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Avinu, Malkeinu


The following is an excerpt from Touched by a Story 4, by Rabbi Yechiel Spero:

Anatoly, a young Russian boy, grew up in Odessa in a completely secular environment. After moving to Los Angeles, he met some people who introduced him to the beauty of Torah and Torah life. It did not take long for a spark to be ignited in the impressionable teenager and before long, he was on his way to becoming a full-fledged baal teshuva (observant Jew). He went to learn in Eretz Yisrael, where he created a new life for himself and his family, one that was filled with the richness of Torah and Yiddishkeit.

On his way from Israel back to Los Angeles, he stopped off in Odessa. Not much had changed in the many years since he had been there. As he walked through the street, he passed an old man who recognized him and pulled him aside. The elderly old man spoke to him about how difficult it was to be a Jew when he had been young. Finally, he left him with a present, “Young Man, now that you left Odessa it is time to take a part of Odessa with you…”

Anatoly looked down and saw that the man was handing him a Yom Kippur machzor. He leafed through the pages. It appeared to be just a regular old machzor, so old, in fact, that the pages were yellow and brittle. Then something caught his eyes. He looked carefully and was shocked at what he saw. On the page of Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father Our King) he noticed that every “Malkeinu” was crossed out and replaced with the word “Czar.” And then the word “Czar” was crossed out and replaced with the word “Stalin”; and then the word “Stalin” was crossed out. It was absolutely astonishing. Clearly the machzor was well used by someone who not only went to shul but davened as well. However, this person must have felt very threatened by the Czarist and Communist governments and so changed the text based on their demands and threats.

R’ Aron Dov Friedman, the person who had been mekarev Anatoly (assisted him to reconnect to his Judaism) shared the following insight. The word Malkeinu had been crossed out and in its place was substituted the names of the intimidating forces that feigned to be the true king in the place of G-d. But no one can dare to replace Avinu. The title “Our Father” belongs to Hashem Alone, and no one can ever change that (64-65).

My friends, as we enter Yom Kippur, we need to take to heart that on the one hand, G-d is Malkeinu, our King, and we are his servants. But on the other hand, He is Avinu, our Father, and we are His children. We experience G-d in both awe and love. Between a servant and a king there can be estrangement. But between a father or mother and a child, there can be no estrangement. However far they are removed from each other, the bond between parent and child still holds.

If our prayers on Yom Kippur are sincere, they will penetrate G-d’s “heart” and He will be forgiving because a parent can’t forsake his or her child, whatever wrong they may have done. G-d’s love for us is like that, but deeper. As King David says in Psalm 27, which we’ve been reading twice a day since the beginning of Elul (the month before Rosh Hashanah), “Though my father and mother abandon me, the L-RD will take me in.”