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 Avinu Malkeinu: Our Parent, Our Sovereign.

09/27/2022 06:03:30 PM


Rabbi Minster

Erev Rosh HaShanah Sermon, 5783.

Shanah Tovah. It is hard to express just how overwhelming this moment is for me. Like many of you, I’ve had a tenuous relationship with organized Judaism. Most of my life, listening to a rabbi was my least favorite part of the service. It’s just so easy to argue with the old cliches in plain English. Not to mention the years when I was young and couldn’t afford to pay to pray. There were years when I took off work, but just read Jewish books instead of participating in any service. 


In my mid-20s I proudly proclaimed I was a cultural not religious Jew. I viewed my Judaism as my ethnicity and my reason for being a feminist peace activist. Over time, my anger at the world’s inability to transform into my vision of a just and peaceful place overwhelmed me. I needed something more sturdy to guide my life than the vagaries of collective action, international law, and public policy. 


So I returned to shul. I learned that the feeling I’ve always gotten when focused in prayer was a prescription written by our ancestors during the Second Temple Era and refined over the course of our exile. Once I let go of my cynicism, vast worlds opened up for me. I could finally feel peace and love, rather than fighting for them. 


Avinu Malkeinu.

Our Father, Our King.

Our Mother, Our Queen.

Our Parent, Our Sovereign.

Avinu Malkeinu

Our Compassionate Source of Grace.

Our Sovereign Judge, Source of Discernment. 


The Book of Life is the book we write in every moment of our lives. It is the exact transcription of our thoughts, feelings, emotions, words, and actions. The Source of Life is with us as we choose how to spend the minutes of our lives. The Ground of Being gave us the choice to live as we choose. 


The rabbis of the Talmudic era who lived during the Classical Antiquity and into the early Middle Ages, understood that humans have competing forces within us. They had a lot to say about the yetzer ha’ra, the inclination towards destructiveness. The Yetzer HaRa is our source for passion and creativity. It also schemes and lies and pushes us away from our deepest selves. Whenever we lose track of time in front of a screen, that’s the Yetzer HaRa at work. When we lash out at our irrational children, that’s the Yetzer HaRa. And when we fulfill the first commandment to be fruitful and multiply, we have harnessed the Yetzer HaRa. 


So the inclination towards destruction and construction is a fact of the human condition, in the rabbinic mind. On the other hand, a Yetzer Tov, an inclination towards Goodness, must be cultivated and supported. The Yetzer HaRa never sleeps. Modern psychology describes the Yetzer HaRa as the Shadow. It contains all the parts of ourselves that we tossed aside in our anxious pursuit of adulting. So while the darkness may be totally outside of our comfort zone, like Unikitty from The Lego Movie, we have to harness our Yetzer HaRa or else accept that at times, it will overpower us. 


What does any of this have to do with Avinu Malkeinu?


Well, most Jewish prayers are built on the vocabulary of Jewish metaphor. While many Jews throughout time have been comforted by envisioning God as having a human form, there have also always been people who use those terms to point at something beyond language. 


Avinu, HaShem. The unpronounced Proper Name of God. We cover The Name (HaShem means The Name) with a pious cover, reading Adonai, which means “my Lord.” Adonai, HaShem, Avinu – they all represent the Grace, Love, and Compassion of God. The True Name of God points to Divine Healing and Love. HaShem is Chesed, a difficult word to translate. Not just Kindness, but Kindness built upon a covenantal relationship. So the Source of Grace and Love surrounds us and nurtures us, even when the world around us seems unrecognizable and the world within us is falling apart. We can always rely on God to be our Rock. 


Malkeinu, Our Sovereign. Our source of judgment and boundaries. When we know the values that guide our lives, then it is easier to make boundaries in our lives. It is easier to take back our time, put down our phones, and pay attention to the humans and environment directly in front of us. 


Judgment is not a negative term. We are constantly choosing how to spend our time, what thoughts to pursue, and which words to say. When we decide what is Sovereign in our lives, then we begin the road back to our true selves. 


I don’t shy away from these Kingship metaphors. First, we created the root for King from the name of one of the most powerful deities of the Near East: Moloch. So even within our proclamations of monotheism, we recognize humanity’s polytheistic roots, our own pagan roots. 


There is something wild within sovereignty. The world of judgment can spin out of control when it’s not aligned with Chesed, with Grace and Compassion. Just look what happened to Scarlet Witch when she lost her anchor. And that’s where the Sitra Achra, the Other Side arises from. So yes, it is natural to denounce Kingship, because a part of us understands that within this value lurks the source of evil, the destructive urge. We’ve got plenty of modern examples of leadership gone awry and I don’t need to remind you of how destructive power can be. 


That’s why Avinu is always first. God’s Compassion and God’s Love await us. When we submit to the fact that we aren’t the most important thing in the universe, when we choose to become Israel, to become God wrestlers, then we have the opportunity to be enveloped in God’s Love and God’s Discernment. 


Revelation awaits us when we open ourselves to our own frailty. We have caused harm to other human beings and to the environment, knowingly and unknowingly. We must account for ourselves and properly apologize to those whom we have harmed. This is Malkeinu, this is the Judgment that inspires us to live into ourselves more fully. Each year, we can turn towards our fullest potential. Each year, we can move a little closer to the depths within ourselves. 


Avinu Malkeinu, Our Mother, Our Queen.

Avinu Malkeinu, Our Father, Our King.

Avinu Malkeinu, Our Source of Compassion, Our Source of Discernment. 

Mon, May 29 2023 9 Sivan 5783