Monday, September 25, 2006

Deconstructing Rosh haShanah

Why me? Why can't I just stop thinking too hard. It makes me miserable, and I feel like I am an idiot, 'cause I don't think anyone else thinks about these things...

One of the key concepts of Rosh haShanah is the concept of Kingship. This has been drilled into me over and over again. Why was RH the sixth day of creation and not the first? It's obvious - you cannot have a king without subjects, and man was created on the sixth day, so this was the first opportunity for G-d to be crowned king.

Except it is completely non-obvious to me. This is similar to my problem with the analogy of the heavenly court. I understand that, for whatever reason, G-d wants us to explicitly acknowledge his dominion over us. Actually it makes no sense to me, because my idea of G-d is very similar to the Rambam's (as I understand it). Why does G-d need our acknowledgement? I don't think that it is even possible to talk about our relationship to G-d outside what were specific mitzvot from the Torah, where we were told explicitly how to worship G-d.

But kingship is such a huge problem for me. It is so human a concept. And so flawed. For one thing, do you really need subjects to be a king? I mean you could be a deposed king living in exile. Does this mean that as long as there are some potential subjects that can be subjugated, you can be called king?

Also, kingship to me connotes so many negative aspects that I can't imagine why we'd bring up this imagery. For one thing, it seems clear from the Tanach, that G-d really didn't want us to have a worldly king and was rather disappointed when the people clamored for one. If one of the concepts of the Yomim Noraim is not to bring up self-incriminating events from the past, then why would we stick that in G-d's face, so to speak?

Also, kingship implies multiplicity - there has never been a king that ruled the entire world. Kingship implies intermediates - a king is usually surrounded by nobility and such, who often vie for the throne. In my mind this invokes images of Mt Olympus, not the G-d of the Torah.

I am guessing that well meaning commenters will tell me that non of it is literal, it is all allegorical, and there is all sorts of symbolism that is behind this that I just need to learn about. Perhaps they are right. However, to me a metaphor that confuses more than helps is a bad metaphor.

And don't get me started on Remembrances...


Blogger kishnevi said...

don't think of kingship.
think of Monarchy. Mon-archy--sole rulership. Everything is subject to His Will.
Man was made in His image; that is, we were allowed to have our own independent will. Up to that point, there was nothing that could, on its own initiative, subject itself to His Will: we alone can make it our will to follow His Will: which is one way to formulate the essence of teshuvah.

September 25, 2006 9:09 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Thanks, Kishnevi.

BTW, are you from Kishinev?

September 25, 2006 9:51 PM  
Blogger Tobie said...

I was thinking over Rosh Hashana about the different meanings of kingship over the years. I mean, the 18th century philosophers had an understanding of monarchy that is absolutely nothing like the one that would have existed back in the Bronze Age. So the question is really what does it mean when we say that Hashem is the King? Does it imply only obedience on our part? It probably includes the fact that He has absolute power over our fates and destinies, but does it include any commitments or responsibilities on His part as well? Is the role of judge automatically included? Is the role of warrior? Is the role of provider? Should we answer these questions based only on the meaning of the word in Tanachi times, or include the relationship as it evolved? Was it even the same over the entire Tanachi period?

...Not that I actually have any useful answers to these questions. Sorry.

September 26, 2006 4:26 AM  
Blogger Shoshana said...

I think there is a big difference between what a king SHOULD be and how kings have actually acted throughout history. I think the point of Rosh Hashanah is that Hashem is the king that SHOULD be - He watches out for us, ensures our safety, battles for the good of His people. And in return, we follow His rule. Just because kings have fallen way short of these ideals doesn't mean that our King, Hashem, also has to. In fact, I believe that this is the model that kings of our nation (and that the kings of Israel) were supposed to emulate.

I think it's difficult to reconcile an all-powerful king who rules over all, with the idea that He is also supposed to be a loving, caring father to each one of us. It's a huge jump from ruling the land to individual care and support, and knowing what is going on with each and every one of your constituents.

September 26, 2006 6:10 AM  
Blogger B. Spinoza said...

I don't know if you saw my post about this topic, but I certainly don't take it literal

September 26, 2006 7:38 AM  
Blogger B. Spinoza said...

I just saw the last line of your post:

>However, to me a metaphor that confuses more than helps is a bad metaphor.

That's a good point.

The fact is the idea of God has changed over time, so I think it may have been understood literally at one point or another. But there may have always been more philosophic inclined people who didn't understand it literally but used it as a metaphor.

I guess it used to evoke a certain emotion of reverence among people because they could relate to a real king in their lives. Today we have no real king so it's hard to relate in the same way

September 26, 2006 7:51 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...


I think b.spinoza's last comment crystallized what I am trying to say.

September 26, 2006 1:08 PM  
Blogger kishnevi said...

My grandparents were from Kishinev; they came to the US in the early 1920s, and ended up with an extremely AngloSaxon name. Eventually, I chose Kishnevi as my nom de Net after using it as part of my Hebrew name. (x ben y ben z haKishnevi).

It wasn't until a few years ago that I discovered that my grandparents, although they almost certainly witnessed parts of it as young children (roughly four or five), never mentioned the Kishinev pogrom to my father or his siblings. In fact, my father and uncle, whose Jewish education was, shall we say, a bit limited, never even heard of it until I asked them what they had been told about by my grandparents. I had to give them the story!

September 26, 2006 9:27 PM  

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