Because Yom Kippur is observed on Shabbat this year, there will be no Friday night kiddush or late-night snacking on the next day’s cholent. When Yom Kippur and Shabbat coincide, however, it is not the Shabbat meals that I miss most, but one of my favorite prayers of the High Holidays: Avinu Malkeinu.
Avinu, Malkeinu – Our Father, Our King. It is such an incredibly understandable concept. The combined phrases create a powerful image of the essence of God’s relationship with the Jewish people. And I think that it is an imagery that I began to understand even more after I became a parent.
How hard it must be for God to be the parent of the Jewish people! He faces all of the challenges of parenthood multiplied by the millions, and multiplied again by the generations that have come and gone.
Imagine God’s perspective on just a few of the most common challenges that parents face:
Whining: Every parenting book has a section on whining, and every parent struggles to deal with it. There are few sounds that make me as short tempered as the high pitched whine of a child demanding something for which they never even asked nicely. The Torah is filled with stories of the Israelites whining while in the wilderness: We want meat. Where’s the water? Etc. Those were national incidents, of course. But as individuals, we all whine to God. Even for the little things: “Oh, come on, God, why can’t I find a parking spot.”
Chutzpah: The Jewish people aren’t called a stiff-necked people for nothing. I mean, what sort of chutzpah is it that the Israelites built the golden calf even as Moses was heading back down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments. We remain a people of chutzpah who are continually standing up to God. There are the big cases, you know, like the fact that many of the leaders of the Communists, who were anti-religion, were Jews. But there are also my own bits of chutzpah, the times when I know what the right thing to do is, but I flaunt my desire to do what I prefer.
Sibling Rivalry: I don’t know any parent of more than one child who doesn’t feel frustrated when the bickering starts…and it is most often over the silliest of things, like whose turn it is to feed the fish. Just as Korach and 250 of his followers tried to change the hierarchy of leadership in the wilderness, the Jewish people have found incredible ways of splintering ourselves throughout the ages. Sadly, despite the efforts of many, it often seems as if the situation only continues to deteriorate.
So we the Jewish people aren’t easy children, which is perhaps why we also recite the 13 Attributes of God’s Mercy on Yom Kippur, since they stress God’s infinite patience.
From a parent, one expects mercy, love and forgiveness. We appeal to God as Avinu because we want God to look at us and see us as His child, because when all is said and done, at the end of a long day when one’s child has perhaps misbehaved or been particularly difficult, a parent still wants only that which is best for the child.
At the same time as we appeal to God as a parent, we must bear in mind that He is the Ultimate King, Malkeinu. This is a far less emotional sentiment. A king controls the fate of his subjects. He rules with judgment and justice. He is detached. At the same time, He is held in awe and esteem. (As a parent, I relate to this aspect of God as well. In my own house, I strive to judge each situation fairly. It is an incredibly difficult task.)
“Our Father, Our King, be gracious with us and answer us, even though we have no worthy deeds, act with us in righteousness and goodness and save us.” This year I may not have succeeded in being the person, the parent or the Jew that I had hoped to be, but please treat me with the love of a Parent and the desire for compassionate-justice of a King.