Kings have been in rather short supply in recent generations.
Of course, there’s still the Queen of England. She has a crown, a throne, a palace, guards, ladies-in-waiting-the works. Theoretically, she can even dismiss her parliament and start issuing decrees. But we all know that she’ll never do that.
The great kings we remember from our childhood storybooks had majesty. They evoked fear, but also love. Their subjects trembled before them, but they wanted to tremble before them. There was lots of pomp and ceremony, but the pomp and ceremony meant something, represented something real. The crown on their head looked like it belonged there.
The Kabbalah teaches us that Rosh Hashanah is the festival that emphasizes the universal, rather than the distinctly Jewish, aspect of our mission in life. The essence of Rosh Hashanah is that it is the day on which we crown the Creator king of the universe, and the Shofar, the ram’s horn sounded on Rosh Hashanah, represents the trumpet blast of a people’s coronation of their king.
Unless you’re particularly religious, “G-d” is probably not a word that you use comfortably. Add to that “king of the universe,” and that’s enough to make a modern person squirm. When we go to the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, most of us would not think of it as attending G-d’s coronation.
But let us contemplate for a moment what it is that we are missing in our lives. Why is it that we still yearn for those kings of our childhood world?
True awe seems to be a word of the past. With a click of the mouse, we purchase a meal, a house, find a job or a marriage partner. What is much more difficult to find is a source of authority in our lives.
There are, of course, plenty of people out there who are prepared to tell us what to do, including many who, given the opportunity, would force us to do what they are telling us to do. But that’s not authority, any more than Saddam Hussein was a king.
And we can, of course, appoint our favorite psychologist, pundit or fashion guru as the authority in our lives. But in the final analysis, that’s just another form of take-or-leave-it advice. It’s not the authority we need and crave, any more than the Queen of England is a king. It’s nice and beautiful and impressive, but at the end of the day, we’re left with the same hollowness inside.
True authority is not something imposed upon us, it is something to which we submit wholly and unequivocally because we recognize it as the voice of our deepest self.
On Rosh Hashanah, we devote two days to the search for the voice of authority we so deeply crave, for the king of the universe we have been seeking since our childhood. But don’t look for it in the synagogue, in your prayer book or in the rabbi’s speech. Look for it in your deepest self: in the things that no one has to tell you, because you already know them absolutely; in the commitments to which you willingly submit, because you recognize them to be expressions of, rather than impositions upon, your true will.
The synagogue and rabbi are here to provide an atmosphere where you will be in the company of many others conducting the same search, seeking that same core of truth and source of awe.
When the Shofar sounds, close your eyes. Imagine yourself in the midst of a jubilant crowd that has gathered to celebrate the coronation of their king. Hear the trumpet blasts that express the awe and joy of a people submitting to an authority that embodies their own deepest strivings and aspirations-the surrender to the inner you.
Levi Cunin is the rabbi of Chabad of Malibu.