Fight your own battles

Rosh Hashanah

The message of Rosh Hashanah is that God and only God is our King.   –  א’ן לנו מלך אלא אתה – No human official will fight our battles; no flesh and blood savior will come to our rescue. Given that the New Year festivals in ancient Babylonia and Egypt made kings into gods, the Hebrew New Year is a disruptive paradigm shift which constitutes a rejection of any authority-figure other than God.  In the Hebrew New Year it is God who is annually crowned as King. Ultimately, if God is the only external authority, that leaves ultimate responsibility for the failures and successes of each and every one of us squarely on our own shoulders and souls… God help us!

Our father our king, have mercy upon us and answer us for we have no deeds; do us right and kindly and save us.

אָבִינוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ חָנֵּנוּ וַעֲנֵנוּ כִּי אֵין בָּנוּ מַעֲשִׂים עֲשֵׂה עִמָּנוּ צְדָקָה וָחֶסֶד וְהוֹשִׁיעֵנוּ

Here’s the backstory:

God’s Kingship is so fundamental to Judaism that the first prayer of the day (said before the Lords name can even be mentioned), uses “King” as the primary place-holder:

מודה אני לפניך מלך חי וקים

I give thanks before You, Living and Eternal King

Elsewhere God is referred to as a father, spouse and creator amongst other metaphors, but it is as King that He greets us every morning and….. in every benediction.  The seminal importance of God as King is part and parcel of the formula for a standard blessing:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱ-להֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעולָם

Blessed art You Lord our King of the universe

The emphasis on God as King increases as we approach the New Year. Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we substitute “King” for “God” in the third blessing of the Amidah.  Kingship takes precedence over Godship

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ הא-ל הָקדוש

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ המֶלֶךְ הָקדוש

 

The first section of the Musaf Amidah on Rosh Hashanah is called Malchuyot  מלכויות   (Kingship) and provides ten citations from Scripture, all of which contain a reference to Kingship.. except the last which is the Shema

שְׁמַע, יִשְׂרָאֵל: ה’ אֱ-לוהֵינוּ, ה’ אֶחָד

Hear Oh Israel the Lord your God, the Lord is one.

This is surprising, because the 10 verses brought as proof-texts for the other sections of the service (   זכרונות ושופרותzichronot and shofrot) have 10 proper proof texts which all contain a reference to “memory” or “shofar” as would be expected.

The 9th proof text brought for malchuyot (kingship) is the verse from Zechariah  14, 9 used to close the Aleinu prayer.[1]

 וְהָיָה ה’ לְמֶלֶךְ, עַל-כָּל-הָאָרֶץ; בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, יִהְיֶה ה’ אֶחָד-וּשְׁמוֹ אֶחָד

And the LORD shall be King over all the earth; in that day shall the LORD be One, and His name one.

The verse from Zechariah is used to deliver a radical message.  We were all taught to believe that the Jew’s greatest contribution to the history of ideas was the concept of monotheism – God is one as branded in the iconic Shema affirmation. In fact, the utilization of the Shema as a proof-text to God’s Kingship introduces the Shema in a new light.  God’s oneness is not a theological declaration as much as it is a political and moral affirmation… there is only one King, one ruler, one external authority that we are bound to.  The flip-side of God’s oneness has always been that we shall take no other gods.  And this negative-affirmation is central to our theology.  The flipside of God’s Kingship is that we shall take no other kings or authorities or saviors. This negative is also a positive…

Similarly, the verse that is whispered all year after the recitation of the Shema, is enunciated out loud during the High Holidays.

ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד

Blessed be the name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever.

All year we encounter God’s Kingship is hiding in plain sight.  On Rosh Hashanah we are obliged to re-affirm what should be obvious. We answer only to God.  God’s Oneness is powerless unless it translates into a kingship that suffers no other kings.

The high point of the daily Selichot services leading up to Yom Kippur and of the Yom Kippur service itself is the Avinu Malkeinu prayer.  The Avinu Malkeinu is actually the closing prayer of the Neilah service and was composed by Rabbi Akiva to break a drought.  The original was considerably shorter than our version:

ירד רבי עקיבה אחריב ואמר
אבינו מלכנו א’ן לנו מלך אלא אתה
אבינו מלכנו רחם עלינו
וירדו גשמים

Rabbi Akiva led after him (the previous Rabbi Eliezer) and said:
“Our father. our king we have no king other than you.
Our father, our king, have mercy on upon us.”
And the rain fell. [Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 25b)

Over the generations, many other stanzas have been added, but the core of this iconic prayer is not so much that God is King… as much as that we shall take no other Kings.  We have only ourselves and God’s grace to save us.

