God's Kingdom and Reign over the World

    February 2012          
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G-d's Kingdom Over the World

By Yechezkel Gold

NOte: This is Part Eight of our online mystical primer. Click here for earlier lessons:

Part One,
Part Two,
Part Three,
Part Four,
Part Five,
Part Six,
Part Seven.

The notion of G-d's Kingdom and our duty to accept Him as King is fundamental to Torah and Jewish life. Much in the Oral Torah illustrates this notion. For instance, a person must pronounce one hundred blessings daily (see Shulchan Aruch Orach Hayim 46, 3 and 214, 1) and any blessing which does not include G-d's Name and Kingship is invalid. Similarly, we inaugurate the beginning of the year, Rosh Hashana, with the prayer of Malchuyot, Kingdom.

G-d is manifested as King mainly through His Commandments. Torah's final chapter, Zot Habracha, demonstrates this: "4 Moses commanded us the Law as the congregation of Jacob's inheritance. 5 And there was a King in Jeshurun. (a synonym for the Israelites)". These two verses are connected: Through the Commandments there was a King in Jeshurun.

This notion automatically implies some general principles. By conceiving of G-d as King we prohibit transgressing His Laws: Torah and the Commandments. Thus, (Deuteronomy 13) 1 "All this word which I command you, that shall ye observe to do; thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it."

Two contradictory aspects unite in the concept of Kingdom: First, that a king is incomparably superior to his subjects. (People educated according to democratic ideals might reject this idea regarding a flesh and blood king. When applied to G-d, though, there is no question of its truth.) Not only is relation between G-d and His subjects not between equals; they can not be compared at all. Thus,(Psalms 40, 6): "Many things hast Thou done, O Lord my God, even Thy wonderful works, and Thy thoughts toward us; there is none to be compared unto Thee! If I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be told."

The second aspect of Kingdom is that though the King is incomparably superior to His subjects, nevertheless they do have a real relationship. As the holy texts state: "There can be no King without subjects." G-d would not be manifest as King without subjects.

Manifesting Kingdom, this association of two sides of which One is incomparably superior to the other, takes various forms. Generally, the very notion of manifesting is tied to Kingdom: something is partially revealed through the medium of something else. When the King's majesty is revealed in a manner graspable by His subjects, they commit themselves to His service. To the extent they appreciate the superb King, their commitment overrides personal interests. In turn, service to the King aims to manifest the King more fully. Thus angels, and we in our prayers, sing G-d's praises, and devote our lives to manifesting Him.

People accept G-d's Kingdom in various ways and different degrees. A superficial outlook heeds the Laws in practice alone, content with knowing very generally that G-d is Master and man has obligations. Such people lack personal, intimate contact with G-d, nor do they contemplate it. It may never even occur to them that intimate contact is possible or personally desirable. The prophet Isaiah (29, 13) described this personage: "Their fear of G-d is fulfilling an obligation by rote."

We disparage following the Law out of habit, but it has advantages, too. In his glosses on Maimonides' Laws of Prayer, Rabbi Abraham ben David, known as Raavad, discusses whether a person who can not keep his mind on its meaning should nevertheless perform the Commandment to recite the Shma (Hear, O Israel, etc): "Let him recite it. It is considered no less than [merely] saying Torah words, and thereby he avoids removing the yoke of Heaven from himself as is known that mostly, people who recite [the Shma] and pray are only performing rote action."

Even if the sole intent in performing the Commandment is to do what one is commanded, the action is meritorious: it reflects G-d's Kingdom. Besides, were we to examine these people's hidden thoughts and feelings, we would discover true fear and respect for G-d and His Laws. Because they fear and honor G-d, they persist in living according to His Law. Involvement in prosaic matters masks their inner feelings. At least, though, this fundamental respect tends to prevent sinning and veering from G-d's path.

Serving G-d out of real love and/or fear is superior to rote performance. Study and contemplation reveal the cogent truth and importance of deeply honoring the King of the universe. Thus, the verse (Psalms 29) states: "And in His sanctuary everything proclaims respect". Loving G-d, as well as fearing Him, are integral to respect, of which there are many levels. In turn, this respectfulness and the love and fear that engender it depend on thought. They are limited by the extent of real understanding. Moreover, even if an individual theoretically understands that unlimited honor is G-d's due, commitment to that understanding is only as strong as his/her convictions and personal fortitude.

