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    Melech Elyon – The Supreme King

    Religious poems (piyyutim) liven all the Yom Kippur services. They generally use complicated allusions to Biblical and rabbinic material, but their message is unmistakable.

    They often compare the greatness of God the Supreme King and the littleness of man the Lowly King. The piyyut, Melech Elyon (“the Supreme King”) is a vivid example.

    The text in the Yom Kippur prayer book is abbreviated; the translated version given here is closer to the original.

    Why many prayer rites omit most of the “Lowly King” lines is that Jews were often accused of lack of loyalty and respect to the monarchical figures of the European kingdoms and principalities.

    Whether this accusation is valid is uncertain; what is beyond doubt is that many of the temporal rulers and church potentates that the medieval Jews encountered were lacking in integrity and ethical character.

    Supreme King: God On High, mighty above, lifting His strong hand –
    He reigns forever
    Lowly king: decays, descends to the grave, toils without pleasure –
    how long can he reign?
    Supreme King: keeps His word, decrees and fulfils, reveals secrets –
    He reigns forever
    Lowly king: weak with disease, speaks nonsense, sees nothing –
    how long can he reign?
    Supreme King: speaks truth, clothed in justice, hears cries for help –
    He reigns forever
    Lowly king: loves wickedness, does evil, inborn transgressor –
    how long can he reign?
    Supreme King: recalls forebears, defends mankind, berates enemies –
    He reigns forever
    Lowly king: thinks and forgets, soon forgotten, sins noticed –
    how long can he reign?
    Supreme King: lives eternally, ever good, spreads out the heavens –
    He reigns forever
    Lowly king: his days are handbreadths, his time is grief, born useless –
    how long can he reign?
    Supreme King: robed in light, all heaven’s lights, mighty and luminous –
    He reigns forever
    Lowly king: brought down to the dark valley with clods and thick dark –
    how long can he reign?
    Supreme King: forever rules, reveals secrets, gives speech to the dumb – He reigns forever
    Lowly king: moves briefly, troubled by disease, mind confused –
    how long can he reign?
    Supreme King: endures all, from old bearing all, seeing all –
    He reigns forever
    Lowly king: transient, passing, eyesight dim, earth heaping up –
    how long can he reign?
    Supreme King: glorious power, mighty in deeds, redeems and protects – He reigns forever
    Lowly king: his stench ascends, his filth and dirt cover him –
    how long can he reign?
    Supreme King: His flaming angels move the waters, close to them who call in love – He reigns forever
    Lowly king: wrapped in worms, dank and dry, flashing water and fire –
    how long can he reign?
    Supreme King: ever awake, His serene angels fill their mouths with praise – He reigns eternally
    Lowly king: sleep hovers and overcomes him, confusion besets him –
    how long can he reign?
    Supreme King: mighty forever, always glorious, His praise everlasting –
    He reigns eternally

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