Avinu Malkeinu is Also Dad

I want to share my sermon from Erev Rosh Hashanah with you.  I hope you will join me at Yom Kippur to sing Avinu Malkeinu together again.

Avinu Malkeynu… Our father, our King.

Imanu Malkateynu… Our mother, our Queen.

For many of us, it is when we hear these words, Avinu Malkeinu, and hear the haunted melodies that elevate them, that we finally feel transported into the powerful possibilities of the Holy Days.  And as our spiritual leaders guide us in a call/response — them calling out the Hebrew “Avinu Malkeinu Shema Koleinu!”, us responding with “Avinu Malkeinu, hear our prayer!”— what sometimes seems like an extremely distant relationship with this traditionally defined Divine parent can fold just an inch or two into the divide.  We plead with the idea of God, with this parental figure – to hear us, to remember us, to forgive us, to give us a good year.  We become intoxicated with the grandeur of the moment.  At least I always do.

But I’m going to ask you to help me take away all of this grandeur for just a second. Instead, let’s attempt to make the experience a bit more personal.  Perhaps in this intimacy, we will find an even more potent majesty.

Our Father our King, or our Mother our Queen… Imagine for a moment that you are literally the child of a king and queen.  To the world they are as all-powerful and all-important as they are to you.  But the outside world could never understand what it’s like to have your king also be “daddy” and your queen also be “mommy.”  For the children of royalty, the relationship is closer than anyone else can imagine, for you experience them intimately on a day-to-day basis.  I guess in L.A., it’s kind of like being the child of movie stars.  We just can’t picture George Clooney in his underwear (as much as we might want to) or in bed with the flu, unless we are part of his normal life.

But, in some ways, I believe we are all the children of kings and queens and movie stars. Can’t nearly all of us recall a time when we were very young that we believed our parents were the sun and the moon and All Powerful in our eyes?  Can’t we recall how their words, their sideways glances, their approval, and their admonishment seemed to make the whole world change?  Weren’t they as important to us as any king or queen?  

Some of us, now adults, still experience this dynamic with our parents, even when we know it’s time to carve out our own space.  We still are moved and shaken by a parental word or look or silence, or now… a text. 🙂    We feel ourselves still shrinking in their power, even if their energy has not shared this earth with us for a long, long time.  And those of us who are parents, while still looking above ourselves, may forget that we have children (or grandchildren) who are in some stage of processing who we are.  Are we sun and the moon to them?  Or have our lights begun to fade in the minds of teenaged children?  Or is our status slowly returning as those children emerge as their own adults, soon to have their own princes and princesses?  We may forget, while we still feel like we are standing in the shadows of our royal parents that our own children are blocking out the sun by hovering in our shadows.  They have visions of us we will never completely understand as our parents could never completely understand us.  And so it is with every parent.  We are all part of this cycle.

And so, as we address this Divine parent – be that parent literal or figurative in your mind, are we really any different than any other children who are in awe of their parents?  Are we not just children asking for attention?  Asking to be safe?  Asking for guidance?  Asking the questions we know cannot really be answered, but we ask them anyway because we want to be comforted, and held, and told that everything will be okay?

Avinu Malkeinu… Shema Koleynu… (Our father , our King, Hear our voices).  Dad, please listen to me.

Avinu Malkeinu… chatanu l’fanecha… (Our father, our King, We have done wrong before you.)  Dad, I’ve done something you won’t like, and I’m nervous about how you are going to react.

Imanu Malkateinu… chamol aleinu v’al olaleinu v’tapeinu… (Our mother our Queen, Be compassionate with us and our children.)  Mom, please remember that I am still learning and try to be kind as you deal with me and when you judge how I am raising your grandchildren.

Imanu Malkateinu… kaley dever v’cherev v’ra’av mei-aleinu… (Our mother our Queen, Keep from us sickness, war, hunger, and destruction.) Mom, can you help me? I don’t feel well. Can you help me? I’m hungry.  Can you help me? I’m afraid.  

Avinu Malkeinu… kaley chol tzar umastin mey-aleinu… (Our father, our King, keep us from being persectued.)  Dad, can you keep me safe, even from those who would harm me simply for being me?

Imanu Malkateinu… kotveinu b’sefer chayim tovim… (Our mother our Queen, inscribe us in the book of a good life.) Mom, can you teach me how to be happy, how to be satisfied with my life?

Avinu Malkeinu… chadeish aleinu shana tovah… (Our father, our King, renew us for a good year). Dad, can you provide for me, at least for this year?

Now try to go back to a moment when you stood before your parents.  Maybe close your eyes.  Do they feel like the sun or the moon?  Maybe you asked them one of these questions I just asked.  Maybe you asked something else?  Maybe these kinds of questions were racing through your mind but you didn’t know how to form them or were afraid to utter them?  Maybe you stood silently wishing you could ask the un-askable.  Maybe it was all a feeling, and you didn’t even know what to ask to lessen the heartache.  Maybe you still have questions for them that have gone unanswered.  What would you ask now if you could?   

We will now read and sing and try to be heard, if not by a Divine parent, at least by ourselves and by each other.  For whether or not our messages are received, we need to receive them for the next generation.  Yes, let’s ask if we can be heard but we also need to ask, do we listen?  Yes, ask, can we be safe but also ask, do we protect?  Plead to be provided for, but also wonder, do we provide?  We may want to be forgiven for not always being the people others want us to be, but do we have understanding for others who fall short of our visions?  We may not always be the people we want us to be, but can we forgive ourselves?  Love me, care for me, hold me, we direct others, but are we instruments for love, care, and embrace?   We hope it’s never too late for the answers to be YES, but we also need to never create time lines for ourselves or others.  

It’s never too late to become YES.

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