Past Weekly Shabbat Message
Jewish Heritage
Rabbi Dovid Saks
(Torah Portion Vayailech ) Answered!

Because Avinu Malkainu is recited on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the most popular days for Synagogue attendance, we are all familiar with the prayer of 'Avinu Malkainu' and inspired by the tune sung to the last stanza.

Let's explain the Avinu Malkainu prayer and trace and examine its source.

Avinu means our Father and Malkainu means our King. Note that when we beseech G-d, we refer to Him first as a Father - which implies that G-d is loving, compassionate and sympathetic to us, and then we refer to Him as our King, which connotes G-d's power and ability to do and affect everything.

The Talmud relates an incident of an extreme drought in the Land of Israel and they recited extra blessings to the fixed Amidah prayer. Rebbe Elazar led the prayers reciting the additional blessings, yet it did not rain. Rebbe Akiva then recited a few prayers beginning with the words Avinu Malkainu and it immediately began to rain.

Because of the effectiveness of the words Avinu Malkainu, the sages of that time formulated additional prayers beginning with Avinu Malkainu.

The Talmud tells us that when the rain began, a Heavenly voice echoed and proclaimed that Rebbe Akiva's prayers were answered not because he was greater than his teacher Rebbe Elazar, rather it was because Rebbe Akiva excelled in overlooking what others did to annoy or disturb him. Rebbe Akiva was extremely humble and therefore did not answer back or hold grudges when he could have.

G-d withheld the blessing of rain due to the iniquity of His children, yet He decided to overlook their bad behavior and accept their repentance in accordance with Rebbe Akiva's way of overlooking the hurt others caused him.

This prompted our commentaries to point out that prayer is most effective when we stir up our sense of humility and let go of negative feelings we have towards others.

The Avinu Malkainu is so important that, in the Synagogue, we open the curtain and doors to the holy Ark that houses the Torah scrolls during its recital.

Because we ask for personal needs in Avinu Malkainu we do not recite it on Shabbos for it is a day of pleasure and mentioning our personal needs on Shabbos can cause one anguish and concern. The only exception is that the Avinu Malkainu is recited during Neila - the final prayer of the holy day of Yom Kippur, even when it falls on Shabbos.

During all Ten Days of Repentance - spanning from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur - when G-d is extremely close to us and avails Himself for us to repent - we recite the Avinu Malkainu in the morning and afternoon prayers.

When we recite Avinu Malkainu during the Ten Days of Repentance, we ask G-d to inscribe us in five books:
The book of: 1. Good life. 2. Redemption and salvation. 3. Sustenance and livelihood. 4. Merits. 5. Forgiveness.

The question raised is, What are these 'books' that we are referring to? After all, our liturgy refers to only two Books, the book of life and the book of death.

The commentary Aitz Yosef proposes that these five books align themselves with the essence of each of the Five Books of the Torah.

In the Book of Genesis, life was created - it corresponds to the book of good life.

In the Book of Exodus we were redeemed from Egypt - it corresponds to the book of redemption and salvation.

The Book of Leviticus describes the Temple's offering which afforded atonement - it corresponds to the book of atonement and forgiveness.

In the Book of Numbers, the Jews were sustained in the desert through the miraculous Manna and water - it corresponds to the Book of sustenance and livelihood.

The Book of Deuteronomy speaks of the death of Moshe and his everlasting merits - it corresponds to the book of salvation.

We are essentially asking our Father and King, that in the merit of each of the written Books of the Torah - we be inscribed in the Book of Life!
Wishing you a most enjoyable & uplifting Shabbos
Rabbi Dovid Saks