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Thought for the Day: There is a King and There are kings and There are Kings

I once had a very distressing conversation with a lady who saw herself as in the Torah true camp, but more enlightened than the orthodox.  Her enlightenment came from having read English renditions of Kabbalistic writings.  Her thesis resolved around having very deeply and profoundly misunderstood the meaning of the Chazal: אין מלך בלא עם/there is no king without a nation.  Her conclusion was that god needed us; that is, she saw HaShem's מלכות as integral to His Beingness, therefore her conception of god needed a nation in order to have existence itself.  The eternality of he (her concept of god) was intrinsically bound with our own existence.

After some time of trying to disabuse her of the notion that HaShem's existence could have any dependency at all on another, the best I got was an admission from her that I was a worthy opponent.  I frankly didn't feel worthy at all; only a bit soiled from having let myself get drawn into that conversation at all.  I have since matured and don't enter such conversations at all.  Usually.  Hardly and all.  And I catch myself earlier. Sometimes.  sigh....

But... what does אין מלך בלא עם mean?  We do, after all, address HaShem as מלך and we make huge deal of proclaiming his מלכות on Rosh HaShanah.  So the standard line is that the dimension of revelation that is called מלכות does depend on have a nation that acknowledges and accepts Him as מלך.  That's where I was coming from in my ill-fated conversation above.  Problem is... a very popular "hymm" -- אֲדוֹן עוֹלָם.  What's the problem?  Instead of singing the first line, try reading it:
אֲדוֹן עוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר מָלַךְ בְּטֶרֶם כָּל יְצִיר נִבְרָא

Lord of the universe who reigned even when nothing had been created.
Whoops.  How in the world does that jive with  אין מלך בלא עם; regardless of how you understand the word/concept of מלכות?!

The Telshe Rosh in Shiurei Da'as explains: there are two kinds of מלכות.  There is the sort that is covered by אין מלך בלא עם.  That kind of king, in fact, is a slave to his nation.  He is only a king as long as they proclaim him king.  He must monitor his behaviors to ensure that his nation remains dedicated to him.

Then there is the King.  His מלכות means that he is completely in control.  He never reacts, He only acts.  There is, of course, only the one King: אֲדוֹן עוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר מָלַךְ בְּטֶרֶם כָּל יְצִיר נִבְרָא.

However, there is one more sort of king: עבד מלך מלך/the slave of the king is a king.  In other words, when one is wholly identified with and acts only on behalf of his king, then he is, so to speak, an extension of the king.  But עבד מלך מלך can also apply to an עבד השם.  One who dedicates himself to be identified with and act only for the sake of השם -- the ultimate (and only) King -- becomes a King himself.

That is the deeper meaning of the Chazal (Avos 6:2): The only one who is truly free is the one who is completely dedicated to Torah, mitzvos, and avodas HaShem.


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