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    Our Father before our King

    Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur are punctuated by the Avinu Malkenu prayer, which calls on God in two capacities – Father (Avinu) and King (Malkenu).

    There is a tension between the two notions of the Almighty. They represent a paradox.

    Father suggests a warm, loving, caring, forgiving relationship; King implies power, firmness and authority. One notion is rather warm, the other seems colder; the one is soft, the other rather hard.

    But each is a foil to the other.

    If God were only our Father we might take advantage of his love for us and His close interest in our individual wellbeing.

    If He were only our King we would stand in awe of Him and fear that He had no time or concern for any of His subjects as individuals.

    A second aspect is the order in which we encounter the two personifications of God.

    Father comes before King – presumably because this is the sequence in which the human being makes His acquaintance.

    As babies we think every grown-up is like Mummy or Daddy – close, warm and loving: only later do we come to realise that the world cannot manage without its structure and authority.

    The baby thinks that everybody is nice, and love is universal; the seasoned adult is more hard-bitten and fears the advent of authority-without-feeling.

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