Tradition & Innovation

In Search of a Prayer for the New President

Perhaps no single line from Jewish literature sums up the Jewish attitude about prayer and politics than the berakhah in Fiddler on the Roof: “May God bless and keep the Czar … far away from us.”

Perhaps no single line from Jewish literature sums up the Jewish attitude about prayer and politics than the berakhah in Fiddler on the Roof: “May God bless and keep the Czar … far away from us.” Frightened by the potential violence from the ruling class, the rabbi still finds an acceptable prayer, with a dash of humor.

We are a divided nation, and a divided Jewish people. With the upcoming U.S. presidential inauguration, how—and what—we pray for the President, Vice President, and the government has become political. Many of us feel like the rabbi in Fiddler, that the new ruling class in the U.S. is dangerous to individual freedom and the future of our democracy. But this is not a screenplay. It’s not a short story. And it isn’t funny.

My first attempt to write a prayer for the president-elect began as a classic prayer, blessing him with insight and wisdom, that he become "a steward dedicated to justice." I didn't believe that a word of it could come to pass. I scrapped it.

A second attempt resulted in an election-reaction prayer called "We Will be Heard." It's a reaction to the election that includes this: "Another day / We will pray for wisdom and grace / To land like a miracle / On the President-Elect, / Transforming his rhetoric of hostility and violence / Into deeds of compassion and love."

In an attempt to find inspiration, I reviewed the prayers for government found in ten Hebrew/English Ashkenazi siddurim from the U.S. and U.K. Some ask for blessings directly on the president (or the Queen), others emphasize the responsibility of government in general, while still others focus on the role of citizens. Some make direct reference to Tanakh, others do not. Tanakh passages include: Isaiah 2:4, Isaiah 58, Jeremiah 31:33, and Micah 6:8.

None of them seem to speak directly to the times. That's when it became clear. A classic prayer for the president, or for the government, doesn’t quite fit. If it can be used for any of the administrations for the last 40 years, it's probably not directly addressing the times.

So I returned to the first prayer I wrote after the election; I made some cuts and added lines. "Let the weight of the office change him for the good." And: "Let the institutions of our government keep his worst instincts in check." And: "Let him appoint advisors of strong intellect and sound intuition." Better, but still too conventional.

Then, an idea. Why be so serious? I posted a note to Facebook asking people to come up with one-line prayers based on the Fiddler prayer for the czar. I gave these examples:

"May God bless and keep the President from turning his back on refugees."
"May God bless and keep the President from abandoning minorities, the poor, and the disabled."
"May God bless and keep the President from alienating our allies and empowering despots."
"May God bless and keep the President from being re-elected."

Participants had a bit of fun expressing their fears about the incoming administration. I compiled "May God Bless and Keep the President..." based on those contributions.

My take-away from this search for a prayer for the new president is this: no single prayer will be adequate to address the issues raised by this administration.

In the four years ahead we'll need to pray for wisdom to prevail in our courts, in our military, in our state governments, and in the electorate. We'll need to pray for constant, rigorous, and level-headed advocacy to defend hard-won rights and to protect the disenfranchised. We will need to use prayer to challenge the ethical and moral consciousness of leaders and neighbors. We'll need to use prayer as a call to action.

We’ll need some standard—or nearly standard—prayers. And we’ll need outrageous ones, even more. These are outrageous times.

In all of this, I keep coming back to Psalm 94, the traditional Psalm for Wednesday: "Can a corrupt throne be allied with You? Can injustice be framed into law? They join forces against the life of the righteous, and condemn the innocent to death. But Adonai is my stronghold, my God is the rock of my refuge."

May God Bless and Keep the President
A prayer compiled from Facebook comments by Alden Solovy, January 2017

May God bless and keep the President from …
... turning his back on refugees.
... abandoning minorities, the poor, and the disabled.
... alienating our allies and empowering despots.
... destroying LGBTQ rights.
... telling women how to control their lives and their bodies.
... destroying our country.
... irreparably damaging the Supreme Court.
... abandoning the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
... forgetting the truths that are self-evident.
... speaking then denying then speaking then denying.
... establishing a national religion, abandoning the separation of church and state.
... inciting even more racism, anti-Semitism, and misogyny.
... mocking the disabled, attacking Gold Star families, and denigrating women.
... disemboweling the Fourth Estate.
... unleashing sinat hinam.
... undoing this grand experiment in recognizing inalienable rights.
... being re-elected.

May God bless and keep the President …
... occupied with trivial matters to limit his impact.
... aware of all the communities he was elected to serve.

May God bless and keep the President away from…
... Obamacare.
... Twitter.
... the nuclear launch codes.
... Medicare and Social Security.
... the White House.
... acting on his misogynistic impulses.

May God bless and teach the President…
... humility, justice, and kindness.
... to keep his oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.
... to build bridges of kindness and trust between all the peoples of the United States.
... to build bridges of kindness and trust between all the peoples of the world.
... the true meaning of compassion and human dignity.
... to see his inadequacies and his inappropriateness for the job.
... the difference between leading the nation and humiliating dissenters.

May God bless and save the President from himself, and save us from him.

Alden Solovy is a Jewish poet, liturgist and teacher whose prayers have been used by people of all faiths around the world. The author of Jewish Prayers of Hope and Healing, his nearly 600 new prayers appear in multiple anthologies, prayer books and websites. His work can be found at http://tobendlight.com/. He can be reached at alden@tobendlight.com. Photo by Alden Solovy.

Found in: Pursuing Justice, Secular Holidays

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