Service of the Heart (עבודת הלב): Exploring Prayer

This week's column was written by Rabbi Samuel Barth, Senior Lecturer in Liturgy and Worship, JTS.

Prayer(s) for the State of Israel

With sorrow in our hearts, we turn this week to the dangers facing Medinat Yisrael, the State of Israel, and all who live there. The circulation of "composed prayer texts" does not in any way preclude each person from pouring out his or her inner dreams and desires to God. It is the role of the rabbinic leaders of the community to prepare words that express the thoughts, hopes, and dreams within all of our hearts, and give concrete form to the value and ideals we cherish. Rabbi Reuven Hammer writes this week from the Jerusalem: " . . . I have added Psalm 91 to our services here during this period. I think it is particularly appropriate for this particular situation with its reference to arrows."

The prayer below is composed by leaders of our Movement in Israel, Rabbis Simcha Roth (z"l) and Michael Graetz:

May He who blessed our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah bless the residents of the State of Israel who live under the daily threat of missiles of death and destruction. May the Holy One strengthen their spirit and give them resolve to withstand this crisis until it passes.

May it be the will of the Most High to grant wisdom and insight to those leaders of the State charged with conducting the people's war, so that their actions are infused with courage, wisdom and intelligence which achieve a just goal. Lord of Hosts, the God of the ranks of Israel, protect the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces in the air, on the sea and land, those in battle, those on the home front, and all the rescue and security forces. Save them from every trouble and evil design, and cause the works of their hands to be for blessing and for success.

May they go out in peace and return victorious and whole to their homes and loved ones.

O Heavenly One, bring peace to the Holy Land and eternal joy to its inhabitants, for Jacob again shall have calm and quiet with none to trouble him [Ve'eyn macharid]. And may the verse be applied to us: "But every man shall sit Under his grapevine or fig tree With no one to disturb him [ve'eyn macharid]. For it was the Lord of Hosts who spoke."

It is worth looking closely at several of the ways in which this text is composed with exquisite sensitivity and humanity. It asks that God strengthen the spirit of those who face daily threats of death and destruction; it asks that those charged with leadership be blessed with wisdom in order to achieve a just goal. We ask not only victory for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), but that they all might return in peace to their homes and their loved ones.

Most of all, there are two biblical citations, each culminating with the Hebrew words "ve'eyn macharid," affirming our dream, our prayer, for all Israel and all the Middle East: "Let no one spread terror, let no one make the people afraid."

The full text of the prayer can be found at the Rabbinical Assembly website.

A deeply moving rendering by Hazzan Shai Abramson, chief cantor of the IDF, of the more traditional "Prayer for the State of Israel" (melody composed by Hazzan Sol Zim, a leading member of the Cantors Assembly) can be heard below. The images and interviews accompanying the prayer invoke memories going back to the first hours of the State.