Sign In Forgot Password

What is the meaning of HaMelekh HaQadosh and HaMelekh HaMishpat?

09/25/2020 05:47:24 PM


Yosef Lopez

During the period of time known as Asereth Yemei HaTeshuva, or the 10 days of repentance, we modify our liturgy to reflect the solemnity of the season. Although many of the modifications are customary and can vary based on locale, one modification is universal, and if not recited correctly requires the person reciting the prayer to repeat the prayer from the beginning. This is a liturgical change in the third berakha of the `Amida known as המלך הקדוש, HaMelkh HaQadosh. In order to properly understand the meaning of the liturgical modification of HaMelekh HaQadosh, we must first understand the function of these words, and what is the intention behind the blessing. First, let us examine the blessing during the rest of the year. 

The Berakha in its entirety is recited as:


 אַתָּה קָדוֹשׁ וְשִׁמְךָ קָדוֹשׁ, וּקְדוֹשִׁים בְּכָל־יוֹם יְהַֽלְלֽוּךָ סֶּֽלָה: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יֹהֵוָהֵ, הָאֵל 


The ending of the blessing during the rest of the year recognizes God as “The Holy God”. El is the Hebrew word that signifies a deity of any sort, which is understood as a power in the universe.  Qadosh is often translated as Holy, and although this does serve the lexical function of the word, it fails to convey the value of the word in the Hebrew mind. When recited in a minyan, this berakha follows the Qedusha. The function of the Qedusha is the declaration of “Qadosh, Qadosh, Qadosh, Adonai Ssevaoth! Meloh kol HaAress kevodho!” In Latin, this prayer is referred to as the Sanctus or as the doxology. 


When we refer to our God as Qadosh, what is our intention of such a declaration? The Latin terminology signifies a sort of metaphysical state, a reality of inherent sanctity. An object can be inherently imbued with holiness, and relics are often blessed by holy saints, thus imbuing a mundane object with a state of holiness. The Hebrew understanding, however, views holiness as something that is distinct from something else. Qedoshim Tihiyu- “Holy you shall be”, and so are we commanded in the Tora. We understand this precept as a charge of separation from animalistic desires and whims. Additionally, this charge can be understood as a charge to embrace our individuality and the characteristics and talents that make us unique. Qedoshim Tihiyu- “You shall be unique!” This explanation was shared with me by my teacher, Rabbi Haim Ovadia. 


It seems then, that in our Qedusha and blessing, we recognize God as something wholly separate from, and unique to us. He is an El that is not like any other El. So with that understanding, what do we mean by “HaMelekh HaQadosh”? This phrase can be understood by comparing it to how the Greek philosophers related to the Deity. In Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi’s Kitab Al Khazari, or the Kuzari,  we are introduced to the Greek conception of the Deity and the Divine. Many Greek philosophies concerning the nature of the divine fall in line with our own philosophy.  For example, the ancient Greek philosophers assert that God is perfect in nature and doesn’t change. There is, however, a point that the Greeks make that distinguishes their methods and beliefs from our own. In the first essay, the Greek philosopher claims that although god exists, he is distant and unknowable. Not only is god not the creator of man, but he doesn’t hear our prayers or see our actions. Just as a man doesn’t know the inner workings of the thoughts of ants, so too,  god is unaware of the inner workings of man. In his Guide, Maimonides elaborates on Aristotle’s explanation of god’s involvement in the world. To the god of Aristotle, there is no difference between a ship sinking at sea, with all lives being lost and the destruction of animals in the food chain. All are insignificant in god’s world. 


Conversely, our blessing comes to reinforce our position which stands in stark distinction to the Greek position. We call God “HaMelekh”- a title of kingship. This is to upend the assertions made by the Greek philosophers. God is not merely a distant power, not only the Prime Cause but a political entity in our mundane society. In the daily minutiae of our lives, God is cognizant and present as a figure of authority.  But unlike those kings of the world, fraught with foibles, corruption, fallibility, and tyrannic tendencies, our King is wholly different. This is further signified by the ה. God is not merely HaMelekh Qadosh, God is the Melekh HA-Qadosh. We learn what qedusha is by learning it from our God. Unlike other powers of the universe, our God has shown His interest in humanity by not only taking an active role in history but by forming covenants with individuals and nations. 


This is further demonstrated by another modification of the liturgy:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ײַ, מֶֽלֶךְ אוֹהֵב צְדָקָה וּמִשְׁפָּט


This berakha praises God for loving righteousness and justice. However, during this time period, we change this to 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ײַ,הַמֶּלֶךְ הַמִּשְׁפָּט:


This praises God for being HaMelekh HaMishpat. Just as in the previous blessing, where we demonstrate our position that God is our Unique King, we declare here that God is the King who deals in true justice. Unlike other leaders, who when they dispense justice are fallible due to their own limitations of knowledge and insight, when God engages in mishpat, in the process of justice, it is done according to the truth. While the “justice system” of the United States, or any other nation, is in truth a legal system and not a justice system, God’s process is truly called justice. 


The wisdom of these prayers is truly inspiring. These modifications to the liturgy reassure us during what can be a time of great trepidation. We approach the Creator of the universe on Rosh Hashana, and we are inspected by the Judge who sees who we really are. According to the teachings of Hakham Ribbi Benssion Meir Hai Uzziel, this is when we dedicate ourselves to an ideal world, an ideal self. Despite our shortcomings, we aspire to a better world that is built after we come to terms with our own shortcomings. This is the process of Teshuva, which like other Hebrew words translated loses its value in English. Teshuva is a psychological and spiritual process that can only be achieved when we realize that God is not merely some distant power, but a constant companion in our lives.  Likewise, Teshuva can only be accomplished when we see ourselves bared honestly and truthfully before God, and also before our own selves. 

Update this content.

Fri, September 17 2021 11 Tishrei 5782