WHILE DISCUSSING THE death of Queen Elizabeth II with someone the other day, they being 92 mentioned that they never thought they would see another king reign in their lifetime. The last king of England was King George VI who ruled from 1936–1952. It was his daughter, Elizabeth who inherited the crown from him. It is her son, Charles, formerly the Prince of Wales, who has just inherited the throne from her.
Everything that happens in history and when it happens is always hashgochah pratis—divine providence. God runs the world and decides what will happen and when, so all that happens must be hashgochah pratis. But there is hashgochah pratis that goes unnoticed or seems insignificant, and there is hashgochah pratis that stands out and makes you think.
The death of a monarch, even if only a figurehead, is significant, or it wouldn’t catch the attention of so many people around the world. Out of respect and protocol, the world will mourn for the loss of the queen as if she really was a powerful leader.
But think about what? That will depend upon the person. For me, it made me think about Rosh Hashanah and what were supposed to be doing. As someone I know has pointed out to me year after year, we do not coronate our king because He already is a king, the King of Kings, and always has been. Charles was not king before and will have to be coronated to make it official. But God has always been king, though it only really had meaning since Creation. After all, what is a king without subjects?
So what do we do each Rosh Hashanah if God is already king? We accept upon ourselves to be His loyal subjects, which technically we do every day when we say the Shema. But it is one thing to pledge loyalty to the king, and something very different to do it in His Presence. It’s just a far more awesome and inspiring experience.
That’s a major component of the entire experience, awe. Any king can inspire fear just by exercising the power of his office. But it takes a special kind of king to inspire awe. The pomp and pageantry help, but at the end of the day it is the leader themself that the people see. If there isn’t anything remarkable about how they execute their leadership role, they won’t capture the hearts and loyalty of the people.
That’s why they’re call the Days of Awe. The point of the 10 days from the beginning of Rosh Hashanah until the end of Yom Kippur is for developing awe of God. We don’t make Him king and we certainly do not coronate Him. What we do instead is work on developing a sense of awe of Him as our king, and as the King of Kings, so that we can live up to our role as His loyal subjects. Not for His benefit, but for ours.
Because unlike, with respect to human kings, you can’t just pick up and move to another kingdom if you’re unhappy with God’s kingdom. The entire world is His kingdom. The good news, though, is that any problems that we have with God or His kingdom stem from us, and that is something we can choose to work on.
PARASHAS KI SAVO is famous because of its curses. It starts off with blessings, but the section of curses is long and scary, especially since they have come true over history.
But what it is really saying to us, what God is really saying to us is, “Will you be My loyal subject? If yes, here’s how you do it. If not, this is what happens if you don’t.” If you rebel against your government, you are a traitor. If you rebel against your captain, you are a mutineer. If you rebel against God, you are… What are you, besides in trouble?
If a person rebels against God, then they rebel against truth, because the seal of God is truth (Yoma 69b). That makes them a liar. If they rebel against God, then they rebel against their Creator, Sustainer, and Maintainer, and that makes them a denier of good. If someone rebels against God, then they rebel against the Source of their security, as it says, “Blessed is the man who trusts in God; God will be his trust” (Yirmiyahu 17:7). That makes them very vulnerable.
A human king would send his soldiers out to find and execute the traitor, and a captain may make mutineers walk the plank. But God? He doesn’t have to do anything. All the punishments listed in this week’s parsha? They’re built into Creation, like tooth decay if you don’t brush your teeth, or germs if you do not keep a place clean. They are automatic realities that result from not doing things.
As the Chovos LeVovos says in Sha’ar Bitachon, the “punishment” for not trusting in God is being left in the trust of what you are willing to rely upon. And anything else other than God can never be 100 percent reliable, and usually not even close.
So basically, this week’s parsha is God saying, “If you join My malchus, I will assure you of the blessings you need and want in life. If you don’t, I will back away from you, and you will be on your own. But before you choose that option, let Me first warn you of how history and Creation will go for you. It might sound appealing and at first and seem like a good choice. But tooth decay doesn’t happen overnight, nor will bacteria immediately overrun a sterile environment. It happens over time, but once it does, it will make you regret your decision.”
It’s the way of the world since leaving Gan Aiden. If you do not maintain your health, then it will deteriorate. If you do not maintain your money, it will dwindle away. If you do not maintain relationships, they will weaken over time. As Kabbalah explains, this is a world of doing, which is why it is called Asiyah, from the word that means to do. The world of resting is the next one in Olam HaBa.
And because the changes do not happen overnight, we might get fooled into thinking that they are not happening at all, or not significantly. But how many small water leaks left unchecked ended up doing phenomenal damage over time? How many times have we left a cavity a bit too long only to need an “emergency” appointment because of all the pain? How many times have people ignored minor infractions only to see them became major ones at some point?
