Pardon & Pettiness
אָבִֽינוּ מַלְכֵּֽנוּ, חָנֵּֽנוּ וַעֲנֵֽנוּ — תפילות יומיות, נוּסח ספרד
Our Father, Our Monarch: we are pardoned, we are petty. (Daily Siddur, Nusakh Sfard)
We almost always see “Av” — אב — as father but the halachic meaning is category or classification. “Malkénu” — מלכּנוּ — definitely means “our King”. Avinu Malkénu, however, does not mean “Our Father, our King”. It does not mean this because the author knew Hebrew.
G!d as Avinu? Isaiah 63:16. G!d as Malkénu? Isaiah 33:22. Isaiah does mean “father” and “king”. The Prophet means to personify G!d both times —
לג, כב כִּי יְהוָה שֹׁפְטֵנוּ, יְהוָה מְחֹקְקֵנוּ יְהוָה מַלְכֵּנוּ, הוּא יוֹשִׁיעֵנוּ
33:22 Because: G!d is our Judge, from whom our statutes derive.
סג, טז כִּי-אַתָּה אָבִינוּ–כִּי אַבְרָהָם לֹא יְדָעָנוּ, וְיִשְׂרָאֵל לֹא יַכִּירָנוּ
אַתָּה יְהוָה אָבִינוּ, גֹּאֲלֵנוּ מֵעוֹלָם שְׁמֶךָ
63:16 Because: You Are our father. Do we know Avraham? Do we recognise Israel?
You Are G!d.Our father: Redeem our world for the sake of Your Name.
Avinu Malkénu’s author has an agenda distinct from Isaiah’s. Avinu Malkénu is call-and-response liturgy with a deliberately flexible structure: anyone can add anything. Avinu Malkénu’s call-and-response structure creates spiritual trigger points: every “Avinu” in this sense establishes, I think, a hermeneutic of worth — a category to interpret human behaviour.
Does every trigger applies to every person? Ridiculous! Yet every trigger applies to everyone sometimes. We need a hermeneutic of worth to determine if we are worthy of Divine favour.
Malkénu? Do not read Malkénu — מלכּנוּ — but rather mahl — מל — “seal” or “acknowledge” le’kavén — לכּון — “to intend”. The author means that we each acknowledge (“seal”) our worth through our intentions.
Avinu Malkénu is elegantly crafted: it may be understood by both the intelligentsia and those who are less-educated. The intelligentsia of any generation leads society to both progress and regress; Avinu Malkénu is intended especially for them — and for me.