What Type of Seat Does God Sit In? / HaMelech Yoshev
Does God play musical chairs? When the prayer service arrives at "HaMelech" - the leader loudly chants the first word, "The King," in a distinct, ancient melody, as if announcing the arrival of a government official. In this prayer, God sits upon an "exalted and uplifted throne," but God is said to sit upon other types of thrones as well:
הַמֶּֽלֶךְ יּוֹשֵׁב עַל כִּסֵּא רָם וְנִשָּׂא: שׁוֹכֵן עַד מָרוֹם וְקָדוֹשׁ שְׁמוֹ. וְכָתוּב רַנְּנוּ צַדִּיקִים בַּיהוָֹה. לַיְשָׁרִים נָאוָה תְהִלָּה: בְּפִי יְשָׁרִים תִּתְרוֹמָם. וּבְדִבְרֵי צַדִּיקִים תִּתְבָּרַךְ. וּבִלְשׁוֹן חֲסִידִים תִּתְקַדָּשׁ. וּבְקֶֽרֶב קְדוֹשִׁים תִּתְהַלָּל:
The King Who sits on a throne [that is] exalted and uplifted. He Who dwells in eternity, exalted and holy is His Name. And it is written: “Joyfully exult in God, [you] righteous ones, for the upright, praise is fitting. Through the mouth of the upright, You are exalted, and with the words of the righteous You are blessed; and by the tongue of the pious, You are sanctified; and in the midst of the holy, You are extolled.
  • The Book of Daniel suggests that God sits on a number of thrones. The Sages of the Midrash (Tanchuma, Kedoshim 1:1) describe God's thrones as being exalted and uplifted above humankind on the one hand, and on the same level as the righteous of Israel on the other. In HaMelech, God judges from a high throne, but in other contexts, the Jewish people judge the world alongside God. Why do you think the rabbis who composed the Rosh HaShanah liturgy chose the image they did?
  • Right after HaMelech, the Machzor quotes from Psalm 33:1 that we exalt and sing for God. Yet, the Talmud (Rosh HaShanah 32b:22) says that Rosh HaShanah is a somber day because "the King is sitting on the throne of judgment and the books of life and the books of death are open before God." What emotions do you tend to feel on Rosh HaShanah? Does the image of God sitting before the open books inspire trepidation and fear, or opportunity and possibility?
  • Not everyone feels comfortable with the idea that God is a king who sits on a throne. When you imagine God, is God a friend, a lover, a family member, a therapist? If God sits somewhere, what kind of chair do you imagine God sits in?
Check out the Kings topic page to study how kings appear in Jewish sources.