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Rabbi Ariel Yeshurun - Rosh Hashanah 5770

Dear Kehila,


Shanah tova umetukah!

There is a very significant theme on Rosh Hashanah that is constantly reiterated throughout the service. That is the theme of MALCHUYOT.

MALCHUYOT is the plural of the Hebrew word for MALCHUT which means kingship. In essence MALCHUYOT is the declaration on Rosh Hashanah that HaShem is king.

But why is it in the plural tense? Is there more than one kingship?

One may answer this question by saying that this refers to the entire nation of Israel, and, therefore, MALCHUYOT is a public acceptance and acknowledgement of the unique kingship of HaShem. One can even argue that this is nothing but a grammarian issue associated only with word choice or at the most a prosaic related phraseology and writing style. Yet there is something far more profound hidden here; something that transcends syntax, or the romanticism of poetic intricacies.

This word actually spells out what we are to focus on during Rosh Hashanah. The phrasing is exact and very deliberate. The plural tense is in fact intentional and purposeful.

There are two types of kings. HaShem and you.

On Rosh Hashanh our task is to declare G-d as king over ourselves and the universe but we must also declare ourselves as kings over our miniscule cosmos of inclinations.

It is not enough to pledge loyalty to HaShem by reciting archaic verses and by making empty confessions. We must be able to control our desires, rule over our urges and dictate the ethical standards through which we can grow and refine our characters. We need to take charge and be ‘kings’ so we can govern our ways and employ all means possible without succumbing to social pressure, behavior norms or other foreign distractions.

Furthermore, one declaration of kingship feeds off, or better yet, is a function of the other; for if we do not exercise the power of king to rise above the pulling force of the mundane, then in what way can we authenticate our previous declaration that G-d is king? How is He king if we do not accept His mission for us; if we are not His faithful subjects?

One cannot be king if one has no subjects. We are G-d's subjects and our inclinations are our subjects. We are expected to facilitate our lives in a way which allows our subjects to be expressed in a permissible manner just as an enlightened king would govern his country by creating a system that will permit the manifestation and participation of all layers of his society to work in harmony in order to bring about the building of a strong economy, military, educational institutions etc..

This idea finds common ground with regards to the definition of another Hebrew word; the Hebrew word for warrior- GIBOR, which is voiced in the 'Ethics of the Fathers' in Ch. 4:1. There the great rabbis of the past, the holy Tana'im, declare: "Who is mighty? He who subdues his personal inclination, as it is said: 'He who is slow to anger is better than the warrior, and a master of his passions than a conqueror of a city'."  Note the completely different approach the rabbis take concerning the nature of a warrior. A word we would closely associate with physical strength and tangible muscle power is interpreted here to be of a different kind; that of a man conquering his bodily tendencies, arresting his relentless urge to sin, and seizing his impulsive craving which persuades him to give in and allow his predilections and proclivity to dominate.

Actually the word GIBOR does not even translate as warrior. In reality it comes from the word LEHITGABER which means to overcome.
  
But how will man attain that level? How do we overcome and conquer?

In order to answer this question it is important to share a quite simple observation with you and that is if one is able to exercise strength of mind one will find it easier to be in control over his body. Furthermore, beyond control which is associated with subjection, one will feel harmony, because, although mind and body are, to a degree, two opposites, nevertheless, if balanced they synchronize perfectly and actually serve one another. Think about it. It's pretty straightforward. The healthy body provides the mind with the physical energy necessary to continue thinking, exploring, wondering, learning and understanding and, in turn, the healthy mind maximizes the ability of the body to produce, harness, utilize, and at the end administer this energy in the most efficient and economic way possible by cognitively dictating the right diet, prescribing just the right amount of sleeping hours, preventing it from risks, prioritizing one’s actions by giving precedence of expression to the necessary in a hierarchy fashion, compartmentalizing one’s decisions by organizing the ‘chaos’ in his head, creating healthy habits and proper routine, and ultimately maneuvering one to focus on what is right.

Moreover, the Rabbis, in the Ethics of the Fathers, clearly understand and acknowledge that Man is mortal -- his span of life is limited; his knowledge and powers are circumscribed. But, nevertheless, and despite the fact that there is a tendency to deprecate man, humanity can overcome.

Man is the crown of creation, the glory of his Maker in Whose image he was designed. Man, like all other animals, may inevitably become dust and ashes -- but man is distinguished from all other animals by his intellect. Whereas animals live by their instincts alone, man uses intelligence as well. It is true that much of which the human being does is instinctive; yet the intellect plays a very important role in shaping his character and personality; he is a mighty king and warrior who can rule his natural drives.

So here you have it! Declare your mind king over your body as you would G-d over yourself.

As we approach these auspicious times of the High Holidays, thoughts of resolution should enter our minds. I wish I could say, on behalf of every single human being, that G-d has granted all of us a wonderful year of life and has kept us alive and well until today. Unfortunately, I can’t say it because some of us have struggled this year with financial setbacks, some were faced with health issues and yet others were challenged with various pressures and uncertainties. 

But perhaps we could rephrase and say that G-d has graciously given us so many chances to improve and G-d has given us so many happy moments in the past and gives us in the present. Perhaps we should stop and reflect on the good times and view the not good times as means of HaShem desperately reaching out to us and calling us back.

In closing, let us look ahead and go beyond. Let us come closer this year, accept each other without prejudice, work towards a common goal and strengthen our community’s future.

As King David yearned so do we:

“HaShem oz le’amo yiten, HaShem yevarech at amo baShalom.”

 

Ruhama, Avneri, Akiva, and Tamara all join me from Baltimore in wishing you a
Shanah tova!

Ariel Yeshurun

Rabbi

 

 
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