The Avinu Malkenu (Our Father our King) prayer was first said in the Talmud, Taanit 25b. Rabbi Eliezer led the Shmoneh Esrei including six special blessings for fasts enacted during a drought yet his prayers were not answered, it did not rain. His student, Rabbi Akiva then recited: “Avinu Malkenu, we have no King but You! Avinu Malkenu for Your sake Have compassion on us!” and the rains fell.
Since Rabbi Akiva’s prayers were answered, his formula of “Avinu Makenu” was used in the prayers for fasts and other times of trajedy including the Ten Days of Repentance.
Over the past ten days we have been saying Avinu Malkenu twice a day (at Shacharit and Mincha) aside from Shabbat since Shabbat is not the time to pray for communal distress or to make requests.
We will not say Avinu Malkenu on Yom Kippur this year until the end of the Neilah service since this year Yom Kippur falls on Shabbat.
Why are we permitted to recite Avinu Malkenu during Neilah?
The RaN comments at the end of Masechet Rosh HaShana that Neilah is the time that God makes his final decree so “If not now then when?”
According to the Levush, by the time we get to Neilah Shabbat is officially over so there is no issue.
The words “Avinu” and “Malkenu” were used in the TaNaCh but they were not used together until Rabbi Akiva’s prayer.
The Maharsha explains that the word “Avinu” is taken from Yishayahu 63:16 “For You are our Father; though Avraham may not know us and Israel may not recognize us, You HaShem are our Father; our Eternal Redeemer is Your name.”
“Avinu” is also taken from Yishayahu 64:7: “So now HaShem, You are our Father. We are the clay and You are our Potter, and we are all Your handiwork.”
The word “Malkenu” comes from Devarim, Parshat Haazinu 33:5: “And He became King over Yeshurun when the numbers of the nation gathered- the tribes of Israel in unity”.
As we gear up for the last “Avinu Malkenu” of the High Holiday season, let’s try to add extra Kavana (intent) as Rabbi Akiva did and hope that all of our prayers are answered favorably.
Wishing you a Gmar Chatima Tova from Yerushalayim!