The king is in the field

Jewish tradition emphasizes that the month of Elul is a special time of Divine good will and mercy.

Painting Cohen blowing shofar in Holy Temple 370 (photo credit: (Courtesy The Temple Institute))
Painting Cohen blowing shofar in Holy Temple 370
(photo credit: (Courtesy The Temple Institute))
Jewish tradition emphasizes that the month of Elul is a special time of Divine good will and mercy – a time that is particularly conducive to prayer and repentance. Actually, the month is part of the preparatory process for entering into the awesome judgment of Rosh Hashana and the cleansing power of the Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. God makes Himself especially close at hand.
This is a time marked by critical, scouring soul-searching.
An extreme reality check is intended to guide us, through prayer, introspection and serious character examination, to a highly rarified level of sobriety and personal honesty.
The sages of Israel emphasize that although a person can repent at any time of year, this is a time that is especially conducive to repentance and making amends: “Seek the Lord when He is found, call Him when He is near” (Isaiah 55:6) is an allusion to Elul.
A popular rabbinic teaching describes the reality of the Elul encounter as “the king is in the field.” The analogy is to a great king who pays a surprise visit to his subjects while they are at work in their fields.
For the average man (or woman), the king is inaccessible, away in his palace, distant and removed.
He never dreams he will actually see the king, let alone speak with him. Then suddenly, one day, while this man is bent over his menial labor in the field, he feels a gentle tap on his shoulder, he turns around and to his shock, it is the great king himself who is standing over him.
The analogy of the king who can now be found “in the field” conveys the essence of the basic human need for an interface with the Divine which finds so much expression during the month of Elul.
What is this field? On one level, it is simply the playing field of life; the stuff of our everyday experience.
But on a deeper level, the field is none other than Mount Moriah, the Temple Mount ….
“the field which the Lord has blessed” (Genesis 27:27). This is the location of the Holy Temple, where each and every human being is truly called upon to refine and redefine his relationship with the King of the Universe. Abraham called it a “mountain,” Isaac called it a “field” and Jacob called it a “house.”
The Temple Mount is the center of creation, the original field of dreams – the place where God's dream for man is destined to come true: “For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7).
If Isaiah has it right, God's dream is far from being fulfilled.
Even the Roman emperor who destroyed the Temple still permitted the Jews to return for Tisha Be’av.
But this year the Mount was closed to Jews on that solemn day, and over the past two weeks, in an unprecedented and unlawful move, the government of Israel completely closed the Temple Mount to all non-Muslims.
Citing tensions caused by Muslim worshippers arriving at the site for Ramadan, the police reverted to their timehonored template of rewarding the extremists and punishing the victims: instead of prosecuting or even reprimanding the Ramadan agitators atop the Temple Mount, who bullied and intimidated Jewish visitors to the Mount, the site was simply closed to all non-Muslims.
Recent revelations indicate that this came about at the personal behest of Jordan’s King Hussein, who insisted that the Temple Mount be free of Jews during the Islamic holy month. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu acquiesced to these demands.
The king may be in the field, but some of His loyal subjects have been locked out. A great deal of attention is paid to the Women of the Wall’s demands for the right to pray. But what of the right to Jewish prayer at our holiest site? Elul is indeed the time for repentance – on an individual, national, and global level.
And the science – or rather, the art – of “repentance” isn’t about just moving away from “sin,” from negativity; true repentance is constant, daily spiritual growth.
Within the heartbeat of all creation, a feeling of thankfulness and humility is beating in unison, in constant awe and wonder of the greatness of the Creator. This is the promise of mankind’s future, to be experienced together in the Holy Temple.
During this month of Elul, Israel would be well-advised to examine her neglect, disdain and abandonment of the “field which the Lord has blessed” – the Temple Mount.
The writer, a rabbi, is the director of the international department of the Temple Institute in Jerusalem which seeks to highlight the universal significance of the Holy Temple as a house of peace and prayer for all nations.