Kingdom of Heaven

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Heb. Malkhut Shamayyim, the Rabbinic expression for the sovereignty of God as acknowledged by human beings; hence the frequent expression: ‘acceptance of the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven’. The Mishnah (Berakhot 2: 2) understands the reading of the Shema to be the ‘acceptance of the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven’. The kingly metaphor is found in the Bible in the verse: ‘The Lord shall reign for ever and ever’ (Exodus 15: 18) and in the verse: ‘And the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall the Lord be One and His name one’ (Zechariah 14: 9). Both these verses are recited at the end of the Alenu prayer which looks forward to the day ‘when the world will be perfected under the kingdom of the Almighty, and all the children of flesh will call upon Thy name’.

Solomon Schechter rightly detects three aspects of the Kingdom of God: 1. the personalistic and individualistic, the acceptance of the yoke, as when reading the Shema; 2. the universalistic, in which the establishment of the Kingdom over all is the hoped-for Messianic event; and 3. the nationalistic, in which the people of Israel is redeemed from subservience to earthly rulers to worship God in freedom. In the Kabbalistic doctrine of the Sefirot, the lowest of the Sefirot is Malkhut, ‘Sovereignty’, the divine principle by which the world is governed.

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.

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