Cindy Freedman
AVINU MALKEINU for Sami Barth Liturgy Class

It is told that during the early part of the 2nd century, there was a terrible draught in ancient Israel, and the people turned to Rabbi Eliezer, a powerful, pious scholar, and asked him to pray the prayers for rain. He spent days in meditation, fasting, preparing himself to pray for rain; and when he was ready, he poured his heart out in passionate prayer with the whole community watching, but nothing happened.

Suddenly, Rabbi Akiva jumps up from his place and cries out Avinu Malkeinu, ein lanu melech ela Atah. Avinu Malkleinu aseh imanu lema’an shemecha. Our Father, our King, there is no other sovereign but You. Our father, our King, do with us for your name’s sake.

Immediately the rains began pouring, and it is said that God was willing to hear Rabbi Akiva’s prayer because he was able to forgive those who wronged him. These two lines are the opening to the prayer that we say today.

Avinu, our Father; Malkeinu, our King. Two words that are symbols of the main theme of the High Holidays, forgiveness and judgement. Avinu, the close, loving, compassionate parent. Malkeinu, the distant, strict ruler who metes out justice. Avinu Malkeinu is the model by which we judge our own and each other’s behavior. It is the challenge to balance honest, critical assessment with lovingkindness. Do we judge too harshly, or can we combine our judgement with compassion and forgiveness? Are we too forgiving, too compassionate, so that we never grow and change and learn from our mistakes? Avinu Malkeinu is about finding the right balance.

Finally, there is the glorious melody that we all love to sing at the end. The “traditional” melody, ascribed to no one, becomes a collective prayer that belongs to us all. When we lift our voices and sing this refrain out loud together, over and over, layering in our harmonies, we become more confident, strengthened and ready to face the unknown and embrace the new year.