Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The King is in the field

I am not one for vivid dreams - or, really, any kind of dreams.  But for some reason, here in Elul, I have now had three extraordinarily vivid "King in the field" dreams. 
What is this concept?
Basically, in the month of Elul, God is very, very close to us indeed.  We finish the book of Eichah on Tisha b'Av with the words "return us to you, Hashem, and we will return."  In other words, meet us halfway.  This month is the fulfillment of that promise.  Turn towards Him, and He will do all the work - bringing you home again.
The analogy is of a king - once a year, the king goes out into the field to meet with his populace and take any kinds of requests, however ridiculous.

Within most of the theology I've read, there are two "God-concepts" - the God who is immanent (this means near; not to be confused with the near-homonym imminent, which means "coming soon").  This is tangible God - He is palpably everywhere.  The other concept is transcendent God - He is above creation; separate and controlling.

Christianity reconciles these two concepts, obviously, in the two "persons" of the holy spirit and JC, who was literally a person down here on earth.

In Judaism, I believe the two are interwoven more organically and perhaps more enigmatically; it can be tough to find both.  As Manis Friedman has pointed out, we find both in matzah, which is called "the food of faith," an oxymoron if I ever heard one.

And Elul, which is a time of great immanence.  Avinu Malkeinu, our father, our king, we cry out every day (well, those of us who try harder than cottage-me does...). 

(And it's interesting, by the way, that this time of awakening, the literal daily shofar-blowing of Elul, arrives at what may be the spiritual low point in our year, a time when many of us are semi-literally "slumbering," slothfully, blissfully, floating down the river on our literal or figurative air mattresses.)  (literal for me, thanks!)

Avinu, malkeinu - our father, our king.  A father we can run to, hug, kiss, cuddle.  So I'm told, having been fatherless for nearly 4 years now (and a wonderful teacher once said in a class  that it is okay to think of our own fathers, present or not, who were so like God to us in childhood).  So a father, but also a king - unapproachable, powerful, issuing irrevocable decrees.

In the story of Esther, she's afraid to approach the king because she knows that, since she's uninvited, he can will her instant death for entering without permission.  We have to believe that Hashem surely is that kind of king - the Awesome kind.

But as it says in megillas Esther "she found favour in his eyes" and he reached out his sceptre to her and she lived.

Rabbi Wolkenstein, a wonderful teacher and rabbi who taught at Aish HaTorah in Toronto for not long enough, once said in a drash that the word for favour, "chein" (with a chhhhh like challah) is not just the same as "liking" somebody.  It is the kind of look a parent gives a child - indulgence, whether they deserve it or not.

Elul is Achashverosh, reaching out his sceptre.  Elul is Hashem, coming "down" to our level, in a sense, reaching for us as His children.  He is very near and His forgiveness is ours for the asking.  Let's make the most of it.

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