Prayer Won't #BringBackOurBoys

Why Do We Resort to Reciting Psalms at Moments of Crisis?

Beseeching: A Jewish student prays for the three teenagers believed to have been kidnapped by militants.
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Beseeching: A Jewish student prays for the three teenagers believed to have been kidnapped by militants.

By Leah Bieler

Published June 17, 2014.

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But my friend was not felled by her unexamined mezuzah. A child ravaged by cancer is not being punished for feeling afraid. The woman who is raped in a dark alley was not asking for it. And I don’t like the idea of the Master of all things punishing those innocent boys because we said the wrong psalm, or no psalm at all.

When my little girl blamed the creator for the new viewing schedule, I explained that there were people who worked at the Public Broadcasting Service and that they determined to change the shows around. That God created humans, who used their intellect to understand electricity and photography and computers, and the list went on. That she could use her copious abilities to call or email the station in protest. That she might or might not get her show back, but that humans were in charge of the details.

I’m not entirely sure she bought it. Up until that moment, everything around her had a touch of the miraculous. For a three-year-old, many things seem to happen magically, with no explanation. Kind of how I still feel about air travel, no matter how many times someone explains it to me.

Individual and communal prayer have in them the potential for tremendous power. Prayer can force us outside of ourselves, help create and maintain empathy, form community, heal wounded souls. It can redirect our thinking, bind us to the past, and allow us to make space for a connection with the divine.

All of these are holy purposes. But using prayer as a magic trick is a much dicier business. The moment I’m sure that my specific mode of praying will work miracles is bound to be short lived. I will, without fail, find myself disappointed in the end.

For now, as far as anyone can tell, the lion’s share of fault for the kidnapping falls on the kidnappers, the masterminds, and the nature of a society where these actions are seen as viable options.

When, please God, the boys are returned safely, the glory will not belong to those of us who prayed the best, or the loudest. It will belong to the police and to the soldiers — themselves but a few years older than those frightened boys — who risked their lives to partner in a miracle. And to the boys themselves.

And to the Master of the Universe, who created us to be cunning, and strong, and proud, and protective of the people and the things that we truly love. And that will be more than enough.

Leah Bieler has an M.A. in Talmud and Rabbinics from the Jewish Theological Seminary. She teaches Talmud in Connecticut.

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