I have just returned from an amazing 10-day tour China. In a future issue, I plan to go into greater depth about the experience, but I want to share a thought I had there that is relevant to the month of Elul.
There are so many impressions, but perhaps the most prominent for me was the way that the Chinese venerated their emperor. The evidence of this reverence permeates China’s ancient relics. For instance, the massive Tiananmen Square (100,000 visitors a day; over half a million total capacity) was originally nothing more than a plaza leading into the enormous Forbidden City, the place where the emperor and his family lived (and which was so named because it was forbidden to commoners). Together, it took us two hours just to walk through Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. All this for one man!
This is but a single example. Chinese veneration of the emperor is so deeply embedded in their culture that even decades after the last emperor was deposed, in 1911, Mao Zedong, founder of Communist China, was worshiped like an emperor despite the fact that he uprooted everything imperial China stood for economically, politically, religiously and socially. The one thing that survived into Mao’s China was the absolute power of and veneration for the leader. Consequently, Tiananmen Square even today is dominated by huge pictures of Mao — despite the fact that he caused the deaths of 40–70 million Chinese!
The Chinese veneration of Mao is an artifact of a culture that for well over 2,000 year saw the power of its leader as absolute.
Witnessing this and other examples how the Chinese tend to revere the highest – even most corrupt – human authority, it struck me that perhaps China looks the way that the world would look if Avraham Avinu had never defied Nimrod; and if Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah had never defied Nevuchadnezzar; if there had never been any Jews, people willing to sacrifice their lives for the idea that man is not God.
Ultimately, this Chinese veneration for their leaders reminded me of the teaching by Chazal that there is a mitzvah to go see a visiting king and his entourage, because as honored as he is, the honor shown him is only a pale echo the honor that will accompany Mashiach when he arrives.
Elul is the time of the year we prepare for Rosh Hashanah, the day we are mamlich HaKodesh Baruch Hu, the day we coronate Hashem as king. It is a time when we clean up our acts and prepare the throne of our hearts for His entrance. It is a time for us to reinforce the awareness that no matter where we are, He is there. His is a true kingship, and it is our task to acknowledge that verbally and viscerally.
May these words imbue this Elul with special meaning as we prepare to receive the King of Kings into our lives.