Double Dependency

Our Father, our King, we have no King but You. Our Father, our King, act [benevolently] with us for the sake of Your NameAvinu Malkeinu

For the sake – According to Gordon Tucker’s comment in Abraham Heschel’s work, Heavenly Torah, these first two lines of the prayer Avinu Malkeinu are attributed to Rabbi Akiva.  Tucker adds:

It is noteworthy that Akiva’s doublet expresses a mutuality between God and human beings so characteristic of his thought.  God is asked to answer our prayers both because (i) we have no one else to turn to  (i.e., our fate is in God’s hands), and because (ii) God’s honor depends on our success (i.e., God’s fate is in our hands).[1]

Akiva’s expression is reiterated and developed in Heschel’s work, God in Search of Man.  It’s a point we cannot take for granted.  While we commonly acknowledge that our fate is in God’s hands, we often overlook the opposite but just as true concept that God’s fate is in our hands.  We have grown up in the world of Western theology, a world dominated by the idea of a transcendent God who is in need of nothing.  All powerful, all knowing, all present, this transcendent God maintains His aloof divine status regardless of the state of the creation.  In particular, He is both temporally and spatially removed from any connection with the creation that might diminish His magnificence.  It never occurred to Western theologians that such a God really has no essential use for human beings at all.  Their existence is an accident of creation, not an ontological necessity for deity.  In fact, the more Western theology emphasized the transcendent nature of the divine, the less human beings played any important role in the grand plan.  We were a thorn in the side of God’s creative activity demanding redemption and restoration in order to recover what we had ruined.

Akiva’s view is at polar opposites.  Actually, Akiva’s view reflects the biblical, not theological, position.  Read carefully, without theological blinders, you will discover passage after passage that expresses God’s intimate connection with humanity.  The idea that God’s name is at stake in every human decision is a constant theme.  The idea that God Himself is rescued in and through human obedience moves barely under the surface of the text.  It is not without significance that men such as Moses and David can appeal to God on the basis of maintaining His honor.

So what about us?  Have we unconsciously adopted the Western transcendent God, far removed from our trivial and incidental lives?  Or do we act upon the biblical thought that God’s reputation depends on us?  Would you deliberately act in a way that slanders the name of your closest friend, or wife, or husband, or your children?  Would your behaviors be different if you knew that what you do would leave a stain on them?  How then is it any different with God?  He depends on you.  Amazing, but true.

Topical Index:  Avinu Malkeinu, Akiva, reputation, honor, transcendence

[1] Gordon Tucker, footnote 32, p. 203 in Abraham Heschel, Heavenly Torah as Refracted through the Generations (Continuum, New York, 2007).

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Richard Bridgan

The strange and amazing truth… both peculiar and particular… man is requisite for God’s intentions in the work of creation!