From the beginning of Rosh Hashana until the conclusion of Yom Kippur, there are ten days, which are called Aseres Yemai Teshuva – The Ten Days of Repentance.
Our Prophets tell us that during these days G-d is very near to us and yearns for us to move closer to Him through repentance and by being more attentive to our observances and obligations.
Unlike the judicial system we are accustomed to, G-d, while sitting in judgement during this time is enveloped with mercy and yearns for us to draw close to Him so that we merit a favorable judgement.
During these days we add special prayers beseeching G-d to grant us a blessed year of life.
Aside from Shabbos, the well-known Avinu Malkainu prayer is recited twice a day during the ten days of repentance.
Avinu Malkainu – means, “our Father our King.” We first address G-d as a loving father who wants to do the best for his children, and then as a King who has the ability and power to grant anything to his subjects. This says a lot about the special nature and effectiveness of this prayer.
The Talmud relates an incident when an area was suffering from a severe drought and they recited special prayers yet it did not rain. Rebbe Akiva stood up and said the following. “Avinu Malkainu – we only have You as a King.” And, “Avinu Malkainu – for Your sake have pity on us.” The Talmud relates that as soon as Rebbe Akiva recited these prayers it immediately began to rain.
A Heavenly voice rang out and declared that the Sage who preceded Rebbe Akiva whose prayer was not answered was just as great as Rebbe Akiva. However, Rebbe Akiva’s prayer was answered because he dominated over his human nature. The commentary Mabit explains that by nature, Rebbe Akiva was not drawn to spirituality, but he conquered his nature and did the will of G-d.
As G-d sits in judgement, He observes and listens to those who go against their nature. For example, if one has the tendency to become irate and angry and he overcomes his natural tendency to react sharply for the sake of Shalom, G-d too, ‘overlooks’ and does not scrutinize the person’s misdeeds – and grants him what he needs.
Rebbe Akiva taught us that a person should not remain stagnant and fall prey to saying, “I am what I am.” Rather, a person should strive and work to raise his level in spiritual matters, and the outcome will be fulfilling and rewarding.
Although Rebbe Akiva recited two verses of Avinu Malkainu, over the course of time, more were added based on the needs of the time. We recite forty-four Avinu Malkainus which run the gamut of our needs.
During the Ten Days of Repentance we make modifications to five Avinu Malkainus. Instead of stating ‘remember’ us, we substitute it with “Kasvainu – inscribe us.”
We ask to be inscribed in the Books of….Good life; Redemption and salvation; Sustenance and support; Merits; and Forgiveness and pardon.
The Talmud tells us that on Rosh Hashanna the King sits in judgement and the Books of life and death are open before Him. We refer to these ledgers when we ask to be inscribed in the various Books.
Aitz Yosef tells us that the five books we mention in the Avinu Malkainu correlate to the Five Books of the Torah.
The Book of Life – is a reference to the first Book of the Torah ― Beraishis/Genesis – where it describes how G-d created the world and mankind – which is life.
The Book of Redemption – refers to the second Book of the Torah ― Shemos/Exodus – where it records the redemption of the Jews and the salvation from Egypt is recorded.
The Book of Sustenance – hints to the fourth Book of the Torah – Bamidbar/Numbers which describes the travels of the Jews in the desert when they were sustained miraculously through the Manna from Heaven and through the rock that provided them with hydration.
The Book of Merits – alludes to the fifth Book of the Torah – Devorim/Deuteronomy which describes how our greatest prophet Moshe inspired and beseeched the Nation before his death to follow the ways of the Torah through which one will live a meritorious life.
The Book of Forgiveness – refers to the third Book of the Torah – Vayikra/Leviticus which describes all the animal sacrifices and offerings which were offered to bring atonement and forgiveness for personal and communal sins.
Finally, in many congregations, the final Avinu Malkainu is sung in unison, “Be gracious with us and answer us, though we have no worthy deeds; treat us with charity and kindness and save us.”
May we all be sealed for a good and sweet year!