One of the most common ways of addressing God in the Jewish liturgy is Avinu, our Father. By addressing God as Avinu, one can not only learn about humanity’s relationship with God, but also about Judaism’s view of fatherhood.

From the perspective of a child: Obviously Judaism does not expect a child to make his/her father into a god…but the Torah commands a child to both honor and revere his/her parents. One can learn how to fulfill these commandments by reflecting on the way one is supposed to relate to God. For instance, just as one does not take God’s name in vain, a child is prohibited to refer to a parent by his/her first name.

When it comes to religious reflection, Jewish tradition notes that most people’s relationship with God is based on reverence (yee’rah) before love (a’hava). Ideally, each person is supposed to work on serving God out of love. Similarly, the sages notice that a father-child relationship often has more fear/reverence in it, while a mother-child relationship has more love (see Kiddushin 31a). A child must therefore seek to look beyond the father’s role as rule-maker/ disciplinarian to feel the same love for one’s father as for one’s mother.

From the perspective of a father: In relating to the Divine Avinu, a father must remember that in his own home he must temper strict justice with mercy, just as God does on earth. This is often difficult, but necessary. Nevertheless, a father must not be afraid to be firm, as it says in Proverbs 13:24: “He that spares his rod, hates his son; but he that loves him, sometimes chastises him.”

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