In this week’s Torah portion, we read, “Bear in mind that the Eternal One your G-d disciplines you just as a man disciplines his son.” This concept of G-d as parent appears often in Torah and seems to contrast with another relationship – that of G-d as King/Sovereign. As a parent figure, our relationship with G-d is defined by G-d’s love, protection, care, and gentle discipline.As a Ruler, we expect G-d to provide laws, discipline (but in a less loving way), and detached protection. If G-d is, as the Avinu Malkeinu prayer says, both our Father and our King (excuse the gendered language here), then that makes us the King’s son – giving us special expectations and requirements (mitzvot), dangers and intrigues, but also unique privileges.
I wrote last week about how we can have many different relationships with and understandings of the Divine, but it is interesting to also examine the traditional ones, especially as we begin to approach Elul (the month preceding the High Holy Days) and our upcoming recitations of Avinu Malkeinu. The concepts of G-d as Parent and Ruler don’t usually resonate for me personally except on the High Holy Days when, perhaps borne on the spirit of the melody, those concepts suddenly speak to me with renewed strength. Over and over, we will turn to Avinu Malkeinu and plea with both sides of that Divine coin to inspire us to be better people. We want G-d to hear our voices, to listen with compassion as a parent would, to be loving and forgiving.But traditionally, we also need G-d to be a Sovereign so that we can trust that G-d has the power to actually make the world better for us. For me, on the High Holy Days, Irelish the dichotomy between the close G-d and the distant One, the G-d that I can approach, talk to, relate to, and the G-d who is beyond my understanding, who I can continually approach, but never quite reach. This is a part of what makes Judaism so beautiful and interesting.
Cantor Sally Neff