Perhaps it’s time to reimagine the King metaphor—much more like that of the Sabbath Queen—simple and clear. Golden.
Every Shabbat we anticipate the arrival of the Sabbath Queen, recalling the mystics of Safed who walked out into the afternoon light on Friday afternoons to greet her. The Queen is in the field. She is walking through the vast open space to be with us, each week bringing love and comfort, blessings and peace.
We sing: “Lecha dodi, come, my beloved.” The Queen is in the field. We bow as she makes her metaphoric entrance. The Sabbath Queen brings a taste of the world to come.
In Elul, the King is in the field. So taught Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad. The King’s place is in the royal palace. To speak with the King, an individual must go through bureaucratic channels, gain approvals, journey to the capital, pass through the castle and be entirely prepared. But there are times when the King comes out to the fields. Anyone can approach to be received with care and compassion.
The King meets the subjects where they work the land. To the King we call out, “Avinu Malkeinu, Our Father, Our King,” and we ask for the blessings of sustenance, life, and health.
In large part, the metaphor of the Queen was shaped by the people, reinforced with song and poetry arising from kabbalistic mythology. It’s comforting, clear, and straightforward. The metaphor of the King was shaped for us in Torah in hard, graphic detail. It’s complicated and messy.
The Torah portrays three manifestations of the archetypical King. The “Golden King” sees and blesses, setting forth a vision of a prosperous and secure realm. We’re given freedom, a path to holiness, and a covenant. The Torah also reveals God as a “Tyrant King,” full of wrath, lashing out at transgressions, punishing wrongdoers and enemies with a hot passion. At times, God becomes the “Abdicator King,” abandoning the role of rock and protector, allowing evil from the outside to plague the people and the land, making space for a foreign tyrant king to trouble us.
Both the King and Queen metaphors carry the issue of anthropomorphism. Both tend to make God into a reflection of our own desires. In truth, both metaphors are only partial expressions of the many expressions of the Indivisible One. They are inseparable.
The King metaphor also comes with a history of anger, violence, misogyny, tyranny, and abdication. War. Suffering.
Perhaps it’s time to reimagine the King metaphor—much more like that of the Sabbath Queen—simple and clear. Golden. Imagine a King who comes in Elul to encourage our labor, the work to improve ourselves as the Days of Awe approach. Imagine the One who wants us to renew our Jewish hearts, our Jewish souls, and our true selves. Imagine a King who empowers our journey, providing guidance and comfort. This is El Melekh Ne’eman, the Faithful King, the Sovereign Loyal God.
Here’s the reward. Four times a year—on every Shabbat in Elul—we can imagine the King and the Queen coming to the field together. What love. What power and grace. They are equals, yet different. In balance. They bring blessings. Both radiant. Both glorious. Together.
This year, they’ll first enter the field together with the arrival of Shabbat Rosh Hodesh Elul, the festival of the new month. We add Ya’alleh Ve’Yavo to our prayers, declaring “ki el melekh hanun ve’rahum attah, for you are a gracious and merciful God and King.” As the Days of Awe approach, we remember that the divine attribute of din, law and judgment, is suffused with rahamim, compassion and mercy.
The Queen and the King remind us to sow righteousness in the world with the sacred feminine and the sacred masculine. Both are in each of us. The King sees us at work making better lives. The Queen brings the gift of Shabbat, of rest and peace.
Queen and King
Come in peace,
Beloved of Israel,
Bringing sweet bread
And fine wine.
Come with grace,
Sovereign and loyal,
Meet us in the fields of our days.
Our Father our King,
Bless us with renewal.
Source of Life,
Show us the wells of living waters.
El Melekh Ne’eman,
Bring your realm of prosperity.
Let the glory of Shabbat dwell with us.
Let the hope of forgiveness enliven us.
Let the taste of rest comfort us.
Let the promise of renewal sustain us.
And we will glimpse the world to come as you bless us.
And we will become strong and humble in Your Word.
The Queen is in the field.
The King is in the field.
They have come together,
To bless us,
To see us,
To sustain us
With their sacred power.
Greet them with music,
Greet them with dance,
Loving and keeping the Sabbath,
Doing the work of prayer and repentance,
With Torah and mitzvot,
With humility and passion,
And with songs of praise.
“Queen and King” © 2016 Alden Solovy and www.tobendlight.com.
Author’s Note: Special thanks to Rabbi Bob Carroll and Rivkah Moriah for their thoughtful comments. The description of R’ Schneur Zalman’s use of the King metaphor is adapted from Chabad.org. The translation of El Melekh Ne’eman as “Sovereign Loyal God” is from the Nehalal Siddurim.
Alden Solovy is a Jewish poet, liturgist and teacher whose prayers have been used by people of all faiths around the world. The author of Jewish Prayers of Hope and Healing, his nearly 600 new prayers appear in multiple anthologies, prayer books and websites. His work can be found at http://tobendlight.com/. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Photo by Alden Solovy.