I ate with a group of newly religious Jews one Rosh Hashanah, and during the course of the discussion a young professional confessed that he struggled to keep up with the congregation during the services as his Hebrew wasn’t yet strong enough. To save time, he skipped the introductory phrase in each line of the pivotal Avinu Malkeinu prayer.

Each line of the emotionally charged prayer (said during the High Holidays, the Ten Days of Repentance, and on most fastHe struggled to keep up with the congregation days) begins with “Avinu Malkeinu…” - “Our Father, Our King…” and is followed by a request for the coming year: healing, sustenance, peace, and everything that we need as individuals and as a people. This young man had recited only the requests. Later, however, he realized that the most significant part of the prayer is not the changing requests, but the repetition of “Avinu Malkeinu” itself.

The Talmud1 tells of a terrible drought, and the desperation that gripped the people. Rabbi Elazar declared a public fast day and recited 24 different blessings. Alas, the drought continued. But when Rabbi Akiva cried out, “Our Father, our King! We have no one else but you! Our Father, our King! For Your sake have mercy upon us,” it began to rain immediately.

Why was Rabbi Akiva's prayer answered but not Rabbi Elazar's?

Avinu Malkeinu perfectly encapsulates our relationship with G‑d: If we relate to Him as a father, we may assume that our sins are easily forgiven, which might lead to laxity in fulfilling His commands. But if we view G‑d solely as an all-powerful king, we may not understand that He is interested and invested in our welfare on a personal level. Our relationship with G‑d is uniquely two-fold: we are his children, yet we are also his subjects. He loves us the way a father loves his children and forgives their transgressions. At the same time, like all monarchs, He sets rules for us that are meant to harness our energies for the greater goal of His kingdom.

There is another, deeper, meaning to the phrase “Our Father, our King.” Parents want the very best for their children, but they, like all earthly beings, are limited in their ability to resolve every challenge. The king, on the other hand, is all-knowing and all-powerful. He can resolve any difficulty. But unless we are directly connected to him, he doesn’t necessarily want to help us. Since G‑d is both our Father and our King, however, He definitely wants to help us and is also able to resolve every issue we face.

All parents know how frustrating it is toRain is a heavenly gift watch a child grapple with issues that we cannot resolve. When our children are small, we can fix most of their problems, but as they grow older they face challenges that may be beyond our abilities. It is at this stage that our children begin to learn that they can no longer rely solely on us and they start to turn directly to their heavenly Father and King.

Rain is a heavenly gift that only G‑d can provide. Rabbi Akiva’s simple but unique prayer formula took into consideration that G‑d is both our Father who always wants to help us, and the all-powerful King who is able to grant us any request. Because he acknowledged this dual relationship, his prayer was answered and the drought ceased.

During the High Holiday season, let’s keep in mind that G‑d has both the desire and wherewithal to help us. All we need to do is ask.