It starts slowly, the melody that always breaks my heart, the one that draws me deeper into a whirlpool from which I do not wish to break free, the one that brings me to the Heart of my Father, my King. The cycle follows: guilt, repentance, forgiveness, mercy, freedom. The Avinu Malkeinu, recited on Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and during the 10 Days of Awe, is my favorite piece of High Holy Day liturgy. With every repetition it builds and builds, until the crescendo that cries, “Our Father, Our King, be compassionate to us and answer us, for we have little merit. Treat us generously and compassionately, and redeem us!” is at its most powerful. It is not our lips that recite this ancient and rich traditional prayer, but our hearts.
In the Avinu Malkeinu, we extol the divine attributes of the L-rd that make Him both Father and King, while we dwell on our own repentant and contrite spirits. This idea embodies the whole of the High Holy Days and to me, the greatest part of G-d’s relationship with man: His Mercy. I love that in Judaism we take this season to reflect and repent but we don’t dwell. We don’t wallow in the misery of how unworthy we are because that’s not G-d’s fatherly heart. It’s not His nature to keep us low but rather His heart is to remind us that He is mighty to redeem us with His kingship and to love us so well as a father that this love fills us to the point where we can’t help but praise Him as a king.
This petitioning of G-d the King is another thing I love the most about the relationship He offers us. He invites us to come before Him, to ask Him for His Kingly mercy, which He freely gives. But this merciful relationship is given as if in parenthood, as He is G-d the Father, and this is a relationship with which we must engage and allow G-d to be G-d in His many complexities, because we have little merit to offer and He has everything to offer.
Yet, when we are in our lowest estate is when G-d pursues us hardest as both a father and a king. Because all of creation is meant to reveal and praise the glory of our L-rd, our imperfection doesn’t matter. The words of the Avinu Malkeinu highlight to me that familiar scripture from 2 Corinthians 12:9
But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Messiah may dwell in me.” (TLV)
G-d is saying here, “You, exactly as you are, are enough for me to use for My purposes.” How beautiful a sentiment to consider as we sing the Avinu Malkeinu with all our hearts this High Holiday season. We have nothing to offer except ourselves in the establishment of G-d’s kingdom here on Earth, but in the eyes of Our Father, Our King, we are enough.
Listen to Jamie’s favorite rendition of Avinu Malkeinu in the video below: