Saturday, October 24, 2015

Melech Ha'Olam - King of the Universe

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

I've been thinking a lot about the word melech, so common in our Jewish prayers. G!d is described in our blessing formula as melech ha'olam, literally, as “King of the World” or of the Universe.

I have long found the concept of King to have little meaning for me in terms of my prayer life, and I know many others who feel the same way. Often translations try to soften the negative impact while maintaining the true meaning of the word by using English words such as “Ruler” or “Sovereign”. These, too, do not mean a lot to me. Especially not in the context of prayer.

Recently I decided to confront my smoldering discomfort head on. I began to search. I looked up melech in one dictionary, and then in another and another. I checked multiple dictionaries from different time periods in the development of the Hebrew language. I checked Biblical, post-Biblical, and modern dictionaries, as well as in an etymological dictionary. I also looked in an English dictionary, learning more about the specific meaning of Sovereign.

My research proved instructive.

The word melech has the connotation of supreme power. A melech rules alone, and the role is inherited. There is no democratic procedure involved.

From the etymological dictionary I learned that there are two different 3-letter Hebrew roots for melech. One has the meanings so far discussed. The other has the meaning of “counselor.”

Taken all together, these various meanings began to make sense of the word melech for me.

G!d as a supreme power. G!d as the only one with that supreme power. Nobody choosing which god will be G!d – G!d just is. G!d as my counselor, the one who guides me.

All of this fits with my understanding and experience of G!d. I have never liked to say what G!d is. I find that impossible to do, and I tend to feel that trying to explain G!d automatically diminishes G!d, for our words cannot begin to express what is so vast and yet so tiny, both through space and through time. Yet, in my heart and soul, I know that G!d's presence is hovering within me and around me. And with these new understandings of the word melech, I also envision G!d – melech ha'olam, King of the Universe – hovering, encircling, holding the entire Earth, the entire Universe.

Strengthened by new understanding, a deeper meaning now resonates: Melech Ha'Olam – the one and only Source of all that is, encompassing time and space, present because, just because, there for me to tap into in order to find strength and compassion and wisdom and healing and courage.

This description of G!d works for me and has meaning for me. It allows me to open up my heart to formerly problematic words, melech ha'olam, and to embrace them as a rich addition to my prayer life.

I'm glad I took the time to check it all out.

© 2015 Katy Z. Allen All rights reserved.
Rabbi Katy Allen is a board certified chaplain and serves as a Nature Chaplain and the Facilitator of One Earth Collaborative, a program of Open Spirit. She is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long. She is the President pro-tem of the Boston-based Jewish Climate Action Network. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion. 

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