A Prayer for Syria

Suddenly everyone is talking about Syria.

Two years of mayhem and murder, confusion and hesitation. 100,000 Syrians killed, a quarter of the population turned refugees, and now hundreds have been gassed to death, a sight which no Jew – no human – can ignore; a sight which once seen, cannot go unanswered.

As we enter Rosh Hashana, the crucial days of mercy and compassion in the Jewish calendar, we must open the door for the story of the Syrian people to enter into our prayers. If books of life and death are opening during this time, how can we not place this burning issue on our praying agenda during these High Holy Days.

Some might decry such prayers as a “bleeding heart liberal” initiative, one which undermines precious “Jewish time” for the plight of those who are otherwise our enemies. Yet praying for other nations is an inimitable feature of Rosh haShana, and praying on behalf of one’s neighbors is something Jews have been doing since the days of Abraham.

Rosh Hashana contains an on-going tension between the personal and the global. On one hand it is our private judgment day, a day where the Jewish people crown God as our King. Yet Rosh Hashana commemorates the creation of the world – not the creation of the Jewish people. It is the judgment day for the entire world – and our prayers must reflect that concern.

This concept is already invoked in many of the prayers of Rosh haShana, and best crystallized in one of the oldest prayers for Rosh haShana, called “Rav’s Tekiya”. Originally quoted in the Talmud, it continues to appear in almost all prayer books:

This short prayer encapsulates the Jewish approach to universalism: Only when facing personal judgment day, can one also face a judgment day for the collective nation, and only on such a collective moment can one face a judgment day for all of creation. Individual, family, nation and humanity are not mutually exclusive or competing frames, but complimentary ones. One cannot be a Universalist without acting out of a personal, familial and national context, and one cannot act within his own kinship groups without also realizing that, at the end of the day, we all have a shared ancestry. Jewishness is not a ghetto in which to take refuge from the world, it is rather a lens through which to engage with the world.

Abraham and the First Prayer

In stepping up to pray on behalf of our Syrian neighbors we are walking in the footsteps of our forefather, Abraham, who - in the first prayer in the Torah - prays for his neighbor, Abimelech, the king of Grrar. Abimelech is not exactly a friend to Abraham’s family: he mostly comes across as a swindling, opportunistic and dishonest person. Yet when Abimelech’s home is cursed with barrenness, Abraham – whose wife suffers from the same affliction – prays to God on his behalf. Immediately after Abraham’s prayer on behalf of Abimelech, the geriatric Sarah and Abraham themselves receive a child:

In our prayers this year we should beg for mercy for our neighbors, seeking peace in their land, safety and stability in their homes, security and justice in their streets. We will pray that they will open their hearts in compassion to their own neighbors – and to us as well. And within this prayer we hope that we too receive these blessings, such that a great and glorious peace visits our homes, nations and countries as well, in the year 5774.

A Rosh Hashana Prayer for Syria

Rabbi Mishael Zion is Co-Director of the Bronfman Fellowships, author of “A Night to Remember: The Haggadah of Contemporary Voices”. He blogs at Text and the City.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.


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A Prayer for Syria

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