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Prayerbook Vocabulary Studies
August 22, 2006
© Rabbi Jack Moline

(Thanks for your patience while I was away on vacation for two weeks)

The biggest obstacle to our understanding of prayer is this simple word melekh which means "king." The reason is the place we live the United States of America and its revolutionary influence on the world. Our country was founded on the principle of overthrowing the divine right of kings. We live in the anti-king country. The only kings we know are cartoons, music icons and dogs. And we have no equivalent.

What is the replacement symbol for absolute power, with the ability to be beneficent or malicious? Dictators are presumed to be evil. Presidents and prime ministers are deposed by elections or unpopular decisions. No other word captain, manager, director, general, commander conveys the virtually limitless power that kings (and sometimes queens) wielded for thousands of years of human history. The mighty Roman Caesar, who was translated into Kaiser and Czar, is now merely a salad.

So when we see this word "melekh" in our prayers in its various forms malkhut, yimlokh, malkhei-ham'lakhim its meaning is in the past, an undesirable and quaint concept relegated to burgers and apes.

What can replace in our minds this notion of limitless authority to command and discharge? Like most of our notions of the spiritual, we have to look within. What is it that animates your life, that drives you to succeed at the task you choose? Is it a desire for power, for money, for knowledge or for fame? What urge within is so potent that you will sacrifice and set aside the things you love to satisfy its call? When you find it, you understand the word melekh.

Without that understanding, we pray to nothing.

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