God is depicted many ways in Judaism. As a loving Father and a just King, God is approached by the Jewish people through prayer, both by spontaneous heartfelt expressions and deeply meaningful liturgical prayers. This liturgy is the heartbeat of the Jewish people.
Three times a day religious Jews pray to God using ancient words carefully woven into a beautiful tapestry of prayer, petition, and praise. We are currently in a season of repentance. We, the collective whole of God’s people, both Jew and Gentile, young and old, rich and poor, free and enslaved, are praying prayers of repentance from the Siddur that reflect our humble posture as we approach our just King during this time of corporate repentance.
As we approach the high holy days of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur we pray through a series of prayers knows as “Slichot,” which means “penitence.” These prayers are the heartfelt stirrings of a people repenting and asking God for forgiveness. One may think that during this time God is characterized by the liturgy as a stern and overbearing King, ready to bring regal punishment on his subjects. Yet, the God revealed in these prayers is a gracious and loving King and father whose hands are outstretched to embrace those who come to him.
Furthermore, in these prayers, the Jewish people are not portrayed as attempting to earn God’s favor through good deeds, but instead as a people who humbly rely on God’s mercy and grace:
Yours, O Lord, is the righteous and to us is shamefulness. How can we complain? What will we say, what will we speak, how will we justify? Let us search and examine our ways and return to you, God. For your right hand is outstretched to penitents. We do not come with kindness or good deeds before you, but instead as paupers and beggars we knock on your door. On your doors we knock, compassionate and gracious one, do not turn us away empty from before you. Our king, do not turn us away empty handed, for you hear prayer. (Slichot)
These words express a posture of meekness and humbleness. The slichot service continues to further highlight the compassion of God:
For on your abundant compassion we trust, on your righteousness we lean, and on your forgiveness we hope. For your salvation we anticipate. You are the king who has loved righteousness from long ago. Who removes the transgressions of his people, and strips away the sins of those who fear him….you guide the world through the attribute of compassion. (Slichot)
Finally, a theme that is addressed continually is God and Israel’s relationship, which is likened to that of a father and son:
As a father has compassion upon his children, so too God, may you have compassion on us. The Lord’s salvation is upon his people, selah. The Lord of hosts is with us, a stronghold for us is the God of Jacob, selah. Lord of Hosts! Happy is the man you trusts in you. Lord save, may the king answer us on the day we call. (Slichot)
These prayers, which are currently being prayed by millions of Jews from around the world, show that the central idea of God in Judaism is that he is a righteous, just, and compassionate father, waiting to receive the prayers of his people.
As disciples of Yeshua we can draw inspiration from his teachings as we enter into this time of repentance, as repentance was central in the teachings of Yeshua. In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector Yeshua emphasized that our Father in heaven looks for meekness in repentance:
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)
The humble request, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” finds solace in the prayers of slichot. Such a posture is what our heavenly Father is looking for in us. He does not need our good deeds, our money, or even our prayers. What God delights in is a humble and contrite heart, one that is willing to be broken in true repentance. As we approach our heavenly King during this time of intense introspection, we should do so along with the Jewish people in a posture of humbleness that trusts in the grace, compassion, and mercy of God our King.