Artist: Claude Lorrain (Claude Gelée)
Our tradition uses such a wide variety of images and metaphors to describe God. During this season, we allow ourselves to imagine God in majestic terms. We imagine ourselves approaching a sovereign ruler, recognizing our own smallness and our own humility. Here, the artist depicts the biblical Queen Esther approaching her husband, the King, to plead on behalf of the Jewish people. At this season, we imagine ourselves in Esther’s shoes, using our voices to request mercy and compassion.
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Judaism’s understanding of God is multitudinous, with infinite metaphors implemented to comprehend that which is beyond comprehension. Avinu Malkeinu asks us to see God in two starkly different ways simultaneously. God is presented as both a parent and a sovereign ruler. We pour out our hearts to a God who is compassionate, intimate, grand, and powerful, all at the same time.
Mishkan HaNefesh, Rosh Hashanah p. 138
This text focuses on a small but meaningful High Holy Day adaptation in the HaMelech prayer. It is a prayer which we do not recite in our regular Temple Israel tefillah, which makes this stirring depiction of God as a ruling sovereign all the more vivid and impactful for these Days of Awe.
MAJESTIC GOD, TODAY ENTHRONED המלך יושב על כסא Throughout the year, this prayer describes God as HaMelech hayosheiv -- literally, "the Sovereign who sits [on a throne]." On Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, the wording changes to a dramatic proclamation: HaMelech yosheiv -- literally, "the Sovereign is sitting [on a throne]." This small and often unnoticed change evokes the immediacy of God's presence of the Days of Awe. These words announce: "Court is now in session"; on this day, we are summoned before the Sovereign of the universe who sits in judgement of our deeds. Like all human images of God, this one cannot be taken as a literal description. Yet it conveys the sense we share with our ancestors that we are accountable for our actions, responsible to a Power beyond ourselves.
Excerpts from Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe © 2015 are under the copyright protection of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and used by permission of the CCAR. All rights reserved.
אֵיפֹה הָיִיתָ בְּיָסְדִי־אָרֶץ הַגֵּד אִם־יָדַעְתָּ בִינָה׃
מִי־שָׂם מְמַדֶּיהָ כִּי תֵדָע אוֹ מִי־נָטָה עָלֶיהָ קָּו׃
עַל־מָה אֲדָנֶיהָ הָטְבָּעוּ אוֹ מִי־יָרָה אֶבֶן פִּנָּתָהּ׃
בְּרָן־יַחַד כּוֹכְבֵי בֹקֶר וַיָּרִיעוּ כָּל־בְּנֵי אֱלֹהִים׃
וַיָּסֶךְ בִּדְלָתַיִם יָם בְּגִיחוֹ מֵרֶחֶם יֵצֵא׃
בְּשׂוּמִי עָנָן לְבֻשׁוֹ וַעֲרָפֶל חֲתֻלָּתוֹ׃
וָאֶשְׁבֹּר עָלָיו חֻקִּי וָאָשִׂים בְּרִיחַ וּדְלָתָיִם׃
וָאֹמַר עַד־פֹּה תָבוֹא וְלֹא תֹסִיף וּפֹא־יָשִׁית בִּגְאוֹן גַּלֶּיךָ׃
הְמִיָּמֶיךָ צִוִּיתָ בֹּקֶר ידעתה שחר [יִדַּעְתָּה] [הַשַּׁחַר] מְקֹמוֹ׃
לֶאֱחֹז בְּכַנְפוֹת הָאָרֶץ וְיִנָּעֲרוּ רְשָׁעִים מִמֶּנָּה׃--- At the end of the Book of Job, God answer’s Job’s mournful plea for a fair trial with God. God answers Job’s call appearing in the form of a whirlwind, a powerful natural phenomenon, evoking the awesome mystery and creative power of the universe which in so many ways defies definition. God’s voice from amidst the whirlwind fills Job and his companions with hope; that even in the most uncertain tumultuous times, God has the power to appear and restore order. God points out to Job that the world exists infinitely far beyond Job’s chronological and geographical conceptions. God describes a tour of the known universe from its very beginnings highlighting God’s awesome power and challenging Job with rhetorical questions which remind the human that he is but an infinitesimally small element of the grander universe. And yet, God nonetheless speaks to Job, answering the call of the suffering individual. Majesty and intimacy in one moment, that is the awesome power of God.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]