What does Avinu Malkeinu Really Mean?

Aryeh BenDavid
August 13, 2014
Share:email print

crown

As I approach Rosh Hashanah this year, I am wondering about one line in Avinu Malkeinu:

“Our Father, Our King, hear our voice, have great mercy upon us.”

Our Father. My father passed away suddenly last Erev Rosh HaShana. It is now one year without my father. A year of emptiness and mourning.

Our King. The name of God as King passed away for me a number of years ago. God has an infinite number of names. But I no longer pray to a distant figure of looming judgment.

The names – “Our Father, Our King” – scream out loneliness and abandonment to me.

But I continue – “Hear our voice, have great mercy upon us.” And I call out these words with complete sincerity and hope.

One of my mentors, Parker Palmer, once said to me that a person is only as deep as his or her deepest contradiction.

Life is much more complex than I will ever understand. Sometimes it is too great a challenge to make the pieces all fit together. Even my pieces.

In the same line of Avinu Malkeinu I feel both an intense loneliness and intimacy.

My father is no long in this world, yet he is very close and alive for me. My God does not dwell in distant judgment, yet I beseech God for help and mercy.

For me, Rosh HaShana is standing with my whole self in front of the Holy of Holies – in full contradiction.

All of me is here, in one messy whole, the epitome of a work-in-progress. I stand in front of God now in the full wholeness of many parts: My successes and my glitches, my strengths and my weaknesses, my clarity and my confusion.

Avinu Malkeinu – I’m not exactly sure how all of the parts of my mind, heart, and soul are supposed to fit together. The symphony of my soul is playing without a conductor. Please have great mercy upon me and help this year be a year of harmony and oneness. I have tried for many years to achieve this, but now I am turning to You for help. Please have great mercy upon me and bequeath me moments of clarity and oneness.

And as long as I am standing here in front of You on this Holy Day, one more thing please – please let Your mercy reach all of the many contradictory parts of the Jewish People. We are a nation that has not yet figured out how to live in harmony together. A nation of many parts, in confusion. Our national soul symphony is still painful to hear. Please be our conductor.

“Our Father, Our King, hear our voice, have great mercy upon us.”

Share:email print
Related Topics:

Aryeh BenDavid Aryeh Ben David grew up outside of NYC, studied psychology at Vassar College, received rabbinic ordination from the Israeli Rabbinate and now lives in Efrat, Israel with his wife Sandra and their six children. Aryeh founded Ayeka, Center for Soulful Education, in 2006, after almost 20 years of work in formal and experiential Jewish educational settings. Ayeka seeks to provide educators with the language and tools for creating personal and meaningful connection. Aryeh has been involved in the training of staff of countless organizations and lectures internationally.

2 Comments

  1. Sir:
    My name is Jorge Garcia. I’m a Hispanic Christian Pastor living in the area of Dallas, Texas. I’m a beginner in the understanding of Christianity Jewish Roots. Today 02-15-15, I read your article “WHAT DOES AVINU MALKEINU REALLY MEAN?”. It was a blessing from God. Thank you very much to share with the world your thoughts and your prayers.

    Blessings from the Most High,

    Jorge Garcia

    Posted by
    Jorge Garcia
  2. Rabbi BenDavid,
    This page turned up in a web search on “Avinu Malkeinu.”

    I teach confirmation class in a Reform synagogue. The purpose of Confirmation is to introduce, clarify and develop to adolescents concepts of self, community, deity, relationships, values, and to stir these concepts in a broth of Judaism to develop an individual stew of Jewish personhood for each student.

    Your last three paragraphs, essentially saying that there is no single answer that some have and some look for, is exactly the affirmation that we, adults and teens, are normal for being confused, not whole, but always seeking. Your concepts are to be included in what I present tomorrow, September 10, 2017, to the class. I am pleased and fortunate to have found your thoughts three years after you published them.

    Coming at the beginning of the Religious School year, Avinu Malkeinu is the perfect introduction to all these concepts, with lines of I want, We need, Give me, Give us, Give them, Don’t forget, and God is great.

    Thank you,
    Bill Berg

    Posted by
    Bill Berg
Sh’ma does its best to present a multitude of perspectives on the topics that it presents, and promotes the active participation of its readers on its website and social media pages. In keeping with this, Sh’ma is committed to creating a safe and open space for its readers to voice their opinions in a respectful manner. Disagreement on subject matter is encouraged, but Sh’ma does not tolerate personal attacks or inappropriate language. Sh’ma reserves the right to remove any and all postings that do not fit the criteria outlined herein.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

*