For the Jewish people, the High Holidays are a time for introspection and self-evaluation. We are encouraged to examine our thoughts and actions over the past year with the goal of refining our relationships, and if necessary, making amends with others, with our Creator, and with ourselves. This process culminates with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Not surprisingly, the 10 days encompassing Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are know as Aseret Y’mei T’shuvah (the 10 days of repentance) – we are invited to return from the route of negative energy and dissonance to a path of positivity and harmony.
Avinu Malkeinu – juxtaposing God’s role as “our parent, [and] our monarch” is a prayer that appears frequently throughout the High Holiday season . Rabbi Reuven Hammerin his Or Hadashcommentary on the siddur traces the origin of this prayer to the 2ndcentury sage, Rabbi Akiva. According to the Rabbinic legend, on an occasion during which a drought threatened the community, all prayers remained unanswered until Rabbi Akiva uttered, “Avinu Malkeinu have mercy on us for Your Name Sake.” As our liturgy developed over the ages, several stanzas were added to the prayer. Ismar Elbogen, the great authority on Jewish liturgy points out that several versions of this prayer ranging in size from 22 to 44 verses can be found. Not surprisingly, Avinu Malkeinu is also recited on fast days.
As is indicated above, the prayer Avinu Malkeinu presents a paradox: as a Monarch we expect God to Judge us for our actions according to the law but as our Parent, we expect God to act with mercy and compassion. We learn from this that each of us has the potential to develop our own unique relationship with our Creator. Rabbi Hammer points to the Sifrei, a Midrasnhic (homiletic) commentary on the Book of Deuteronomy that resolves the dissonance of Aviu Malkeinu by noting:
“From a sovereign, who is far above the common person, one expects justice and a certain distance. From a parent, one expects love and closeness. Similarly, in our relationship to God we find both love and reverence. As the Sages put it, “We do not find love where there is reverence (fear) or reverence where there is love, except in relationship to God” (SifreiDeuteronomy” 3 2).”
This setting of Avinu Malkeinu by Max Janowskihas become extremely popular as Barbara Streisand recorded it:
(You may or may not hear this during the Kol Nidre service at Beth El)
Here is a translation of the version of the text that was set by Janowski:
Our Parent, our Monarch, hear our prayer,
Our Parent, our Monarch, we have sinned before You.
Our Parent, our Monarch, have mercy upon us and upon our children.
Our Parent, our Monarch, keep far from our country pestilence, war, and famine.
Our Parent, our Monarch, cause all hate and oppression to vanish from the earth.
Our Parent, our Monarch, inscribe us for blessing in the book of life.
Our Parent, our Monarch, grant unto us a year of happiness.
As we go through the process of the High Holidays, it if important to note that, Jewish tradition teaches us that on Rosh Hashanah, the world is created anew each year; thus leaving all of us with a the possibility of a fresh start and a clean slate. Avinu Malkeinu is an age-old encapsulation of our deepest desires that the New Year will be a year of goodness and blessing for all who inhabit the earth.
Shannah Tovah U’Mitukah
Best wishes for a good, sweet and Blessed New Year!