Someone utterly convinced of this meditation's veracity and conclusions will sincerely love and fear G-d. Nevertheless, even this manner of accepting G-d's Kingdom is only partial in essential quality. It derives from something else (thought, but the same applies to anything else that leads to accepting G-d's Kingdom) so it depends on that something else. It is not essential, intrinsic, unconditional acceptance and commitment. The latter does, indeed, exist, as we say in the Aleinu prayer: "For Kingdom is Yours". It is this essay's main topic.

What does G-d's intrinsic Kingdom mean? Why do we call G-d King? Do we not adhere to G-d's injuction (Deuteronomy 4, 15) "You beheld no image"? Till here we primarily emphasized His subjects' perspective. However, G-d's appearing to us as a King pertains, as it were, to Him as well. This is evident in the prayer hymn "Adon Olam".

This hymn, part of prayer in most congregations, is very authoritative. Rabbi Yehuda haChasid, Rabbi Hai Gaon and Rabbi Sherira Gaon, in early medieval times, each described it as an ancient, praiseworthy hymn. Rabbi Yeshayahu Horowitz (Shlo) mentioned it, and the classic books Mateh Moshe and Eliah Raba state that this hymn is conducive to having prayers answered.

"Adon Olam" begins with the words: "Master of the universe who reigned before any creation was fashioned. Instantly, His will is performed, and then his Name is called King" (i.e., after His will is done, G-d is called a King). From these phrases we understand that being King is intrinsic to G-d even without existence of subjects. [This is in the realm of Atzilus in Hasidic thought, as described in earlier articles. A still higher G-dly reality exists in which there is no form at all. The sefiros of Atzilus represent how G-d rules the world based on the ideals we associate intrinsically with G-d: Wisdom, Meaning, Goodness, Power, Truth, Justice, Kingdom, etc.] However, then His Kingdom is unrevealed. G-d is not called King until His will is [instantly] accomplished. There must be subjects who call Him King, to whom He is manifest. But also G-d is King and incomparable intrinsically. Subjects accepting His Kingdom in a lesser manner, as elucidated above, do not connect with His intrinsic, incomparable Kingdom. Rather they connect to lower levels of G-d's Kingdom [below Atzilus]. By unconditionally, intrinsically accepting G-d's Kingdom, however, Jews induce and reveal G-d's intrinsic incomparability.

The Israelites unconditionally, intrinsically accepted G-d's Kingdom, as elucidated in the Song on the Sea, after the Red Sea parted. They had crossed through walls created by erect waters. Their Egyptian persecutors, who pursued them, drowned when the waters returned to normal. Then the Israelites spontaneously sang, led by Moses.

[This essay seeks the eternal meaning of Torah texts, because they are our primary concern. After all, the Red Sea parted long ago. Mainly, its spiritual significance matters to us now. For that, knowledge of facts does not suffice, but rather their inner meaning. This is how we will address the Song on the Sea.]

This episode's context teaches about its significance. Slavery and persecution in Egypt forced a desperate scream from the Israelites, as the verse (Exodus 2, 23) states: "And the Children of Israel groaned because of the hard labor and they screamed. And their call of distress ascended to G-d because of the labor." Also later, when their pursuers overtook them at the Red Sea, the verse describes: "Pharoah drew near, the Israelites looked up, and behold! the Egyptians had pursued them. They were greatly frightened, and the Israelites called out to G-d."

This scream emerged from something profound, intrinsic to the Jewish soul: It issued powerfully from the depths of their being as they turned spontaneously, directly to G-d. It is the reason their scream ascended directly to G-d. Indeed, it is this phrase's true meaning: not only a cry for help, it was crying out for G-d, for absolute meaningfulness and purpose, for the truth and good denied them by oppression, beyond the barren vicissitudes this world offers when lived atheistically.

