Malkhut / kingdom / Shekhinah: the final week of the Omer
June 01, 2011
We're entering the final week of the counting of the Omer: the week of malkhut. Malkhut means something like kingship or kingdom -- in a gender-neutral term, sovereignty.
The "kingdom of God" may be a term more comfortable for Christians than for liberal Jews. When we hear it, many of us think of The Lord's Prayer -- "for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory" -- and these don't feel like Jewish ideas to most of us. But they are Jewish ideas! We use these words in our liturgy every day (though in Hebrew, so they don't push the same buttons for us which may be pushed by the English terms of Christian liturgy.) And these weeks of the Omer have been a journey through these facets of God. Glory -- that's tiferet, week three. Power -- that's gevurah, week two. And kingdom is malkhut, the week we're beginning now.
Malkhut is deeply associated with the Shekhinah, the immanent indwelling divine Presence of God which is understood as feminine. Jewish tradition has attached all sorts of symbolism to malkhut and Shekhinah -- there's a partial list of associations, among them the matriarch Rachel, the wellspring, the bride, the apple orchard, the garden of Eden, and Shabbat, here at Jewish Virtual Library. (For more on Shekhinah, I recommend Rabbi Jill Hammer's beautiful teaching The Shekhinah at Tel Shemesh.)
Some teach that malkhut is the only sefirah we can truly access. Divine emanation streams from the limitless ein-sof (the most transcendent part of God, that which we can neither conceptualize nor encounter) through the ten sefirot, spiraling down in a chain of blessing and being modulated and transformed as it flows. Only when it reaches malkhut has it been gentled into a form which won't blow out our spiritual circuits. We can't connect directly with the higher sefirot, but we can connect to malkhut. Malkhut is divine immanence, God to Whom we can relate.
Some associate malkhut with the world of speech. Jewish mysticism teaches that God created everything through speech (and our liturgy tells us that God continues to speak the world into being even now.) Malkhut is associated with oral Torah -- the aspect of Torah which is spoken rather than written, interactive rather than static. This is a week to ask, how does my speech manifest God's kingdom on earth? Do I use words wisely and well in a way which helps me to serve something greater than myself?
In the last line of the aleinu, which Jews recite at the end of every worship service, we pray for the day when we will see God's presence permeate creation, l'taken olam b'malkhut shaddai, to heal the world with God's sovereignty. Malkhut is what we experience when we experience God's greatness reverberating and emanating from within creation itself. And this isn't power-over which damages: this is sovereignty in its highest form, sovereignty which heals and repairs all which is broken.
This is a week to ask, how can I experience God's presence in creation? Can I relate to the divinity immanent in all things? How do I feel about accepting God's sovereignty -- if that's an uncomfortable idea for me, what internal work might that inspire me to do? What can I do with the tension between malkhut as kingship (power from beyond creation) and malkhut as Shekhinah (immanent presence within creation)? What does malkhut mean in my life this week? And how might this week, the culmination of seven weeks of counting, prepare me to receive revelation on Shavuot?