Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Elul 28: Seeking the Right Metaphor for God

Sometimes, the traditional way of understanding God just doesn't work for me.

Although God is not frequently described as a king in the Torah, that image is featured heavily in the Prophetic works and everything that follows.  The ancient rabbis found the concept of God as King appealing, because it spoke to their yearning for a Jewish order in a world where Jews lived only in exile.  The Jewish kingdom was found in the heart and mind, not in the earthly Jerusalem, and the one true King was eternal, everywhere and yet nowhere.

As such, God's kingship has always resonated especially powerfully on Rosh Hashanah, when we invoke the symbol of God as Sovereign Ruler again and again, implicitly and explicitly.  Not only do we recite ten verses about God's kingship in the Musaf Amidah, but we also physically prostrate ourselves before the King, we chant special piyyutim (intricately-crafted liturgical poems), and we even change certain berakhot in the weekday liturgy during the rest of the Ten Days of Repentance to reflect God's role as King.  And then there is the whole Book of Life overlay, which sees God as dictating the annual verdicts of each of us during this time.

And yet, portraying God as King simply does not inspire me to seek forgiveness or prostrate myself or whatever.  Perhaps this is because, as an American, I have never been the subject of flesh-and-blood royalty.  Somehow, the idea of God as democratically-elected President or Speaker of the House simply doesn't cut it.

Or perhaps it speaks to my general discomfort with traditional theological approaches.  Regardless, it makes my task harder on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when the liturgy relies so heavily on kingship; I have to find the right metaphor.

Still working on it.  Will let you know.  Meanwhile, if the vision of God as King works for you, use it.  If not, find an image that does.

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