The Psalmist (145) said: "G-d is close to all who call unto Him, to all who call unto Him in truth." When life is calm, it does not touch the Jew's very core. He prays, but he does not scream. Difficulties and tribulations (may G-d save us) affecting our very being and inner reality elicit and forge real attachment to G-d. Our true being bursts out from our spiritual core. Thus, the verse describing the Israelites' tribulations in Egypt states (Exodus 1): "and the more they oppressed them, the more they multiplied and burst forth." This tie to G-d is the source of the soul's scream. It does not depend on external circumstances. Rather, by removing superficial calm and complacence, the profound attachment to G-d intrinsic to the Jewish soul emerges. Within this scream is intrinsic, powerful acceptance of and commitment to G-d's Kingdom.

[In Hasidism, the soul's scream might be physical, but the body also might be too overwhelmed; only the soul screams. Most important, it should not be artificially induced.]

The Red Sea episode began with (Exodus 14, 9) "Pharoah's horse chariots and cavalry and army" etc., signifying threat and difficulty. The Israelites were very afraid, G-d saved them by parting the sea and the Israelites entered the passage created thereby, followed by the Egyptians. Then (Exodus 15, 19) , "And G-d covered them (the persecutors) over with the sea and the Israelites walked on dry land within the sea." The deeper meaning: despite threat, dire straits and difficulty, a Jew clings to G-d, as the verse states: "And the Israelites called out to G-d". Thereby, threat fades into insignificance. Afterwards, the Israelites sang the Song. Here are some of its verses:

1 I will sing unto the LORD, for He is highly exalted; the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea.

4 Pharaoh's chariots and his host hath He cast into the sea, and his chosen captains are sunk in the Red Sea. 5 The deeps cover them - they went down into the depths like a stone. 6 Thy right hand, O LORD, glorious in power, Thy right hand, O LORD, dasheth in pieces the enemy. 7 And in the greatness of Thine excellency Thou overthrowest them that rise up against Thee; Thou sendest forth Thy wrath, it consumeth them as stubble.

9 The enemy said: 'I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.' 10 Thou didst blow with Thy wind, the sea covered them; they sank as lead in the mighty waters. 11 Who is like unto Thee, O LORD, among the mighty? who is like unto Thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders? 12 Thou stretchedst out Thy right hand - the earth swallowed them.

14 The peoples have heard, they tremble; pangs have taken hold on the inhabitants of Philistia. 15 Then were the chiefs of Edom affrighted; the mighty men of Moab, trembling taketh hold upon them; all the inhabitants of Canaan are melted away. 16 Terror and dread falleth upon them; by the greatness of Thine arm they are as still as a stone; till Thy people pass over, O LORD, till the people pass over that Thou hast gotten.

The deeper, eternal meaning of the episode and the Song on the Sea is spiritual. The soul says: "Your right hand, O G-d, is immense with power; your right hand, O G-d, will crush the enemy. Who is like you among the powers, O G-d. Who can compare with You among the forces, O G-d". Unconditional connection to G-d renders all else is null and insignificant. This theme repeats in other verses in the Song, such as: "And with your great excellency you demolish those who rise up against you. they are consumed like straw".

Spiritually, sea's parting means that G-d's Kingdom was revealed. Thus we say in the evening prayer: "And your children beheld your Kingdom splitting the sea before Moses." It meant that all that seems to conceal G-d is erased and nullified by the soul's insistence that G-d is the true reality. Tribulations endured force this deeper reality into the open. This unconditional assertion comes from intrinsic acceptance of G-d's Kingdom and commitment to Him. Thereby, the Israelites united with G-d's Kingdom together with His G-dly ways: Goodness, Justice, Truth, etc. In Hasidic literature this had to occur as preparation for receiving Torah, which details G-d's ways.

Paralleling this, the nightly prayer, Arvit, comes at a time of darkness. Metaphorically, it signifies duress. Therefore, we beseech G-d then to protect us and remove our enemies etc. We also say: "Your children beheld your Kingdom splitting the sea before Moses." They saw His Kingdom, rather than just the miracle. G-d's Kingdom emerged because from the depths of their soul they willed to see it: unconditional attachment to G-d. Thus, the prayer continues: "And they accepted His Kingdom with their will. Moses and the Israelites answered to You in song". When faced with the impossible, we cling to G-d because the inner meaning of being faced with the impossible is encounter between the finite and Infinite. Kingdom is relationship between the King who is incomparably superior, and His subjects. Impossible situations make something profound in our souls recognize G-d's Kingdom and respond with unconditional commitment.

