Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 1 October 2016 / 28 Elul 5776

Avinu Malkeinu - Our Father Our King

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

Though the long year may take us to far-off places, like a son or daughter returning home we all seem to return to begin the New Year together with G-d. From Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur is one of the most special and intense periods of the calendar year. On the one hand it is a time of celebration and rejoicing. Yet it is also a time of great fear and trepidation – a time of Divine judgment.

On the first Rosh Hashana, life was given to Mankind. Yet on that very same day it was also taken away. And so, from that faithful day we are judged each year. Life itself, the most precious of gifts — though granted to many — will be taken from some. The “books” of the righteous and upright are opened. The books of parnasa and sustenance are opened. Will we merit G-d's favor, or will we be judged harshly as a result of our transgressions?

It is well known that during the Rosh Hashana and the Aseret Yemei Teshuvah, the Ten Days of Repentance, Gd sits as King on His throne of judgment. Now, if even a righteous tzaddik cannot stand before the King free of transgression, certainly we, the “common people”, should be fearful. Our very lives are weighing in the balance. Wouldn’t it be nice to feel the warn embrace of a loving father in this time of need? As we stand in judgment before “Hamelech Hamishpat ― The King of Judgment” who will hear our cry for help?

One of the well-known prayers recited during the High Holiday period is “Avinu Malkeinu”, “Our Father Our King. A father generally elicits emotions of love, while a king elicits fear and trepidation. Thus, the question arises, what is the purpose of referring to G-d as both father and king, two seemingly opposite ideas, in one statement?

G-d is our King, yet He is also our Father. So we call out to our Father in Heaven to be there in our time of need. In this way we hope to temper G-d’s attribute of strict judgment with love and mercy so that G-d will look at us with the loving eyes of a father as He judges us. The juxtaposition of father and king can thus be seen as representing a fusion of these two opposite attributes, with kindness and mercy dominating.

This is also why we blow the shofar during this time. It represents the cry of the heart, which is beyond words. Within the shofar lies the power to cause G-d to rise from His seat of harsh judgment, and sit on His throne of mercy, going beyond the strict letter of the law and judging us with favor and mercy. May we all merit G-d's warm embrace this year as we stand before Him in judgment. Amen.

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