Over the past two weeks, the world has been consumed with talk about the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, the longest living sovereign and former Queen of England who died after nearly 71 years on the throne. The preoccupation by hundreds of thousands of people from all different cultures, ethnicities, and countries with Queen Elizabeth’s death elicits curiosity when one considers the relative irrelevance of the British monarchy to most of them. In fact, fairy tales the world over have historically been built around royal figures, and children imagine themselves as princes and princesses, kings and queens, even in cultures and societies where there haven’t been monarchs ruling for centuries. What is it that we find fascinating about these characters that so enraptures even those of us who have never seen these people in our lives or had any real connection to royalty as a tangible, meaningful construct?
Aside from the obvious contributions of Western culture and media and, l’havdil, our own chapters in Jewish history detailing stories of kings and their kingdoms, there is also a psychological phenomenon underlying this fascination with royalty. The very existence of royalty, of the opulence, grandeur, and majesty of kings and queens, allows us to imagine such a life, and fills us with a sense of awe. In modern times, this fascination is similar to a more mundane obsession with celebrities in general; we are interested in the seemingly “regular people” who live their lives in the spotlight, whose wealth and fame and lifestyles surpass ours, despite their appearance as almost the same as us.
Yet there is a more substantive depth to this fascination, as well. It is well known that within the structure of the British government, the royal family serves merely as figure heads. Though the opinion of the queen – or king – always mattered, the ruling governing body has been led by the Prime Minister, rather than the identified sovereign of the time. The function of the royal family is in some ways more about the appearance of majesty, the feeling of being connected to something greater, something wondrous and untouchable and majestic that osmotically influences the people, the subjects of the kingdom. Identifying as citizens of a country where a king or queen reigns infuses one with a sense of purpose, duty, and dignity that one simply does not find in other places. If you know British people – or if you yourself are one – you know the kind of nationalistic gravitas to which I refer. The monarchy is as much about the majesty of its rulers as it is about instilling this sense of dignity and self-possession in those over whom they rule.
L’havdil, one of the most common metaphors in Jewish thought is that of G-d as King, and we the Jewish people as His children, princes and princesses. Every good Mashal starts with the words, “this can be compared to a king who…”. This allegorical imagery is common for obvious reasons, of course - Hashem truly is King of the Universe, Sovereign over all that is, was, and ever will be. And there is no day that this idea rings truer for the entire world than Rosh Hashana.
On Rosh Hashana, the main Avodah of the day is not repenting, or asking for forgiveness, or atoning for our sins. The liturgy barely covers the basics of praying for our livelihoods, health, or happiness in the coming year. The primary focus of the day is not on any of these matters, but on coronating the King. The month of Elul has been a time in which “HaMelech BaSadeh,” the King is in the field. Hashem comes down, so to speak, from His elevated place and dwells more intimately among us, giving us a chance to reconnect with Him, to get to know Him, to be reminded of His place in our lives and in the world as a whole. If we have taken that time to give this concept its due consideration, if we have familiarized ourselves once again with the tremendous benevolence, generosity, omnipotence, and power that is G-d, then we approach Rosh Hashana ready and yearning to be subjects of the King of the Universe. And this is the goal of the day.
If we are to coronate Hashem as King, however, we must recognize that this inherently requires a readiness to be His subjects. And being part of His Kingdom, being representatives of His monarchy, requires more than just a distant, passive curiosity, or a detached fascination. Perhaps that is adequate for the rest of the world, who also answer to G-d’s decrees. But for us, for His children, for members of the royal family, so to speak, this is insufficient. Being Mamlich Hashem means recognizing that if the Ribono Shel Olam is our King, and we are His children, then by extension we, too, are a majestic people. The power of Rosh Hashana is that it can unlock our inner majesty and reconnect us with the very essence of who we are – royal, dignified, honorable, worthy of being directly affiliated with the One and only longest reigning Sovereign on earth.
This Rosh Hashana, we may approach this task with fear, trepidation, and awe, but we must also do so with joy, and with pride. To be granted the opportunity to connect with our inner majesty is tremendously humbling and awe-inspiring. For in being given the chance to say, ‘Hashem I choose You as Ruler over my life, over my destiny,’ we are also inherently saying, ‘I am ready, willing, and able to be a dignitary of the King.’ Whether we embrace the metaphor that we are ourselves royal, princes and princesses, or the idea that we are Hashem’s chosen nation, and as such, His loyal subjects, either way the result is the same. By crowning Hashem as King this Rosh Hashana, we similarly elevate ourselves to our rightful, lofty positions in His Kingdom.
With this renewed commitment to Hashem’s Kingship, we also renew our connection to our true identity. Only then can we approach Hashem to ask for a year filled with all of the Bracha and bounty we need to be the best royal subjects we can be. May we be able to embrace and accept Hashem’s sovereignty over our lives and our futures this Yom HaDin, and as such be granted a year filled with health, success, clarity, peace of mind, growth, and connection on all levels. K’siva v’chasima tova!