It became spiritually impossible and entirely unacceptable to continue under the yoke of Egypt. Rather than return to Egypt, Nachshon ben Aminadav dove into the sea before it split. This scenario is repeated in every generation, as the Passover Hagada states: "For not only one rose up against us to destroy us. Rather, in every generation they rise up against us to destroy us. And the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hands." There is no option but "And the Israelites called out to G-d" because we refuse to submit to their evil.

Within this scream are the soul's hopes, its very essence and source of vitality. The essence of being alive is hope and positive outlook, optimism and the will for goodness, benevolence and sympathy. These derive from G-d's intrinsic ways, the sefiros, such as His Goodness, Justice, Magnificence, and the other sefiros of Atzilus, reflected in our souls. They emerge by our calling for them and committing to them (i.e. to His Kingdom) unconditionally. Then G-d is called King. Their full expression is life according to Torah.

This fundamental positive essence overcomes all that opposes it. It is spiritually symbolized by the right hand. Paralleling this, the verse states: "6 Thy right hand, O LORD, awesomely great in power, Thy right hand, O LORD, crushes the enemy."

The term "awesomely great" in this verse expresses the relation between G-d's "right hand", i.e. the faculty of loving kindness, and the created world. It describes the incomparability between G-d and His creation discussed above regarding G-d's Kingdom. Something of G-d's essential kindness and goodness, revealed within the souls of the Israelites, dwarfed the world with all its difficulties and trials. About this they sang: 11 "Who is like unto Thee, O LORD, among the mighty? Who is like unto Thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?" They described the incomparability of anything to G-d. Earlier, tribulation had hidden G-d's Goodness and Kindness, but it emerged with their scream, manifest in their souls as so awesomely great and powerful that "they believed in G-d and in his servant, Moses."

Real belief spiritually "crushes the enemy" throws him into the sea, drowns him and consumes him like stubble. It rejects and nullifies anything opposing faith and goodness as irrelevant. Hard as they try, our enemies and tribulations only force us to deal with them outwardly, but do not undermine this basic stance toward life. This is a spiritual meaning of the parting of the Red Sea: nothing stands in the way of our commitment to G-d's Kingdom. When (Lamentations 3,6) "He settled me in the darkness" and tribulations force the soul to screams and exerts itself to rise above the difficulties, G-d's "right hand", His great Goodness, is revealed. Thus, the verse states: 3 "Hashem is a man of war, Hashem is His name", about which Rashi comments that Hashem (the Name) represents the faculty of Kindness and Compassion. It is that faculty that wars against evil.

The evening prayer conveys this idea: "Your sons beheld Your Kingdom splitting the Sea before Moses." The sea and the "many waters" symbolize life's vicissitudes that tend to conceal G-d's sanctity and love. But as the verse (Canticles 8, 7) says:"Many waters cannot quench the love, neither can the floods drown it". This love brings intrinsic acceptance of G-d's Kingdom and commitment and devotion to His Goodness and His ways. It is symbolized by His right hand that is "immense in power" and bursts through all concealment. It is the true hope and desire of all Jews. Therefore, (evening prayer): "And they accepted His Kingdom with their will. (Not only willingly. They willed G-d's Kingdom unconditionally, without depending on anything exterior.) Moses and the Israelites answered to You in song, saying "Who is like unto Thee, O LORD, among the mighty? Who is like unto Thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?"

"There is no king without subjects". His subjects' accepting G-d's Kingdom splits the figurative "sea of many waters". These subjects remain within the waters of this world, but like the Israelites, one walks (Exodus 15, 19) "on dry land within the sea." Accepting G-d's Kingdom bursts through the concealment. It nullifies all thought and interpretation of reality inconsistent with sanctity. Sanctity comes by unconditional connection to G-d.

