OUR FATHER WHO ART IN HEAVEN
Our Father Who Art In Heaven is not, nor has it ever been, an exclusive of the Church. Long before it served as the opening phrase of the Lord’s prayer, Our Father Who Art In Heaven was firmly ensconced in Judaism. Those of us with a fair knowledge of Hebrew liturgy, know it better as Avinu Sheh BaShamayim. With Father’s Day soon upon us, it would be of great value to look at a Hebrew prayer that begins by referring to HaShem as Avinu Sheh BaShamayim, in the hope that it serves as a guide and perhaps even a goal, toward which mortal fathers should aspire.
Avinu Sheh BaShamayim is a prayer typical of, but in no way limited to Shabbat morning services. In that prayer we find several requests: The first request is one of protection. Few will argue that the Israel Defense Forces has gained the respect (in some cases, begrudgingly) of governments of countries throughout the world. Among Jews, few should argue about HaShem’s role in that army. When it comes to military accomplishments, there are the explainable as well as the unbelievable. Yet, to those with a firm belief in HaShem, there is no unbelievable. There is only reaffirmation, that Avinu Sheh BaShamayim or Our Father Who Art In Heaven, continues to take an active role in keeping Israel safe. Once upon a time in America, whether deservedly or not, Hollywood portrayed the American father as a role mode to be looked up to and admired. Once upon a time in America, fathers in American society earned and deserved such admiration, because they protected their families – often in ways that required no physical prowess or skills. Often, such protection was in the form of arming children with the necessary skills and under-standing to be able to stand on their own two feet as they matured into adulthood.
We learn in the Talmud that “Shalom” or peace is yet another name for HaShem. Put differently, HaShem is pinnacle of peace. Whether in the form of silent prayer, or in the form of song, we are reminded that HaShem is interchangeable with Shalom, each time we conclude the Shemoneh Esreh. Oseh Shalom – May He who establishes peace in the heavenly spheres, establish peace upon us, as well as upon all Israel. The fathers we would like to remember from the “good old days” were the peace makers, even if peace came at the expense of a heavy hand. It was not at all unusual for those of my generation as well as earlier generations, to hear a mother at her wits end because of unruly and incorrigible children, serve those unruly and incorrigible children the following final notice and warning: “Just wait until your father gets home.” So conditioned were we by our society and culture, that we began contemplating heading for the hills or at the very least running away from home to avoid the perceived consequences of our fathers in “peace-making” mode.
It was the prophet Isaiah, who introduced the term “light unto the nations”. Perhaps this light reflected a greater light. Perhaps the very first light, was HaShem Himself. Metaphorically, HaShem’s first comment in Genesis,: “Yehi Or” translated as “Let there be light” may very well be an introduction on the part of the Creator of the world, just as I am HaShem your G-d was an introduction on the part of the Creator of a nation. Put differently, HaShem serves as a light to the world and we serve as a light to all other nations. Once upon a time in America, it was the father who served as the light for his family. It was the father who was able to shed light on an issue or problem that had seemed insurmountable up until that moment. It was the father who served as the Light House to whom all could flock to with problems. It was the father who was the guiding light, serving as vanguard for all other family members.
Avinu Sheh BaShamayim. Our Father who art in Heaven is more than a prayer. Avinu Sheh BaShamayim is a template that serves as a blueprint for fathers of flesh and blood. Avinu Sheh BaShamayim is a guide for mortal men who have brought children into this world. Most of all, Avinu Sheh BaShamayim is a challenge for fathers here on earth to serve as a wellspring of protection, to establish peace and to provide direction to those who ought to good reason to look up to him.