Rosh Hashana 5773: Contrasting The Supreme King, The Destitute King

by Moshe Burt

This Vort for the Chaggim starts out about nine days ago at Rabbi Barak Saffer’s home on Shabbos Parshat Ki Tavo. Rabbi Saffer, by the way, is Maggid Shiur at Yeshiva Mivaserret, just outside Yerushalayim. Along with Rav Saffer’s family and this author were a few of his Talmidim from the Yeshiva. After dinner was concluded, Rav Saffer held a Tish with the the Talmidim and myself.

During the Tish, Rav Saffer cited a gemara as follows:

Yishmael ben Elisha Kohen HaGadol was in the Kadosh Kedoshim (Holy of Holies) on Yom Kippur. And Hashem, Kovei’yokhel (as He was), spoke to him asking for a Brakha. A Brakha? How does Hashem, our Creator, the Ruler of the World who sustains everything, animate and inanimate mili-second by mili’second — How does Hashem need a Brakha from man? And there is even another gemara which comes down hard and disparagingly about one who would utter a statement “All good men will bless You!” Hashem “needs” our Brakhot? But there is another understanding regarding Hashem’s request of Yishmael ben Elisha Kohen HaGadol as the latter served Hashem in the Kadosh Kedoshim on Yom Kippur. That understanding is: Hashem wants, needs to hear the Tefillot of the Kohen HaGadol, on behalf of His Treasured Nation — Klal Yisrael, in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. And He wants and needs to hear the fervent tefillot and Teshuva of Kol Klal Yisrael. But anyone who reads this author realizes that there’s much more to this story.

Fast-forward to the Rosh Hashana Mussaf Tefillah just before Unesaneh Tokef, Melekh Elyon (The Supreme King). In eleven stanzas, the attributes of The Supreme King are noted.

Then, suddenly, Melekh Ev’yon (Artscroll Rosh Hashanah Makhsor, Pages 476-477):

“Melekh Ev’yon (The Destitute King) who withers and descends to the grave, to the pit and the nether world fatigued without satisfaction — how long shall he reign?”

“Melekh Ev’yon (The Destitute King) sleep darkens him, deep slumber shrouds him in darkness, the void blackens him — how long shall he reign?”

I the context of the Tefillah, do we understand that “The Destitute King” also refers to Hashem? How can that be? How can we refer to our Creator, the Owner of All, the Ruler of the World who sustains everything, animate and inanimate mili-second by mili-second in this way? This author intiated some lively discussions in Shul on Melekh Elyon/Melekh Ev’yon before Mincha.

Artscroll’s explanation of Melekh Ev’yon (The Destitute King) (Artscroll Rosh Hashanah Makhsor, Page 476):

The destitute king [i.e. man] Having described Hashem’s greatness in lyric terms, we contrast to it man’s utter limitation. The word Ev’yon derives from Avah, desire, because an Ev’yon is so poor and helpless that he desires everything.

Sleep darkens him. Man cannot function for long without sleep, which itself makes him helpless. How then, can he fail to acknowledge helplessness before Hashem?

If we are contrasting Kings: Hashem, The Supreme King, with man, the use of the word Melekh, i,e, Melekh Ev’yon (The Destitute King), then seems to contrast between Kings, i.e. Hashem and earthy Kings, Heads of States. Lacking spirituality, the Earthly King, head of state — politician, is so poor and helpless that it seems that he desires everything and everything is fleeting and changeable. And this fleeting and changeability represents lack of satisfaction with one thing, so substitute it with another — man-made laws. As that famous Shakespearian line goes, “fair is foul and foul is fair, creeps from this petty pace from day to day.” Man-made laws and doctrines are changeable so, thus we could seem to understand why Hashem assigned 70 melakhim as intermediaries — 1 to each of the 70 primary nations while He holds a direct link to Am Yisrael.

But there is another understanding of Melekh Ev’yon. That it DOES refer to Hashem, that while we, the B’nai Yisrael, are in Galut, that Hashem Kovei’yokhel (as He was), is in Galut as well bereft of his bride, of the B’nai Yisrael, his chosen people. For it is we who remaicollectively distanced — sequestered from Him by way of our deeds, speech, thoughts, internal discord and disunity, as well as lack of spirituality. Yes, Hashem is our Creator, the Ruler over All of the Universe, but might He be destitute, bereft because of our continuing sins?

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard and the other MIAs be liberated alive returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage, backbone and moral stength of conviction to prevent both the eviction of Jews from their homes in all or any part of Eretz Yisrael and the handing of Jewish land over to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima — the Ultimate Redemption bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem, Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim” — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos Shuva! May You, All of My Brothers, Sisters, be Sealed, for Year of Life… Now and Always!

Moshe Burt is an Oleh, writer and commentator on news and events in Eretz Yisrael. He is the founder and director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network and lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.