) Each atom consists of electrons, protons and neutrons that are held together by an invisible force. When this force is removed, the atom explodes releasing atomic energy. Releasing this force in a particle the size of an egg can provide enough energy to power a steamship across the Atlantic Ocean, and releasing the energy contained in an apartment building can destroy an entire city. While the scientists cannot identify this force, we call it “Hashem’s will.” It is His will that exerts an infinite force, which holds the entire universe together.

Understanding this force explains another concept found in Chazal regarding the asara harugei malchus – the ten Torah sages who were murdered by the Romans. After Rabbi Akiva was killed, the malachim complained to Hashem, “זו תורה וזו שכרה?” – Is this the reward for his devoted Torah study? A Heavenly Voice then proclaimed that this is the decree of Hashem that must be accepted, and if the malachim will continue to complain, Hashem will transform the world to tohu vavohu – its pre-existing state of void and vacuum, meaning that He will destroy the world. How would Hashem accomplish this? We can simply say that since the entire universe exists only because of Hashem’s will, removing His will causes all matter to cease existing. However, based on the fact that the physical world exists because of Hashem’s desire to exert a force that holds all matter together, we can try to explain this concept on a more tangible level. If Hashem would remove His invisible force that is holding the entire creation together, it would result in a complete breakdown of all the atoms and total destruction of the world by converting all the earth's mass to energy. Thus, our entire existence is dependent on a continuous force exerted by Hashem's will.

We can further demonstrate Hashem's constant control of the universe by examining the wonders of creation (a method also used for proving Hashem's existence). As an example, let us examine the cells of our body as described in a science magazine: “Looking at an individual cell, you will be even more impressed. A single cell cannot be seen without a microscope, yet what goes on within a cell is astounding. The wisdom of a single cell is said to exceed all the accumulated knowledge of the human race to date. Even the smallest cell in your body is about one billion times the size of its smallest component! The cell is the site of more chemical reactions than all the chemical factories in the world combined. There are thousands of components in a cell: chromosomes, genes, DNA, organelles, mitochondria, enzymes, hormones, amino acids, and thousands of various chemicals and compounds too numerous to mention. And no one on this earth can explain what makes an individual cell operate. All the thousands of different functions can be categorized, but the force behind these functions is beyond our comprehension. In other words, the innate intelligence of the body is infinitely more sophisticated than our thinking minds. And to think there are over seventy-five trillion (75,000,000,000,000) of these astounding cells working with pinpoint perfection for some sixty, seventy, eighty years, or more.

The human brain has 30 billion neurons or nerve cells, with five to ten times that number of cellular connections. These neurons are not attached to each other, and connect by transmitting signals via a string (axon) at a speed of 225 mph. After passing the signal, it takes each string two-thousandths of a second to chemically recharge itself. Even asleep, the brain handles traffic that would swamp the entire world’s telecommunication systems combined.

Inside each cell is a nucleus that contains chromosomes that contain genes. Inside genes is the stuff of life – DNA. DNA is what determines what color your eyes are, what fragrance a flower will have, or the iridescence of a bird's feathers. If you took the entire DNA from all the genes of all your seventy-five trillion cells, it would fit into a box the size of an ice cube. Yet if this entire DNA were unwound and joined together, the string would stretch from the earth to the sun and back more than four hundred times! That's almost eighty billion miles!

One human cell in the laboratory, free from all bodily influences, will divide some fifty times before dying. If all our cells divided that often, we would reach a weight of more than eighty trillion tons! Only with such staggering thoughts as these is it possible to grasp some idea of the infinite intelligence necessary to coordinate the activities of such an astronomical number of cooperating cells. When we view the vastness of the human body's faculties and processes, we must stand in awe of the enormous intelligence displayed."

The scientists, who deny the existence of a Creator, attribute this to some mysterious intelligence. They believe that, chas veshalom, just as it took millions of years for human beings to evolve from the amoeba cell, with "patience" to wait a few more million years we are bound to find the solutions to all the mysteries of the universe. However, we have all the answers. This "mysterious intelligence" is Hakadosh Baruch Hu, who controls all of nature with His infinite wisdom.

Rav Yitzchok Hutner aptly captures the concept of Hashem’s presence in the world stating, “The secular philosophers painstakingly strive to find Hashem’s presence in the world. However we cannot find a place in the universe that doesn’t manifest Hashem’s presence” (Quoted in Alei Shur Vol. 2, p.596. This is also why one of the names of Hashem is “Hamakom” – the place, inferring that his place is everywhere, as the pasuk states, “מלא כל הארץ כבודו” – The whole world is filled with His glory - Yeshayahu 6:3). Understanding these concepts provides an insight into the meaning of the words in our daily tefilla: “המחדש בטובו בכל יום תמיד מעשה בראשית ” – In his goodness, He continuously renews the work of creation. Since every second of our existence requires a renewal of Hashem’s will to function, each moment is like a “new creation” (See commentary of Aitz Yosef in the Siddur Otzar Hatefillos ad loc.).

Another insight into the concept of malchuyos can be attained by examining Hashem's knowledge of all that transpires in the universe. Imagine writing a comprehensive autobiography about yourself that would contain every vital statistic about all that transpired every second of your lifetime. It would include all your thoughts, feelings, desires and all medical data about your body – blood pressure, heartbeat rate, brainwaves and complete blood analysis from the time you were born. Since each year has over 31 million seconds, if we were to program one hundred pieces of information, we would be storing over 3 billion bits of data for only one person per year. When multiplying this by 70 years, and again by the entire population of the world, we reach astronomical figures. No computer system could ever handle such data. Now imagine that we are standing by the Kosel Hama’aravi on a crowded chol hamoed day, as thousands of Jews are streaming in and out. Try programming each individual's past, present and future history and thoughts for one year – another 3 billion bits per person. In addition to this, let us attempt to accumulate data about all the animals, birds, insects, fish, trees, flowers, vegetation, weather, ocean currents and temperatures. It is impossible for a human mind to even imagine the massive amount of data involved.

We haven't even touched on any facts about the inorganic world, such as the gas content of the atmosphere, the amount of and content of every building on earth, including the origin of each component; nor have we included the vast spiritual realm of the heavens, malachim and the world-to-come. The list is endless.

If we stop to think, we'll realize that recording all the data about the entire world is impossible. But there is one "Being" that is able to comprehend all the data of the entire world – humans, animals, vegetation, plus encyclopedic knowledge of all the inorganic matter of the universe – Hakadosh Baruch Hu. His infinite knowledge is beyond any human comprehension as we say daily in Ashrei, “גדול ה' ומהולל מאוד, ולגדולתו אין חקר ” – His greatness is unfathomable. Thus, another concept of malchuyos is that Hashem has absolute knowledge of the past, present and future of every component, being and organism in the universe.

To briefly summarize, Hakadosh Baruch Hu exerts an invisible force that keeps the complete physical world in existence, in addition to actually controlling its every movement. Hashem also has a complete and comprehensive knowledge of every conceivable fact and data of the entire universe since creation.

Rav Yitzchok Hutner explains that although we proclaim the oneness of Hashem in our Shema twice daily, Rosh Hashana is designated as a day in which we coronate Hashem over the world.

Bearing in mind the above thoughts can help us grasp the profundity of the concept of malchuyos and give us a glimpse of how Hashem is Melech Malchai Hamelachim – the king of kings.

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of esklepios)

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