By Yochanan Gordon
With Rosh Hashanah upon us, I’ve been thinking about malchus lately. In a previous column I mentioned the reason why we don’t mark Yom Kippur before Rosh Hashanah or engage in the act of repentance before coronating G-d as King for yet another year and that, too, had to do with malchus.
Malchus necessitates a nation. The word in Hebrew for nation is “am” from the word “omemus,” meaning obscurity. It is much more meaningful to G-d that our supplication for the renewal of His sovereignty comes from us in our present, unrepentant, and perceptually autonomous state than from someone who in his closeness to Him is not employing his own bechirah, or free choice, in seeking to crown Him once again in the coming year.
This led me to the Tikkunei Zohar, which states, “Malchus peh, Torah she’ba’al peh karinan lah.” Malchus is represented by the mouth, which is termed the Oral Torah. The reason that words are representative of sovereignty is precisely because they, in contrast to one’s thoughts, are external, distant, and seemingly autonomous from the mind in which they were formulated.
As a result, everything outside of the written Torah is termed the Oral Torah. Despite the fact that all Torah was given at Mount Sinai, there is the written Torah, which G-d dictated to Moshe on high, and then there is the Oral Torah, which we know as the Gemara, but really includes kol mah she’talmid vosik asid l’chadesh, meaning any novel Torah thought that was intuited by a young prodigious student, which similarly was given to Moshe at Sinai.
Having attended the Ishay Ribo concert this past Thursday evening at the Kings theatre in Brooklyn and having since then listened numerous times to the song that he concluded with, “Seder HaAvodah,” I noticed something quite interesting in the lyrics that is an amalgamation of the liturgy of Yom Kippur and a few words from the Rambam and the Gemara, which led me to a fascinating idea.
The kohen gadol begins by washing his body in a ritual mikvah and donning white garments. In the next stanza he sheds the white garments, immerses again, and dons golden garments. Finally, at the end of the avodah, after Yom Kippur comes to a close, the kohen puts on his regular garments—bigdei atzmo—as the nation along with the other kohanim would escort him to his house and participate in a yom tov on account of the people having achieved national atonement.
The detail that seemed so astonishing to me was that the yom tov was celebrated in the plainclothes of the kohen. A rite that ultimately began with the kohen removing his plainclothes for the white garments culminates with re-donning his plainclothes, which reaches a whole new level in the aftermath of Yom Kippur.
This is reminiscent of a story that is told over about Rav Moshe Soloveitchik, the father of the Rav, who, after Ma’ariv following Yom Kippur, exited the shul to say Kiddush Levanah and exclaimed that the Kiddush Levanah of motzaei Yom Kippur is incomparable to that of the rest of the year, in its juxtaposition to the atonement of lifnei Hashem titharu.
To me, the donning of the plainclothes of the kohen following the avodah of Yom Kippur symbolizes a Messianic reality of “kulam yeidu Osi l’miktanam v’ad gedolam.” A reality wherein Torah will emanate from within us just as water covers the seabed. It is in that light that I wanted to reflect upon Rosh Hashanah this year, not by citing scholarly or rabbinic sources, but rather just to share some of the thoughts that are circulating in my mind and heart. This is coming from a deep place in the core of my being—from the soul that G-d blew into my nostrils.
Every year consists of highs and lows—things we need to be so thankful for, reasons to celebrate, and, of course, all the events that occupy the opposite end of that scale in varying degrees.
Chazal established a blessing of “HaTov v’HaMeitiv” on good tidings and “Dayan HaEmes” on those events in our lives that at this point in time seem negative despite the fact that nothing that comes from G-d is essentially bad.
One doesn’t have to utilize long memory to recall a number of unfortunate occurrences that compelled the blessing of Dayan HaEmes on a level that we as a people haven’t suffered in quite some time. But we are an am k’shei oref and have grown thick skin throughout our exilic sojourn and we refuse, despite whatever it is that we are dealt, to cease loving and believing in the Creator of heaven and earth and the G-d of our forefathers.
But above everything that we have had to endure, there is a movement in the world at large to usurp and exploit us of the rights that we have been given as loyal citizens of this great country that has hosted us so graciously for hundreds of years.
It’s an attempt from people hiding behind science but who have been intoxicated by a level of power that they never before had or thought they’d be in a position to wield. It’s not just a matter of an overreach of power, which on its face is unconstitutional, a fight that can and will be played out in the Supreme Court. But it’s an issue that has impacted our ability to daven and learn as a community, which stands to repeat itself if the vaccine mandates of Dr. Fauci and his ilk are passed and upheld.