You might ask, “How could the Jewish people have ever let the situation get so bad as to see the fulfillment of the curses?” It’s the same answer. It didn’t happen overnight, and perhaps not even over a single lifetime. The roots of the Holocaust have been traced back hundreds of years by secular historians.
It’s also the same reason why we’re allowing another such situation develop in our time. Sitting here today we barely notice how much things have changed over the last two decades. Sitting here today, we have little idea of how they’ll develop over the next few years. So this week’s parsha says that if you don’t get up and consciously improve the situation, then you can bank on the negative outcome. It’s that built in.
WHAT ARE WE really trying to do? The answer is actually the same on both a Pshat (simple) and Sod (Kabbalistic) level. We are here to create the Malchus Shamayim on earth. It’s the depth of explanation that differentiates the two.
It happens on two levels. The obvious level is what the Torah refers to here:
And you shall keep [them] and do [them], for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the eyes of the peoples, who will hear all these statutes and say, “Only this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” (Devarim 4:6)
Through this you will be considered wise and understanding in the eyes of the peoples. (Rashi)
Last I checked, we weren’t doing so well with this. We weren’t very high on the international respect meter. If millions of Jews do not believe Torah is from God, then how can we expect billions of gentiles to believe that it is? And if even those who do believe it is from God don’t always act as if it is from God, then how can we change any of this?
The other way is deeper and doesn’t need others to acknowledge what we have done. Every time a person does a mitzvah as a mitzvah, they learn Torah as Torah, it draws the light of God into the world. It doesn’t matter if it is in public or in the privacy of your own home, because it has the same effect. The light is drawn down and enters the world, and another spiritual brick is placed in the wall of God’s malchus.
Over time, when enough “bricks” are in place, a “wall” will eventually become visible to everyone. All of a sudden, the reality of God will become more real to more people, as if something was put into the air to make people think differently. And when all such walls have gone up, the Kingdom of God will be over the entire land, and all of mankind will accept Him as their king too, as it says:
God will be King over the entire land. On that day, God will be One and His Name will be One. (Zechariah 14:9)
In a sense, that is what the Heavenly Court is going to look at on Rosh Hashanah, how many “bricks” each of us made and put in place during the previous year, or the opposite because of our sins. We are spiritual bricklayers in the building of the malchus of God on earth, from the moment we get up in the morning until we go to sleep at night.
In Moshe Rabbeinu’s generation, “Whoever is for God, come to me,” was a cry to rally the troops against the perpetrators of the golden calf. In subsequent generations, God asks, “Who is ready to help Me build My kingdom on earth and achieve My plan for Creation?”
The way we live each day is our answer to that question. How we perform a mitzvah answers this question. How we pray answers this question. How we spend our time answers this question. Are we most interested in sanctifying God’s name, or our own?
We should be asking ourselves every morning, “How can I bring more of God’s light into the world today? What can I add to His malchus?” Develop this kind of consciousness and the rest will follow quite naturally.
Thursday night shiur: The King Has Arrived. Write to: [email protected] for the link.
Ain Od Milvado, Part 18
ONCE UPON A time, you could deal with anti-Semitism in the United States by writing to your senator. It didn’t matter that you were Jewish, or even an Orthodox Jew, or which group of Jews you were a part of. If you were an American citizen who paid taxes, you were treated equally and usually got results.
But history has changed and so has the United States of America. Anti-Semitism is very high once again, and many of the attitudes of today’s secular society do not align with Torah values as they once did. Certainly, the influence of the Arab world on the American mentality has been a big cause of the shift as well.
We could look for additional reasons, and they are probably real. But the most “real” reason of them all is that God has changed the direction of history to change the direction of the Jewish people. He thinks only in terms of exile and redemption, and if we’re not moving in the direction of one, then we have to be moving in the direction of the other.
So if a major newspaper has decided to publish an Op-Ed about Chassidish Jewry that makes Jews look bad, it is time to pay attention, not write to your senator. This is not a message from the newspaper, and not even from the US government. This is a message from God…a warning from Heaven of where things are going so that we can make arrangements accordingly now, while it is still possible. Fighting for fairness and equality at this stage of exile is not only futile, it is a negation of Ain od Milvado.
The Jewish people have gone into many exiles, and they have all come to an end. Part of anticipating the arrival of Moshiach is living daily with the reality that the current exile will also end. Part of being loyal to God is being loyal to redemption, and that means anticipating it at every turn of history, and between each turn as well.
It has often been said that the best time to leave a party is at its height. If you wait for things to quiet down, it will dampen the entire experience. If you leave while the party is still quite lively, you will leave with that memory instead.
Why is it that we insist on living in exile until we can’t any longer? Because we stop seeing exile as a function of the will of God, and therefore subject to His timeline. If exile is just a random reality, then who says it has to end? But if exile is God controlled, then you have to know that it has to end, and will the moment God says so. And when major newspapers start looking for ways to reduce the respect of Jews, it is a clear sign that the divine will is bringing an exile to an end.