If God’s Kingship is the Bible’s core message, it befits us to aticulate the attitude towards Kingship in Scripture itself.

(Samuel I 8: 4-22)

Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah.
And they said unto him: ‘Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways; now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.’
But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said: ‘Give us a king to judge us.’ And Samuel prayed unto the LORD.
And the LORD said unto Samuel: ‘Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee; for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected Me, that I should not be king over them.
According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, in that they have forsaken Me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.
Now therefore hearken unto their voice; howbeit thou shalt earnestly forewarn them, and shalt declare unto them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.’
And Samuel told all the words of the LORD unto the people that asked of him a king.
And he said: ‘This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: he will take your sons, and appoint them unto him, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and they shall run before his chariots.
And he will appoint them unto him for captains of thousands, and captains of fifties; and to plow his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and the instruments of his chariots.
And he will take your daughters to be perfumers, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. …..
And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king whom ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not answer you in that day.’
But the people refused to hearken unto the voice of Samuel; and they said: ‘Nay; but there shall be a king over us; that we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.‘ And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he spoke them in the ears of the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel: ‘Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king.’ And Samuel said unto the men of Israel: ‘Go ye every man unto his city.’

(Samuel I 8: 4-22)

 וַיִּתְקַבְּצוּ, כֹּל זִקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וַיָּבֹאוּ אֶל-שְׁמוּאֵל, הָרָמָתָה. וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו, הִנֵּה אַתָּה זָקַנְתָּ, וּבָנֶיךָ, לֹא הָלְכוּ בִּדְרָכֶיךָ; עַתָּה, שִׂימָה-לָּנוּ מֶלֶךְ לְשָׁפְטֵנוּ–כְּכָל-הַגּוֹיִם. וַיֵּרַע הַדָּבָר, בְּעֵינֵי שְׁמוּאֵל, כַּאֲשֶׁר אָמְרוּ, תְּנָה-לָּנוּ מֶלֶךְ לְשָׁפְטֵנוּ; וַיִּתְפַּלֵּל שְׁמוּאֵל, אֶל- וַיֹּאמֶר ה’, אֶל-שְׁמוּאֵל, שְׁמַע בְּקוֹל הָעָם, לְכֹל אֲשֶׁר-יֹאמְרוּ אֵלֶיךָ:  כִּי לֹא אֹתְךָ מָאָסוּ, כִּי-אֹתִי מָאֲסוּ מִמְּלֹךְ עֲלֵיהֶם. כְּכָל-הַמַּעֲשִׂים אֲשֶׁר-עָשׂוּ, מִיּוֹם הַעֲלֹתִי אוֹתָם מִמִּצְרַיִם וְעַד-הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה, וַיַּעַזְבֻנִי, וַיַּעַבְדוּ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים–כֵּן