One of the most powerful prayers of the entire high holidays is found not before the sounding of the shofar of Rosh Hashana nor during the ‘al chet’ on Yom Hakippurim, not even in the heartfelt prayer of Unetaneh tokef, rather it is a simple plea hidden during the time the Torah is taken out and brought to the bima. Often the poetry of the prayers, while pleasing to the ear and rolling off the tongue are difficult to comprehend and internalize. One prayer dispenses with metaphors and flowery phraseology and truly expresses what is most on our minds. It reads as follows:
“Lord of the universe, fulfill our petitions for happiness; grant our request and graciously pardon all our iniquities, all the iniquities of our families. Cleanse us from our sins and transgressions; remember us generously; be mindful of us and mercifully save us. Remember us for a long and happy life of peace and well-being; give us food to eat and clothes to wear, wealth and length of days, to meditate in thy Torah and to perform its precepts; endow us with intelligence to understand its deep mysteries. O send healing for all our sorrows and bless all our work. Ordain for us good laws of deliverance and comfort, and abolish all evil decrees against us. Inspire the leaders of our government to be good to us. Amen, may this be thy will.”
The prayer, recited both on Rosh Hashana as well as Yom Kippur begins with a request for a spiritual pardon for our sins, a cleansing of our ways and a desire for spiritual salvation at this hour of need. But it then goes straight to our hearts as we ask from God for the most basic of physical needs: happiness, peace of mind, well being, food, clothing, wealth and length of days. For what reason? To meditate in the words of God’s Torah and to perform the mitzvot.
It is a straightforward recipe—first a spiritual salvation, followed by a physical one, all in order that we can serve God better throughout our year. I thought about this prayer when I was in Sderot over the summer, at one of our OU Israel programs we have been running for the past year. We have been sending psychologist Debbie Gross and a team of social workers to Sderot twice a week to offer trauma therapy, skills to cope with the terror, and friendship, in a city void of a smile and a helping hand. Debbie will continue to go and deal with the thousands of children who are suffering from PTSD and other stress related problems and we hope to continue supporting her as much as possible. In the summer there was a final event acknowledging the amazing work and I had a chance to speak with some of the children who received therapy.
I saw a five year old girl still trembling with a fear she has lived with her entire life. She draws a picture of her house, her dog, her bicycle and—kassams destroying it all.
I saw a teenage girl who was crying because she didn’t pass her final exams; she cannot concentrate when bigger issues loom, and though the school is allowing her more time she is fed up, she doesn’t want to continue. A boy tells me that his friend’s foot was blown off and soon the bombs will start again and he might be in the same place. Another creates a collage of magazine articles which picture a sleepy town with nothing going on. He calls the picture paradise. There were hundreds more with thousands more stories.
Meeting these young children I ask myself what their Rosh Hashana prayer would look like. Do they also ask for forgiveness? Do they seek wealth and happiness? I imagine the prayer something like this:
“Lord of the Universe, fulfill my petition for life and grant me the ability to keep living. I ask for no pardons of iniquities, I simply don’t have the mindset to make a heshbon hanefesh, to search my deeds and actions over the past year. I don’t want to recall the thousands of times I cursed running for shelter, or the countless times I looked up to the heavens and prayed silently for this madness to stop—in vain. I simply want to exist. Lord, I am not asking for a long life, but for a day without thinking of another kassam. Erase my memories. Create in me a new heart and a new spirit so that I may one day serve you in joy. But not today, and not tomorrow.
Bring me people I can talk with, who will not be more frightened than I am about living in Sderot. Get me therapy to learn how to cope with my stress, I am eight years old and I have stress. Heal me, body and soul; help me by destroying this evil decree in the form of kassams which will undoubtedly continue to rain down on us. Please inspire the leaders of my country to be strong and protect its citizens, to be honest and to stand firm on promises, to be courageous and come visit us in public, to be comforting and offer us solutions instead of stating there are none. Please give them strength. I hope I am here before you next year, whole and safe, I pray for the peace of Jerusalem and Sderot and everyone in our country.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing before thee, O Lord, my Stronghold and my Redeemer.
Rabbi Avi Baumol is Director of Communications of OU Israel.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.