According to Jewish mystics, throughout the month of Elul, HaMelech ba'sadeh - The King is in the field. The King of course, referring to HaShem, The Ineffable Name, The Mystery, Our Source, Our Sovereign. This sentiment is meant to convey a kind of divine availability in this great turning. God is right here with you, in your field (in your alley, as the case may be), in your midst.
But at face value, this is hardly compelling. What do we know of Kings or Rulers that would suggest we want them close by. In these times, this has echoes of martial law and undercover federal agents in our midst, demonstrating the far reaching powers of fascist governments.
But not just in our times. For all of time, Jews have strived to live in spiritual quarantine under conditions imposed by empire and emperor. And so, throughout rabbinic literature we find a genre of midrash that begs the question, In what ways is Melech Malchei HaMelachim, The Holy One, Sovereign of Sovereign Sovereignties, distinct from Melech Basar v'Dam - A king of flesh and blood (a political ruler, if you will)? This is a genre of midrash that has long held my attention. It is this theological conversation that has allowed me to be in ongoing relationship with The Holy Blessed One or Holiness itself.
One such midrash begins with a question (Yalkut Shimoni Psalms #700):
"Who is the King of Glory? (Psalms 24:10a)
Answer: The one who gives glory to those who are in awe of them, 'Adonai Tzeva'ot.' (Ps. 24:10b)"
Which is to say, what makes God different from a regular King?
God doesn't hoard the power and prestige. God shares their glory with those who fear them.
The midrash continues:
"How do we know this is true?
A king of flesh and blood: one cannot sit on their throne. But God sat King Solomon on his throne, as it says: Solomon sat on the throne of YHVH (I Chron 29:23)."
"A king of flesh and blood: one cannot ride their chariot. But God caused Elijah to ride their horse – since storms and whirlwinds are God's horse. As it says: God, in the whirlwind and in the storm is God's way, and the clouds are the dust of God's feet. (Nahum 1:3) and it says: Elijah rose in the storm (II Kings 2:11)."
The midrash goes on, but you get the idea. There is nothing that God has that they would not share with us. So when we say HaMelech ba'sadeh, what we mean is that the well of our resilience is nearby; our spiritual resources are even more available to us.
I bring you this text this week, as we read Parashat Nitzavim-Vayelech, the parsha in which we are taught, this thing, this thing called Torah, called Teshuvah, called G!D is not in the heavens. It is right here with you, in your very midst. It is intimacy itself. It is presence and connection. Do not think you need to travel far to find it. It is sheltering in place with you. In your heart and in your mouth.
May you take time this Shabbat to journey outside, to converse with the trees and the wind, to be present with your inner storm and to to hum in your heart the words of the Kedushah:
קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ ה' צְבָאוֹת מְלֹא כָל הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ
Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh Adonai Tz'vaot M'lo Khol Ha'aretz K'vodo
Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Name Above, The whole world is filled with G!D's Glory.
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.