What’s the deal with “The king is in the field?”



An Elul Irony.

Despite being the month in which we begin the slow transition to a state of spiritual inwardness, one of the main themes of the month “the king is in the field” pulls us in the exact opposite direction, grounding us instead in our outwardness.

The loveliness of that idea lies in the way in which the “king” — freed from seeing us through the narrow one dimensional prism of the “palace” is finally able to observe us, up close, in our world. Freed from the “dehumanizing” view in which we exist merely as extensions of his will, he begins to see us for the complex individuals that we are. For the unpredictable humans that he actually intended us to be.

He honors our experience in the most unconventional way. The default “palace” lens would see straight past our outer behavior driven selves, directly to our inner “holy-good” soulfulness.

Or seen through the “palace” lens, we can imagine a protest of that behavior. Since it s difficult to imagine g-d saying it, I will have to borrow the protest language of G-ds second in command on earth — Jewish mothers. Anyone with a Jewish mother, or Bubbi has heard this line of protest — one that is entirely indifferent to circumstance.

“I packed you a good lunch, why didn’t you eat it?”
“What do you mean you weren’t hungry?”
“What do you mean you don’t like tuna fish, what normal person wouldn’t like tuna?”
“What do you mean you lost it?”
“What do you mean you gave it away, was it yours to give away?”
“Some one took it, why weren’t you more careful?”

Here, suddenly in ELUL — the lens gets changed.

Instead of the convenient, painless, detached approach of seeing us — in the ways he would like to see us, in the ways he sees himself — he begins to engage differently, daring to view us as we view ourselves.

Doing so involves a big step in our direction — toward an acknowledgement of our complexities, toward identifying with the pain of our repeated failures to live in the glow of our inner light — his light. Towards a reminder of his own original idea of us. A reminder of the original excitement and boldness of it. A reminder,as well  — that the rewards of its thoroughness, would come at a price.

He was well aware at the time, that these humans would not yield the same angelic instant gratification he was accustomed to from his obedient sycophant seraphic community, hovering obsequiously — proclaiming their servile, predictable “Kadosh Kadosh” devotion, at the snap of a divine finger.

Suddenly aware, reminded of all this, I imagine a celestial shuddering of realization of the terror and loneliness that we fight — all for his sake, perhaps even feeling a twinge of G-dly guilt.

Suddenly G-d sings a new tune. I’ m going back to the palace and I hope to see you there in a month at my coronation ceremony. I will embrace you in my palace as I see you now. I now realize that had I not made this visit, then the coronation would be fraudulent. In order for me to be your king in my entirety, I need to accept the entirety of who you are as my subjects.

I would have only been king over your success — your inwardness. I must be king over the fluid dynamic side of your outwardness as well.

You would have not been true subjects — subjecting only your inwardness to me, leaving large swaths of your actual life, without a king.

He must be king over your sadness as well.

Bringing all of our parts into the relationship, even the flawed parts, is better than leading a double life. G-d pretends to like our piousness, but deep down in his honesty he knows that there is a secret side of us that often rejects him, worshiping something else instead.

He knows that its that side of us that he really wants.

There comes a point where he can’t perpetuate the lie. Coming out to the “field” is g-d taking off his blinders, and “dealing.” Accepting what he truly needs and who we truly are are two sides of the same coin.

Here lies, perhaps the understanding of this paradox. In our Elul embracing of the messiness of our outwardness, we are indeed setting the stage to experience a more authentic and deeper inwardness, not in spite of our flaws, but because of them.

The somewhat psychotic compartmentalizing of our lives might help us deal in the short term, but is unsustainable in the long term.

The painful shining of a light on what works in our most important personal relationships, with our parents, siblings, spouses, children, and friends – as wells what doesn’t, or what could work given a little work, is ultimately healthier than keeping it shrouded in the dark.

The same principles must apply to the relationship between us and G-d. We must come to the “Palace” straight from the “field.”

In moving forward on our 60 day journey to greet our highest light, we must include all of ourselves, especially the imperfections of our outwardness.

If we are to accept the invitation to the coronation, we must journey there with the authentic fullness of both the inner and outer layers of our selves.

The “King is in the Field” — the way G-d meets us where we are, in the “fields” of the respective realities of our lives, achieves the dual purpose of alleviating our guilt, and incentivizing us to continue reaching higher, confident in our sense that our efforts and struggles have been duly registered.

Knowing that its ok that we are not always hungry for the goodness that he packed for us, and have even been careless and allowed for the “losing” of our precious soulfulness — frees us from our defense instinct, leaving us secure enough to play some much needed offense, to actually take a bite out of the goodness that g-d has packed into our souls, into our world.

The “king is in the field” is the kings admission that the “field” he put us in,the human awareness that he clothed us in, is precisely the reason we so often blindly allow the best parts of ourselves to be taken from us, or even willingly forfeited as we enable the very darkness that conceals our own desperately needed light, and willingly participate in the sabotaging of our own emotional freedom. Not exactly a “level playing field!”

Understanding that there is nothing “wrong” with us, goes a long way in motivating us to continue to try to grow, despite the repeated failures and setbacks of the past.

The 60 day journey through the months of ELUL and TISHREI is nothing short of a journey to our center, to our Kodesh Hakadashim, our inner holy of holies.

One of the most inspiring teachings of Judaism is how the holy Ark in the temple contained within it both sets of tablets.The second unbroken set of tablets alongside the fragments of the original broken ones.

As we endeavor to reach the Ark within each of us we mustn’t be surprised at what we see when we open the lid and peer inside.

We see flashed before us –

our highs alongside our lows,

our joys alongside our sorrows,

our successes alongside our failures,

our tears alongside our laughter,

We might even discern there the face of G-d, peering through the heady mixture of those ups and downs.

The large G-dly grin on that face, is an Elul smile, stemming — not from our perfect execution of his precious cause, but rather from the unexpected joy of new found intimacy. An intimacy stemming from a mutual honesty.

The ELUL paradox lies in the ironic way we come closer – through a mutual acknowledging of our distance, paving the way for the trust needed to actually begin the hard work required to lessen that distance.

Rabbi Yossi

About the Author
Rabbi Yossi Lipsker is the co-founder and executive Director of Chabad of the North Shore and spiritual leader of the Chabad Community Shul. He can be reached at