Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 15 November 2014 / 22 Heshvan 5775

The Shemoneh Esrei - The Sixth Blessing - Part 1

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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The blessing of forgiveness follows immediately after our request for repentance (teshuvah). This is because it is not at all appropriate to ask forgiveness for one’s transgressions before first doing teshuvah. Would a spouse ask forgiveness without first saying “sorry” for his or her wrong doing?

However, once one expresses sincere regret over his transgressions, resolving not to repeat them, he can then ask G-d for forgiveness in the hope that he will be forgiven. For once one takes the initiative to repent, G-d will surely have mercy on him as scripture indicates, “Let the wicked one abandon his ways and the sinful man his thoughts, and return to G-d, and He will show him mercy” (Isaiah 55:7). From the verse we see the importance for one to change both his actions as well as his thoughts in order to truly be worthy of G-d’s complete forgiveness.

“Forgive us our Father... Pardon us our King…”

Why does the blessing first mention G-d as our Father and then as our King?

Since a father has a natural love for his son he is therefore always ready to forgive him. So we mention G-d as our Father in order to recall the great love and mercy He has for us as His children. Thus, even if one has betrayed G-d in the past, by turning to Him as a son he may merit G-d’s forgiveness.

In contrast to this, when one betrays a king he faces the potential for severe punishment. This may be so even if his actions were done accidentally, for according to the strict letter of the law one can be punished for even an accidental crime.

We thus appeal to G-d as our Father in order to awaken His love and care for us. Once we have been accepted by G-d we can address him as our King, since there is no longer the fear of being rejected.

According to the above, we can gain a deeper appreciation of the prayer “Avinu Malkeinu” (“Our Father, Our King”), which is said during the High Holiday period. One of G-d’s functions as King is to judge the world. This can be done through the attribute of strict judgment or through the attribute of mercy, as in the verse, “G-d (of Kindness), King, who sits on His throne of mercy, and deals with us kindly.”

In order to arouse G-d’s great love for us we refer to Him first as our loving Father; only afterwards do we address Him as our King. We are hoping that the result will be that He will continue to look upon us with love and mercy even in His function as King, thereby enabling us to gain a favorable judgment.

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