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The King is in the Field

Rabbanit Netta Lederberg

Director of the Matat-Carmiel Branch of Midreshet Lindenbaum

The Hasidic expression, “The King is in the field” [Hamelech ba’sadeh], is often used when describing the month of Elul, a month of repentance and mercy in which there is extra closeness between God and His creations. What is the meaning of this imagery of a king in the field, and what is its significance?

This idea was originally expressed by Rabbi Shne’ur Zalman of Liadi, better known as the “Alter Rebbe,” the founding spiritual leader of Chabad-Lubavitch, who explained the reason for this special closeness during the month of Elul:

“It is comparable to a king who returns to the city, and when he passes through the fields on his way to the palace, anyone who wishes may get close and greet him as he passes through the fields. This is important, because once he is in his palace, entry is only possible to those with special permission. So too, during the month of Elul, all go out into the field to greet the King as he passes through.”

On the one hand, Elul has an apparent disadvantage: it is a month of great concern and trepidation in which “even the fish of the sea tremble” in anticipation of the coming Days of Awe. But these feelings of apprehension can be transformed into an advantage and opportunity, when Elul is perceived as a month in which great closeness between God and His creations prevails.

The concept of “The King is in the field” makes it possible for us to approach Him and become closer to Him, and we all know that “love covers all transgressions” [Prov. 10:12]. When the King sits aloof on His throne, similar to a human king in his palace, one has limited access only, and anyone wishing to approach must pass through various gates and undergo numerous checks in order to be allowed entry.

The leitmotif that runs throughout the month of Elul is that a disadvantaged time may be transformed into an opportunity, if only we are able to understand that the situation is a starting point from which we can move forward.

The ability to understand the secret embedded in that which is flawed and imperfect as a potential source of advantage enables  one  to  accept human life as it comes — with all its fluctuations and constant changes — with the firm belief that God  is Infinite and Omnipresent even in what seems to be lacking and disadvantaged. In that sense, God is, indeed, “in the field.”

Rebbe Nachman of Breslev wrote that it is best to turn all thoughts and philosophies into prayers. In that spirit, “God, please let me know how to transform the disadvantages and imperfections of my life into advantages and opportunities, and a gate through which I can pass to become closer to You.”

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