Sunday, July 13, 2014

Praying During Difficult Times

Today, like so many other days, missiles are launched at many areas in Israel.  Fortunately, Iron Dome is doing the job for which it was created, something truly miraculous, and there have been virtually no injuries.  Even the damage has been incredibly limited.  

Here in Jerusalem, we have had a total of four red alerts: One false alarm, one alarm where missiles fell in Hebron, located in Palestinian territory, and not in Jerusalem, and two cases where missiles were shot down by Iron Dome. Life continues as normal.  People are eating out, going to work, taking children to gan.  Business as usual.

In the South, however,  the red alerts are almost non-stop. Even in the Gush Dan region, the center of the country along the coast where most of the population lives, while the red alerts are increasing in frequency, they still pale in comparison to what those in the South experience.

Many of us are praying for the end of this.  We don't want innocent civilians injured, killed or displaced on either side of the conflict.  We don't want our precious soldiers put in harms way.  At the same time, we don't want our country to continue to operate under the continuous threat of missiles, rockets and mortars. No other country in the world would tolerate this kind of attack on their population centers, their capital, their country.  We will not, we cannot tolerate this either. This is our ancestral homeland, our nation-state, the land where the Zionist dream, utopian as Herzl was in certain ways, will be fulfilled.

We search for words to pray.  Will our prayers serve as a direct link to God, that will be answered positively and immediately?  Will my prayers be answered because I eat kosher food, observe Shabbat, etc? Because I give tzedakah or help others? Many people believe in the direct impact of prayer on the Divine and their personal ability to see the answer in this world and on a daily basis. 

Personally, I don't believe in the efficacy of prayer as a way to get God to act in a certain way.  I do not believe that I can identify God acting in this world.  That does not mean I deny the possibility; rather, I just don't believe that even if my prayers do have that power, that I can identify the finger of God acting in this world, in answer to my prayers.  I do, however,  believe that God gives human beings free will to choose to do good, evil and all that lies between.   

Prayer gives words to the deepest feelings in my soul, to emotions  I may have difficulty articulating.  Prayer causes me to be reflective about what is important, what is frightening, what brings hope and what causes sadness.  It is no coincidence, in my opinion, that the Hebrew word for prayer, L'Hitpalel, is conjugated in the reflexive, to look inside. So, in these challenging times in Israel, what words are there to help me feel strength, confidence, and blessing?  What prayers can give flight to my emotions of concern and determination, helplessness (as I do not serve in the IDF) and  confidence that as a Jew living in the Jewish State, I am no longer powerless?

The Rabbinical Assembly circulated the following prayer, composed by Rabbi Simcha Roth z"l, for times like this.  The words speak to and for me.  

Perhaps they will for you as well.

As I write this, my phone beeps with red alert warnings for so many communities in the South, near the Gaza Strip.  So I pray...

I pray for the day when the children of Sderot, Nahal Oz, Yad Mordechai, Sa'ad and other communities can go outside without needing to know where the nearest bomb shelter or protected area is located.  

I pray for the day when Hamas ceases to hold its own people hostage, when they seek Peace and Co-Existence rather than death and destruction.

I pray for the day when we never see a group of Jewish teens kidnapped and killed for any reason and for the day when we cease needing to add names of Israelis to the list of those killed in battle or from in acts of terror

I pray for the day when we uproot racism and hatred from our own communities.

I pray for the day we do the cheshbon nefesh (soul searching) demanded by recent events like the racist march through  the streets of our capital, and the cold blooded murder of a 16 year old Arab teen.

Finally, I pray for the day we see Peace for Israel, for the Jewish People, for the Land and for all who live in this region:

מִי שֶׁבֵּרַךְ אֲבוֹתֵינוּ אַבְרָהָם יִצְחָק וְיַעֲקֹב, וְאִמּוֹתֵינוּ שָׂרָה רִבְקָה לֵאָה וְרָחֵל, הוּא יְבָרֵךְ אֶת תּוֹשְׁבֵי מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל הַחַיִּים תַּחַת הָאִיּוּם הַמַּתְמִיד שֶׁל טִילֵי הַהֶרֶס. הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא יְחַזֵּק אֶת לִבָּם וְאֶת כֹּשֶׁר עֲמִידָתָם בְּעֵת מַשְׁבֵּר, עַד יַעֲבֹר זַעַם.יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלִּפְנֵי יוֹשֵׁב בַּמְּרוֹמִים שֶׁיִּתֵּן עֵצָה טוֹבָה בְּלֵב כָּל קְבַרְנִיטֵי הַמְּדִינָה, שֶׁיֵּדְעוּ לְנַהֵל אֶת מִלְחֶמֶת הָעָם בְּתוּשִׁיָּה, בַּהֲבָנָה וּבְחָכְמָה.יהוה צְבָאוֹת, מֶלֶךְ שֶׁהַשָּׁלוֹם שֶׁלּוֹ, שְׁמֹר נָא עַל חַיָּלֵי צְבָא הַהֲגָנָה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל הָעוֹמְדִים בַּמַּעֲרָכָה בַּיַּבָּשָׁה,בָּאֲוִיר וּבַיָּם, בַּחֲזִית וּבָעֹרֶף, וְעַל כָּל כֹּחוֹת הַבִּטָּחוֹן וְהַהַצָּלָה. הַצִּילֵם אֱלֹהֵינוּ מִכָּל צָרָה וְצוּקָה וּמִכָּל פֶּגַע רַע, וּשְׁלַח בְּרָכָה וְהַצְלָחָה בְּמַעֲשֵׂי יְדֵיהֶם: צֵאתָם לְשָׁלוֹם וְשׁוּבָם לְבָתֵּיהֶם לְחַיִּים וּלְשָׁלוֹם.אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם, שִׂים שָׁלוֹם בָּאָרֶץ וְשִׂמְחַת עוֹלָם לְכָל יוֹשְׁבֶיהָ, וִיקֻיַּם בָּנוּ בִּמְהֵרָה בְיָמֵינוּ מִקְרָא שֶׁכָּתוּב: "וְיָשְׁבוּ אִישׁ תַּחַת גַּפְנוֹ וְתַחַת תְּאֵנָתוֹ וְאֵין מַחֲרִיד,כִּי פִי יהוה צְבָאוֹת דִּבֵּר", וּפְרֹשׂ סֻכַּת שְׁלוֹמֶךָ עַל כָּל יוֹשְׁבֵי תֵּבֵל אַרְצֶךָ. 

וְכֵן יְהִי רָצוֹן

,ונֹאמַר אָמֵן.
May the One who blessed our patriarchs -  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - and our matriarchs - Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah -, bless the residents of the State of Israel who live under the constant threat of destructive missiles.  May the Holy One Blessed One strengthen their hearts and their staying power at this moment of crisis, until the danger has passed.

May it be the will of the Almighty, that God imbues wisdom in the hearts of all the members of the State’s Cabinet, that they will know to direct this national war with wisdom, insight and understanding.  God of Hosts, Sovereign of Peace, please protect the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces serving in this campaign on land, in the air and at sea, on the front and in the rear – and all the forces of defense and rescue.  Save them, God, from all trouble, distress and malady, and give them blessing and success in all their endeavors.  May they go out in peace and return to their homes for life and peace.

Our Father in Heaven, bring peace to the land and eternal peace to all its residents, and establish amongst us, speedily in our days, what is says in our Tanakh:  “And each person shall sit under his vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid, because the mouth of the Lord of Hosts has spoken. (Micah 4:4)”  And spread a shelter of Your Peace on all the residents of your land.  

And so it shall be.  

And let us all say, Amen.

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