Praying for Israel

April 23, 2014Rabbi Yehudit Werchow

O Heavenly One, Protector and Redeemer of Israel,
bless the State of Israel which marks the dawning of hope for all who seek peace.
Shield it beneath the wings of Your love; spread over it the canopy of Your Peace;
send Your light and truth to all who lead and advise,
guiding them with Your good counsel.
Establish peace in the land and fullness of joy for all who dwell there.

      – Mishkan T’Filah (p. 377)

The Prayer for the State of Israel expresses two main wishes: the care for its physical well-being and for its souls’ well-being. There are additional messages implicit in the prayer that I find essential to its purpose. Said by the People of Israel, this prayer reminds us that we are all united in wishing Israel to be well and prosper. It is a hopeful prayer, and communicates our belief in Israel’s capability to grow – recognizing Israel’s potential to grow – and the qualities needed for its well-being. Finally, the language of the prayer depicts the idea of the partnership between God, the people of Israel, and the State of Israel. No matter where we live, we are all part of this precious Jewish enterprise. Being aspirational doesn’t diminish our awareness of the challenges ahead or the possibilities of what could go wrong (and have gone wrong), but this prayer inspires us to believe in our ability and Israel’s ability to thrive.

The theologian, Jewish leader, and activist Abraham Joshua Heschel teaches us the essence of prayer:

To pray is to take notice of the wonder, to regain the sense of the mystery that animates all beings, the divine margins in all attainments. Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living.

Most importantly, Heschel reminds us that:

Prayer is no substitute for action, it makes visible the right. In its radiance we behold the worth of our efforts, the range of our hopes, and the meaning of our deeds.1

When we pray for the well-being of the State of Israel, we acknowledge the wonder of Jewish sovereignty and the substantial cultural and spiritual accomplishments of the Jewish State. Although it is not explicit in the liturgy, I believe that the prayer serves as an invitation to reflect on the values Israel was founded upon, and as a call to action, reminding us of the personal and collective efforts that are needed to fulfill these values and dreams.

The next two weeks are a time of grief, reflection, and celebration in Israel and in Jewish communities around the world – from Yom HaShoah (Memorial Day for the Holocaust) to Yom HaZikaron (Memorial day for the fallen soldiers and victims of terror) and ending with the celebrations of Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel Independence Day). These weeks are a time to strengthen our commitment as a People and a Nation, to renew our personal hopes for Israel and generate actions that give life to them.

Israeli song writer Yankale Rortblit wrote this beautiful song for Israel that is so fitting for this season and echoes these ideas:

Abraham he was our father
You were not an only child
It’s the same old story going wild
Anyone who has fought will tell
That the war only leads to hell
If you can just live this
If you can believe this
It isn’t in Heaven
Just reach out and have it
The road is open forever
Let’s walk it together
It isn’t in Heaven
Just reach out and have it

  1. Heschel, Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity, NY, 1996.

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