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Avinu Malkenu- Save Us!

Updated: Dec 9, 2023

Last Sat night, we ushered in the Yamim Noraim, the days of awe, with an awesomely moving Selichot service, One thing struck me, though- the translation of the prayer Avinua Malkenu. In this prayer, we beg God to treat us with grace, to answer us- we acknowledge that we need compassion beyond the merits of our deeds. Then, the prayer ends with the word- v’hoshianu- and save us! The translation in the Gates of Repentance, however, does not capture the power of this plea. It reads instead- and help us.

As I stood in front of the sifrei Torah as the ark was opened for Selichot, I reflected on the difference between these words- help, and save. I imagined a person who is drowning- what would help look like compared to what would saving look like? I taught swimming for many years, so I KNOW the difference. Help means standing on the sidelines, saying something encouraging, perhaps throwing a life preserver. Save means jumping, putting your arms around the person, and dragging them to safety.

Perhaps during the course of year, we are content to ask for God’s help. At the High Holiday season, I think we are asking for something more profound- we are asking to be saved!On this final Shabbat of the year, as our hearts turn in deepest earnest to the year ahead, we pause to reflect on our deepest hopes- where do we want to be helped? Where do we want to be saved?

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