One of the recurring themes of the upcoming Rosh Hashana holiday liturgy is the enthroning of God as king/sovereign. There is a whole section of the service titled Malchuyot, traditionally translated as ‘Kingship’, and more modernly as ‘Sovereignty.’ The central concept of the section is that, every year on the first day of the New Year, we re-coronate God as King/Sovereign over our lives, our world, our universe.
We Americans are not used to ‘king’-talk. This nation began as a rejection of the idea of a single person holding power over the wishes of the majority of the people. From a colonial system based on sovereignty vested in an individual, our founders established a system in which sovereignty was vested in the people. In theory, at least, our constitutional system vests sovereignty in the people.
So what is a ‘sovereign’? The sovereign is the entity (person or group) in whom supreme and ultimate authority to govern is vested.
Based on our conversation in our Sunday Chat about God, it seems appropriate to recognize God as Sovereign. One of the attributes of god-hood in general, as we discussed, is that God is – or gods were – the central element in the lives of the people.
One of the ways we talked about for understanding the God concept, especially when we are trying to get past the many anthropomorphisms of the Bible, is that God can be, among other things, a label for that bundle of values and ideas by which our Jewish tradition encourages us to live our lives.
And when we look at these two concepts – ethics and values important to how we live our lives, and enthroning of God at the center of our lives – then it makes perfect sense to combine them. We can now understand the Malchuyot prayers of the Rosh Hashana liturgy as metaphor: once again, we mindfully put our ethics and values at the very center of our lives. We ‘enthrone’ them as the source of how we live our lives.
This is a very good example of what can become a general rule for our finding meanings in the Bible and the liturgy that we haven’t found before. So much of it doesn’t work for us when we try to understand it literally. But when we take it as metaphor, it can suddenly make a lot of sense, and bring new and powerful meanings to our lives.
Thus, Rosh Hashana becomes one of the many tools that our tradition provides to us for waking up from our daily routines, and remembering that we are human being, created in the Divine Image, and partners with God in bringing order out of chaos, in completing the ongoing process of tikkun olam, fixing a broken world and completing Creation.