The King and Us
One of the findings of a recent Pew Research Center report about Orthodox Jews was that for the vast majority of them – are you sitting down? – “religion is very important in their lives.”
The study contrasts that with the situation in the non-Orthodox community, where only 20% of its members make a similar claim about themselves.
It’s all too easy for many of us to look down our noses at fellow Jews who express their Jewishness only on occasion, to consider them to have missed the point of the Jewish mission. Judaism can’t, after all, be “compartmentalized.” It is an all-encompassing way of life and needs to inform all the choices we make.
And yet, as always, there’s more to be gained by not looking at others but rather inward. Our Orthodox world, after all, “knows from” compartmentalization too.
There are, unfortunately, Jews who, while they wouldn’t ever dream of eating food lacking a good hechsher or of davening without a proper head-covering, seem in some ways to be less conscious of Hashem at other times.
How else to explain an otherwise observant Jew who acts in his business dealings, or home life, or behind the wheel, or the way he speaks to others, in ways not in consonance with what he knows is proper?
When we experience such dissonance, it’s not, chalilah, that we don’t acknowledge Hashem. It’s just that we tend to compartmentalize; we feel HaKodosh Baruch Hu’s presence in our religious lives, but less so in our mundane ones.
Some of us struggle to maintain a keen awareness of Hashem not only out of shul but even in it. We don’t always pause and think of what it is we’re saying when we make a brachah (or even take care to pronounce every word clearly and distinctly). We allow our observances, even our davening, to sometimes fade into rote. I’m writing here to myself, but some readers may be able to relate.
Many of us – certainly I – must sadly concede that when it comes to compartmentalizing in our lives, there really isn’t really any clear “us” and “them,” the Pew report notwithstanding. There is a continuum here, with some of us some more keenly and constantly aware of the ever-presence of the Divine, and some less so.
Obviously, Jews who are entirely nonchalant about religious observance are at one extreme of the scale. And those who are not only observant but think of Hashem and His will even when engaged in business or navigating a traffic jam are at the other end. But many even in that latter category can still fall short of the ideal of Hashem-consciousness, can compartmentalize their lives.
This is a thought that leads directly to Rosh Hashanah. The first day of a new Jewish year, the start of the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, is suffused with the concept of Malchus, “Kingship.” The shofar, we are taught, is a coronation call, and the concept of malchiyus is prominent in the days’ Mussaf tefillah. We might well wonder: What has kingship to do with repentance? The answer is: much.
By definition, a king has a kingdom, over which he exerts his rules. There is little escaping even a mortal monarch’s reach, and none of his subjects dares take any action without royal approval. All the more so, infinite times over, in the case not of a king but a King.
And so, we might consider that kingship (or, at least, Kingship) and compartmentalization are diametric, incompatible ideas. If Hashem is to be our Ruler, then there are no places and no times when He can be absent from our minds.
Rosh Hashanah is our yearly opportunity to ponder that thought and internalize it, to try to bring our lives more in line with it. To better comprehend, in other words, that Hashem is as manifest when we are sitting behind a desk, cooking or sending kids off to school as he is when we are reciting Shemoneh Esrei, as present on a December morning as He is during the Yamim Nora’im.
On Rosh Hashanah, we will all be collectively focused on “de-compartmentalizing” our lives, on coronating Hashem over all Creation. May the zechus of that effort bear fruit not only in our personal lives, but in history – may it lead, in other words, and soon, to the day when v’hayah Hashem l’melech al kol ha’aretz.
The above essay is based on an earlier one published several years ago.
© 2015 Hamodia
Another Rosh Hashana idea can be read in Haaretz, here.
An a Tablet Magazine podcast in which I participated this week can be heard here .
Have a wonderful Shabbos and a kisva vachasima tova!