הֵמָּה עֹשִׂים, גַּם-לָךְ. וְעַתָּה, שְׁמַע בְּקוֹלָם:  אַךְ, כִּי-הָעֵד תָּעִיד בָּהֶם, וְהִגַּדְתָּ לָהֶם, מִשְׁפַּט הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲשֶׁר יִמְלֹךְ עֲלֵיהֶם. וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל, אֵת כָּל-דִּבְרֵי ה’, אֶל-הָעָם, הַשֹּׁאֲלִים מֵאִתּוֹ מֶלֶךְ. וַיֹּאמֶר–זֶה יִהְיֶה מִשְׁפַּט הַמֶּלֶךְ, אֲשֶׁר יִמְלֹךְ עֲלֵיכֶם:  אֶת-בְּנֵיכֶם יִקָּח, וְשָׂם לוֹ בְּמֶרְכַּבְתּוֹ וּבְפָרָשָׁיו, וְרָצוּ, לִפְנֵי מֶרְכַּבְתּוֹ. וְלָשׂוּם לוֹ, שָׂרֵי אֲלָפִים וְשָׂרֵי חֲמִשִּׁים; וְלַחֲרֹשׁ חֲרִישׁוֹ וְלִקְצֹר קְצִירוֹ, וְלַעֲשׂוֹת כְּלֵי-מִלְחַמְתּוֹ וּכְלֵי רִכְבּוֹ. וְאֶת-בְּנוֹתֵיכֶם, יִקָּח, לְרַקָּחוֹת וּלְטַבָּחוֹת, וּלְאֹפוֹת.  וְאֶת-שְׂדוֹתֵיכֶם וְאֶת-כַּרְמֵיכֶם וְזֵיתֵיכֶם, הַטּוֹבִים–יִקָּח; וְנָתַן, לַעֲבָדָיו. וְזַרְעֵיכֶם וְכַרְמֵיכֶם, יַעְשֹׂר; וְנָתַן לְסָרִיסָיו, וְלַעֲבָדָיו. וְאֶת-עַבְדֵיכֶם וְאֶת-שִׁפְחוֹתֵיכֶם וְאֶת-בַּחוּרֵיכֶם הַטּוֹבִים, וְאֶת-חֲמוֹרֵיכֶם–יִקָּח; וְעָשָׂה, לִמְלַאכְתּוֹ. צֹאנְכֶם, יַעְשֹׂר; וְאַתֶּם, תִּהְיוּ-לוֹ לַעֲבָדִים. וּזְעַקְתֶּם, בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, מִלִּפְנֵי מַלְכְּכֶם, אֲשֶׁר בְּחַרְתֶּם לָכֶם; וְלֹא-יַעֲנֶה יְהוָה אֶתְכֶם, בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא. וַיְמָאֲנוּ הָעָם, לִשְׁמֹעַ בְּקוֹל שְׁמוּאֵל; וַיֹּאמְרוּ לֹּא, כִּי אִם-מֶלֶךְ יִהְיֶה עָלֵינוּ. וְהָיִינוּ גַם-אֲנַחְנוּ, כְּכָל-הַגּוֹיִם; וּשְׁפָטָנוּ מַלְכֵּנוּ וְיָצָא לְפָנֵינוּ, וְנִלְחַם אֶת-מִלְחֲמֹתֵנוּ. וַיִּשְׁמַע שְׁמוּאֵל, אֵת כָּל-דִּבְרֵי הָעָם; וַיְדַבְּרֵם, בְּאָזְנֵי ה’. וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ אֶל-שְׁמוּאֵל שְׁמַע בְּקוֹלָם, וְהִמְלַכְתָּ לָהֶם מֶלֶךְ; וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל אֶל-אַנְשֵׁי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לְכוּ אִישׁ לְעִירוֹ.

See also I Samuel 12 where the people beseech God to stop a destructive rain storm during the wheat harvest… and notice how it connects the concept of God saving his subjects for His name’s sake as does Akiba’s prayer…

And all the people said unto Samuel: ‘Pray for thy servants unto the LORD thy God, that we die not; for we have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king.’ And Samuel said unto the people: ‘Fear not; ye have indeed done all this evil; yet turn not aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart; and turn ye not aside; for then should ye go after vain things which cannot profit nor deliver, for they are vain. For the LORD will not forsake His people for His great name’s sake; because it hath pleased the LORD to make you a people unto Himself. Moreover as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you; but I will instruct you in the good and the right way. Only fear the LORD, and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider how great things He hath done for you. But if ye shall still do wickedly, ye shall be swept away, both ye and your king.’