The Torah condones a child who denies the command of his or her parent to desecrate Shabbos. There has to be a line drawn so that despite the obligation to uphold the law of the land, we have the right to resist when those lines are crossed due to an abuse of power.
“It stands to reason that if we all collectively resisted, they could not possibly arrest us all,” stated Senator Rand Paul on YouTube to encourage his constituents and anyone who would listen to resist.
To be clear, this is not an argument against getting the vaccine. It is, however, an argument to protect the rights of all people to decide for themselves and their families whether or not to take the vaccine.
The notion that if people continue to mask and vaccinate it will ultimately lead to us beating this virus is a farce created by people intoxicated by their newfound power and authority in order to keep a tight grip on it.
Donald Trump, whose own administration is credited with having rolled out the vaccine in Operation Warp Speed, criticized the need for booster shots as a money-making operation for Pfizer, widening their already too-large pockets.
In a song that Ishay Ribo released in the initial stages of COVID-19, called “Keser Melucha,” the artist seeks to discover what it is that G-d is communicating to us in all this—how it is possible for us to remain physically apart but at the same time to be united until we give G-d the keser meluchah, the sovereign crown, which is a translation of the word “corona,” meaning crown.
And this is where I feel this discussion, and the endless attempt to stifle and control the world while the people who pass these laws can transgress them with impunity, intersects with Rosh Hashanah and our avodah of coronating G-d as King over the entire cosmos.
The very ability of elected officials to rewrite the law books and impose it upon a society is a perversion of the middah of malchus. Our liturgy is replete with usages of the term “meluchah”—“hamelech, ha’mamlich melachim v’lo ha’meluchah, u’malchuso ba’kol mashalah”—which calls upon us to renew our loyalty to Him and realize that our salvation is ultimately in His hands alone.
The Klausenberger Rebbe, Rabbi Yekusiel Yehuda Halberstam, zt’l, said that after losing his wife and 11 children during the war years, when he saw that the Americans came to liberate the camps and not Mashiach himself, his emunah suffered a great descent.
Here I turn to you, Aibershter, concluding with a prayer, to unite Torah with tefillah, and I beseech you on behalf of all of our people who have suffered so greatly in the past year to make this a much better year. Wives widowed, children orphaned. So many people have lost jobs and their ability to provide for their families. Children and parents alienated from each other, and our people divided and at each other’s necks on the merits and demerits of COVID regulations and the like.
There has been a certain refrain that has echoed through this seemingly unending exile when times have gotten tough, and that is: “Ad masai—until when?”
Until when must we endure the pain that sets in as a result of the distance that separates us in exile? The pain of not being able to see Your face and to realize Your hand at the backdrop of everything and the ultimate goodness within it all. I’ve analyzed that term and noticed that the term “masai” is a conjunction of the word “meis” and “yud.” Until when will it have to seem as if the name of G-d, represented by the letter yud, is dead in the world?
So we turn to you and ask that if we are not deserving of being saved, then act on behalf of Your great name, which is ridiculed in the world and by politicians who have sought to usurp Your authority in wielding their illegitimate power over people who don’t have the courage or backbone to fight it.
The disgraced former governor of New York clearly took a shot at You, Aibershter, when he took credit for all of his fabricated successes while blaming all the failures on You. Dr. Fauci, similarly, recently blamed the spread of the measles on the chassidic community who, he alleged, chose not to get vaccinated. Chazal tell us that all Jews are the apple of Your eye, “bavas eino shel HaKadosh Baruch Hu.” There is no difference then between Andrew Cuomo blaming You directly or Fauci or de Blasio turning against the Jewish community. And more than anything else it reveals what their true driving intention is—not our health or medical research—it is power.
We long for the day when, as we say in our liturgy, [You] rule over the entire works in Your honor, and remain exalted upon the earth in Your great beauty and appear in Your mighty pride upon all the inhabitants of the earth at a time when all creatures are aware that You created them, and all forms understand that You formed them, and everyone who has a soul in his or her nostrils will declare that Hashem the G-d of Yisrael is Melech and His kingship will reign over everything, very soon, in our days.
Wishing one and all a Kesivah v’Chasimah Tovah!
Yochanan Gordon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of Yochanan’s articles at 5TJT.com.