There are two forms of tribulation, "this night" and "that night". "This night" alludes to proximity and direct relation, whereas "that night" refers to distance and concealment. "That" is a deeper, worse state of tribulation. The expression "that night" in the Book of Esther indicates that even the concealment of night was hidden. Figuratively, it means being unaware of the spiritual darkness, oblivious to suffering. Really, life could and should be much better. It is foolish to disregard one's spiritual emptiness. We can rectify it. Spiritual truth and meaningfulness do exist. When people are aware that they are suffering, it is called "this night", as in Torah regarding the exodus from Egypt (exodus 12, 42) and in the Haggada regarding the four questions. Then, tribulations reveal spiritual truth. G-d's closeness emerges within the soul. As the verse states: (Job 12) 22 "He uncovereth deep things out of darkness, and bringeth out to light the shadow of death."

The Song on the Sea is also part of liturgy. Its position there adds insight into its meaning. It is in the portion of the service dealing with feelings and attitudes, singing G-d's praises: "Blessed be He who said and the world came into being", "Praise", "And David blessed" etc. The liturgy's next section deals with higher mystical realms, removed from our reality, where angels recite "Holy, holy, holy". It is also the realm of Torah. Then we say "Shma Yisrael". This sequence is a progression. Strength and power to accept G-d's Kingdom unconditionally comes from the heart's deep feelings. There we find energies tied to the very crux of a person's life. From them derives the tremendous power to extricate oneself from spiritual bondage, symbolized by slavery in Egypt, and from this secular world's many waters . These energies can elevate the person to a higher realm, to a more spiritual and purer domain. So, after reading the Song on the Sea, we conclude that section of prayer. The Song's energies elevate the soul to higher reality. We ascend to a higher, more refined realm of angels and still higher. The goal of this ascent is the Shma, unconditional, intrinsic commitment to G-d's Kingdom, to a state of attachment, no longer separate from G-d.

G-d's unconditional Kingdom emerges as a guiding principle for assessing and clarifying reality, both the inward and outward world. Discerning attitudes appropriate and true to G-d's Kingdom, we commit ourselves to what is true and important, desisting from what is inconsequential. What is true and important? To benefit the world with G-d's Kingdom.

Through G-d's Kingdom, the individual is totally connected to Him, absorbed in Divine service and the role implicitly assigned thereby, relegating selfishness to insignificance. That role is dauntingly large but one does not surrender to adversity or despair. True, much needs to be worked out, inwardly as well as in the external world. Indeed the Talmud itself is replete with discussion and disparate viewpoints about a plethora of subtle and intricate topics. These matters might appear too liquid, too amorphous to be settled. People finding the task challenging might opt for uncertainty and fuzziness. They resign themselves to error. However, persistence anchored in G-d's Kingdom leads to truth in life's spiritual and ethical issues, and like the Israelites, one walks (Exodus 15, 19) "on dry land within the sea."

Talmud (Chagiga 14b) relates a similar idea: "Our Rabbis taught: Four men entered the 'Garden' [i.e. the realm of cabala and inquiry into life's and reality's profoundest issues], namely, Ben Azzai and Ben Zoma, Aher, and R. Akiva. R. Akiva said to them: When ye arrive at the stones of pure marble, say not, water, water!" That is to say, we can explore and clarify and live according to the truth. The foundation for this is G-d's Kingdom.

Nor do life's practical difficulties bring despair. Our will and abilities do not depend on life's vicissitudes because they are oriented toward G-d. Involvement with G-d and His Kingdom are sources of strength. Although it is very difficult to remain in that state always, a person who grasps and tries to implement the notion of unconditional Kingdom has a firm basis for a holy outlook and for a life of Divine service.

When faced with the impossible, our souls intuitively, intrinsically recognize the eternal truth of G-d's Kingdom, and commit themselves to Divine service. The impossible reveals the Ain Sof, ungraspable and unattainable. Spontaneously, G-d's intrinsic, eternal ways, the sefiros of Atzilus, present themselves. Our sole way to connect with this is through His Kingdom. In the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the intrinsic Divine purpose was realized. This is the Song on the Sea's conclusion: "Your hands established Your Holy Sanctuary. G-d will be King eternally."


from the Febuary 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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