Monday, September 14, 2020
Twenty-Fifth Day of Elul 5780
The prayer Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, Our King), is possibly the most beloved and iconic of all prayers associated with the High Holy Days. The popularity of the prayer is due, at least in part, to its powerful musical settings.
The prayer comes from a story in the Talmud (B. Taanit 25b) about a deadly drought. Rabbi Eliezer, the greatest sage of his time, led the congregation in prayers to end the drought. He made twenty-four blessings in which he asked God to bring rain, but no rain fell. After Rabbi Eliezer’s failure, his younger student, Rabbi Akiva, stood before the ark and prayed with just two sentences, “Avinu Malkeinu, we have no ruler other than You. Avinu Malkeinu, for Your sake have compassion on us.” Immediately the rain fell.
The Talmud says that the rabbis looked at each other in astonishment that God had failed to answer the extended prayers of the great Rabbi Eliezer but brought rain for the simple prayer of Rabbi Akiva. In response, a voice came down from heaven saying, “It is not because this one [Akiva] is greater than that one [Eliezer]. It is because he is yielding and compassionate and the other is not.” (In later years, Akiva did come to be regarded as the greatest sage of his time.)
Because of this story, Avinu Malkeinu is seen as Judaism’s greatest prayer of humble pleading before God in a time of distress. It is a prayer in which we recognize that, in order to evoke God’s forgiveness and compassion, we ourselves must be forgiving and compassionate.
Practice for this day:
Think of times when you have been judgmental or critical toward people you thought were doing something wrong. How do moments like that make you feel about yourself? Do you feel righteous and powerful? Do you feel harsh and unyielding? Where in your body do you hold those feelings?
Imagine now that, instead of behaving in a judgmental way, you had been forgiving, humble and compassionate toward the person or people whose behavior bothered you. What outcomes would have been different? How would you feel differently about yourself? Where in your body do you feel the difference?
Letting go of ego, self-righteousness, arrogance and our tendency to be judgmental is one of the hardest tasks of t’shuvah. It can help to notice the bodily sensations we feel when we are being harshly critical and to remember the feeling of releasing judgment. Write some of your thoughts about being more yielding and compassionate toward others.