A Mother's Prayer: Mi Shebeirach for the Israel Defense Forces
Some of my earliest childhood memories are of going to services with my family for Shabbat and other Jewish holidays. Although I often preferred to hang outside of the sanctuary with my friends, as I grew older I developed an appreciation for attending synagogue. It helped shape my Jewish identity and contributed to my love and respect for Jewish traditions. Reciting prayers as a community gave me my first sense of belonging to the Jewish people, past and present — a feeling of connection that stayed with me throughout my life.
Lately I've been thinking more about what prayer means to me and what it gives me. I've come to understand that prayer is one of my greatest gifts. It's a form of meditation that brings me closer to myself and raises my awareness of the vastness of life and the world around me. Through prayer, whether my own personal thoughts or traditional liturgy, I can express my hopes, fears, anguish, love and gratitude for my blessings.
My recent reflections on prayer date back to when my son was about to be drafted for compulsory service in the Israel Defense Forces (known here as Tzahal). On the Friday evening before his draft date, my congregation (Kehillat Emet VeShalom, the only congregation in Nahariya affiliated with the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism) held a Friday night service in honor of him and another young man whose draft date was also the following week. This service, known as a Shabbat Mitgayasim, is when a congregation notes its appreciation and support for young men and women upon their imminent army service – and prays for their wellbeing and success.
As the congregation recited the Mi Shebeirach for the Israel Defense Forces that evening, the words struck a chord in me as only a few other prayers, such as the Tefilah L'Shalom (the Prayer for Peace) had before. This particular Mi Shebeirach reflects my sentiments and provides me with some comfort, hope and inner peace if only for a moment. I say the words of this blessing, along with the members of my congregation, with conviction.
Bless the soldiers of Israel's Defense Forces, and everyone who stands guard in order to protect our people. May the Holy One, Blessed be God, protect them and save them from all troubles and afflictions, from all sickness and injury and send blessing to all their endeavors. May the words of the Prophets come to fruition through them 'and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. And each one shall sit under the vine and under the fig tree and none shall be afraid,' and let us say, Amen.
Since that evening, we've continued to say this Mi Shebeirach at every service – but I also find myself chanting this blessing in my mind at other times, such as while I am waiting in my car at Nahariya's main intersection near the train station where groups of soldiers gather for transport to bases all over our northern border. I see these young men and women listening to their iPods, eating, drinking, and talking on their cell phones or among themselves as young people do all over the world, but they are dressed in their madim (army uniforms), and soon they will have to step back into the responsibility and seriousness that their service as soldiers demands of them. Sometimes, too, the Mi Shebeirach starts to run like a tape in my head when I hear news on the radio that breaks up the reverie of any song I might have been humming along with just moments before.
Now, as my son completes a milestone in his army service – a demanding week of exercises that marked his unit's completion of its long training period – I couldn't be prouder, but I'll step up my prayers for him and his fellow soldiers as they continue to serve. I'll hold him and every IDF soldier in my heart and soul and say the Mi Shebeirach for all of them as they protect eretz yisrael (the land of Israel) and maintain our homes and lives in security. At the same time, I'll yearn and pray strongly for peace.