וַיֹּאמְרוּ כָל-הָעָם אֶל-שְׁמוּאֵל, הִתְפַּלֵּל בְּעַד-עֲבָדֶיךָ אֶל-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ–וְאַל-נָמוּת:  כִּי-יָסַפְנוּ עַל-כָּל-חַטֹּאתֵינוּ רָעָה, לִשְׁאֹל לָנוּ מֶלֶךְ. וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל אֶל-הָעָם, אַל-תִּירָאוּ–אַתֶּם עֲשִׂיתֶם, אֵת כָּל-הָרָעָה הַזֹּאת; אַךְ, אַל-תָּסוּרוּ מֵאַחֲרֵי יְהוָה, וַעֲבַדְתֶּם אֶת-יְהוָה, בְּכָל-לְבַבְכֶם.  וְלֹא, תָּסוּרוּ:  כִּי אַחֲרֵי הַתֹּהוּ, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יוֹעִילוּ וְלֹא יַצִּילוּ–כִּי-תֹהוּ הֵמָּה. כִּי לֹא-יִטֹּשׁ יְהוָה, אֶת-עַמּוֹ–בַּעֲבוּר, שְׁמוֹ הַגָּדוֹל:  כִּי הוֹאִיל יְהוָה, לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶתְכֶם לוֹ לְעָם. גַּם אָנֹכִי, חָלִילָה לִּי מֵחֲטֹא לַיהוָה–מֵחֲדֹל, לְהִתְפַּלֵּל בַּעַדְכֶם; וְהוֹרֵיתִי אֶתְכֶם, בְּדֶרֶךְ הַטּוֹבָה וְהַיְשָׁרָה. אַךְ יְראוּ אֶת-יְהוָה, וַעֲבַדְתֶּם אֹתוֹ בֶּאֱמֶת–בְּכָל-לְבַבְכֶם:  כִּי רְאוּ, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-הִגְדִּל עִמָּכֶם. וְאִם-הָרֵעַ, תָּרֵעוּ–גַּם-אַתֶּם גַּם-מַלְכְּכֶם, תִּסָּפוּ.

 

As presented in I Samuel, the rejection of the Kingship of God was the penultimate failure of the Exodus-Sinai Project.  The Hebrew word for “rejected” (מָאֲס ) means “despise” “reject” “abhor” .  According to Strongs Lexicon  H3988 “מָאַס is a primitive root; to spurn; also (intransitively) to disappear:—abhor, cast away (off), contemn, despise, disdain, (become) loathe(some), melt away, refuse, reject, reprobate, utterly, vile person.”.  It is the root of the Yiddish word for real ugly – meeskite.  God was taking this real personally.  The rejection of God as King and the acceptance of other authority is THE piece of unfinished business and reconciliation that stands in the way of the Israel Project.  This acceptance of God as King and this radical rejection of any other human authority is the work of Rosh Hashanah.  Rejecting God as King comes from a smallness of spirit born out of a desire to have others to fight our battles.  Accepting God as the only authority, places the obligation and responsibility to make ourselves and the world a better place squarely on our own shoulders.

 

Epilogue

In rejecting human kingship as a rejection of Divine Kingship, we cannot ignore the organic connection between a human king and a human savior… the “anointed” king and the Messiah  מלך המשיח :

Then Samuel took the vial of oil, and poured it upon his head, and kissed him, and said: ‘Is it not that the LORD hath anointed thee to be prince over His inheritance. (1 Samuel Chapter 10, 1)

וַיִּקַּח שְׁמוּאֵל אֶת-פַּךְ הַשֶּׁמֶן, וַיִּצֹק עַל-רֹאשׁוֹ–וַיִּשָּׁקֵהוּ; וַיֹּאמֶר–הֲלוֹא כִּי-מְשָׁחֲךָ יְהוָה עַל-נַחֲלָתוֹ, לְנָגִיד.

And Samuel said unto Saul: ‘The LORD sent me to anoint thee to be king over His people, over Israel; now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of the LORD.  (I Samuel 15-1)

וַיֹּאמֶר שְׁמוּאֵל, אֶל-שָׁאוּל, אֹתִי שָׁלַח ה’ לִמְשָׁחֳךָ לְמֶלֶךְ, עַל-עַמּוֹ עַל-יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְעַתָּה שְׁמַע, לְקוֹל דִּבְרֵי ה’.

The anointed savior – Mashiach – was Kingship Ver 2.0.  The Mashiach as the Savior was a perversion of the early institution of human Kingship, which itself was a terrible perversion of the greatest and most liberating idea that Judaism introduced to humanity.  God is King, God was King and God will be King for ever and ever….

————-

[1] Some believe Aleinu was written by Tanna Rav in 3rd century Babylonia for Rosh Hashanah services.

2 Comments

Filed under Bible, divine right, Israel, prayer, Religion, Rosh Hashanah, social commentary, Torah

2 responses to “Fight your own battles

  1. sol slotnik

    Geoff: Terrific, just terrific. Shana tova umetukah. Sol

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