Welcome to “Share a Prayer” a quick look at a prayer that is found in our daily, Shabbat or Holy Day Prayer Service. Often during the course of the service we encounter some real gems that we don’t have time to reflect upon; this will give us an opportunity to select one prayer and take a closer look at it.
When ever we are faced with danger, fear or tragedy our first reaction is to turn to God for solace; either directly or through the synagogue. This phenomenon was seen in overwhelming measure after the horrors of 9/11, when people of all faiths flocked to houses of worship for communal support. One of our readers asked me about prayers in response to the horrible disaster which continues to unfold in Japan. Indeed prayer is a most fitting way to try to come to terms with such a tragedy. The energy derived from a community united in prayer can be an extremely powerful source of comfort and support in the face of an incomprehensible catastrophe.
Throughout our history, Jews have dealt with disaster and danger by praying. Perhaps the best source for these prayers is the Book of Psalms*, a collection of 150 exquisite liturgical poems that express the entire range of human emotion and explores many aspects of our relationship with our Creator. In addition to the number of Psalms that are included in our prayer book, there are many more that can be read as a source of comfort and encouragement. Our ancestors also dealt with misfortune such as drought and brutal anti-Semitism by imposing personal and public fasts. These were part of an intense regimen of prayer and study that were intended to stave off or mitigate the dire situation.
On a more personal level there are mandated prayers to be offered to those in need of healing. Each time we read the Torah we offer prayer for healing beginning with the phrase, “Mi Sheberach avoteinu… may the One Who Blessed our ancestors…” Similarly, the Gomel or deliverance prayer is recited by one who has survived an illness or dangerous situation.
Prayer is a dynamic experience – we are never limited to reciting only those prayers which have been codified in our Prayer Book. For generations, personal supplications and petitions have been composed and offered both in the context of the formal services and individually; indeed many of these were later added to the prayer book to become part of the formal liturgy. There is always room in Jewish worship for personal prayers, petitions and supplications that come from the heart.
Some may suggest that God sent this devastation to Japan in the context of some mystical Divine plan which is beyond the comprehension of us mere mortals. However, others such as the phenomenal author and lecturer, Rabbi Harold Kushner, maintain that the world has its own natural order and acts independently according to the laws of nature. Rather than being the source of or “on the side of the Tsunami” God is “on our side,” with us, weeping alongside those of His Children who suffer so deeply.
In that context then, here are links to some of the prayers that have been written or adapted in response to the awful events that have been taking place in Japan. The themes of these petitions are similar; we pray that God will send healing to those who suffer, comfort to those who are bereaved, relief to those who are homeless and strength to those rescuers, first responders and other caregivers who act as God’s hands in this difficult endeavor.
The first example is offered by the UAHC, the movement for Reform Judaism. http://news.reformjudaism.org.uk/press-releases/prayers-for-japan.html
Mechon Hadar, a scholarly institution connected to the independent Minyan movement posted this prayer. http://www.mechonhadar.org/portlet-test/-/asset_publisher/Z3Kb/content/id/1236291?redirect=%2F
Our next prayer was posted by the Metropolitan Region of the United Synagogue. http://metny.uscj.org/2011/03/a-prayer-in-response-to-the-earthquake-and-tsumani/
The fourth prayer was posed on Beliefnet, a multidenominational spiritual community. It was composed by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth in response to other natural disasters, but is equally appropriate here. http://blog.beliefnet.com/windowsanddoors/2010/01/a-rabbis-prayer-in-response-to.html
Our hearts go out to those unfortunate people who continue to be affected by this horror. Let us all resolve to continue to offer physical as well as spiritual support. If you know of a prayer that has been composed that should be part of this collection, please send me the link and I will share it next time.
I hope you enjoy this brief look at our prayers. If you have a suggestion or question or request, email me at email@example.com.
Hazzan Michael Krausman