Shemonah Esrei For The Second Term
No matter how they cast their ballots, many in our community feel confusion, vulnerability and fear in the aftermath of the election. As committed Jews, all feelings of helplessness could and should help our davening. We can contemporize our tefilah directly from the morning’s headlines. Our doubts and anxieties can not only sharpen our focus and kavanah during davening, but we can calm our troubled spirits by reminding ourselves that we are never, ever left without loving assistance and the possibility of a Divine bailout. We can provide our own spiritual stimulus package.
I offer a few thoughts on how a frum Jew who reads and cares might approach the middle section of Shemonah Esrei, the berachos of bakashah/request. Not all the issues relate to the uncertainties of the next political cycle. I have tried to make this exercise as non-partisan as I know how.
אתה חונן לאדם דעת We are terrified by the number of decisions we have to make in our lives. So many things can go wrong. We fear making the wrong choices in the chinuch of our children. We struggle to allocate time properly between our professional lives and our duties to family. By placing us in a time of relative plenty, You give us hard choices between taking too much from the material world – and thereby trivializing ourselves, and taking too little in exercises of misguided piety, turning us into misshapen personalities. Please, Hashem, give us the wisdom and discernment to puzzle through issues that are relatively new to us, and for which we do not seem to have the answers.
השיבנו We fully accept the fact that how we fare in this world and the next depends on how well we fulfill Your trust and expectations. We are embarrassed to say that we often come before You like small children, clamoring for more treats despite their misbehavior. We would position ourselves much better, as individuals and as a community, if we were to become better Jews. Please help inspire us to start on the road to teshuvah, and to see it through to the end.
סלח לנו Too often we think about aveiros only as activities that can lead to some sort of punishment. We forget that You are not arbitrary in Your commandments. Aveiros are bad for us; mitzvos undone mean that our potential for growth is tragically cut short. Our actions have real consequences, beyond any considerations of punishment for disappointing You. Not the least of those consequences is the closeness or distance we feel from You. So much of our anomie is caused by not feeling as connected to You as we would like, because we have disconnected ourselves through our sins. Please help us remove the stains upon our neshamos left by our aveiros and our lapses in kedushah. You put us in such a beautiful world, but there is so much tum’ah so close at hand when we are not careful. Grant us selichah for our misdeeds, which means far more than simple forgiveness. It means restoring the purity of the neshamos, the portions of the Divine, that you planted within us.
ראה נא בענינו Our plight is so desperate that we cannot even verbalize how frightened and helpless we are. We can only ask that You look at our situation and respond with help. Look at the threat from Iran, at the explosion of anti-Semitism around the world, at the madness unleashed upon the world by barbarians who speak ugliness in Your name. Behold the families that cannot afford tuition or find a school that will accept their children. Discern the pain of hundreds of wonderful men and women who have yearned for their baschert for years and have come up with nothing but the specter of living life alone. Study the toll taken on our community by a rash of failed marriages; by children who did not really go off the derech because they were never on it in the first place. We are in tough straits, Hashem, and look to You to solve problems too big for us to address meaningfully.
רפאנו Is it our imagination that we hear of so much more illness than we used to, so many more untimely and tragic deaths? Or are we just better networked? Whatever the case, we have so many cholim to worry about! We are used to access to the best health care available, but now our physicians tell us that this may change. Our society, determined to bring care to those who can afford it least (certainly a good thing according to the way You would like to see the world run!), may not have figured out the best way to make this happen, and we fear that adequate care will be rationed and restricted in the next years. Only Your refuah can address these problems.
ברך עלינו So much comes down to parnasah. Whether in the narrow sense of putting nutrition on people’s tables, or the wider sense of providing for all our needs, we are cognizant of how important parnasah is in the stability of governments and the general tenor of societies. We watch with horror as economies are transformed, as competition gets ever more brutal, as workers become more expendable. We do not know how to counsel our children about future employment, or how they should prepare themselves to become economically self-sustaining. Even without the complexities of recent global developments we are transfixed by the impact of Your actions upon economies through drought and storm. Please provide Your bounty upon a hungry and eager world.
תקע בשופר גדול We seem to have finally become unglued as a people. We are at least two different communities, the frum and the non-frum, who no longer have much of a shared vocabulary or any shared interests. The issues that used to bind us together are now often ones that further divide us. We cannot be redeemed if so many have no interest in redemption. Only You have the ability to reach the hearts of all of us. Only You can issue the sound that can be heard by all acheinu Bnei Yisrael, whom we so desperately do not want to see lost.
השיבה שופטנו Until You send Moshiach, we will have to resolve the tensions and disagreements within our community through our own devices. Without just and effective intervention, small disputes turn into large machlokes, and often frum Jews do not even wish to do business with each other, realizing that they have no recourse to batei din with teeth. We have some very good batei din and some not so good ones. Please help our batei din bring Torah mishpat to our people, and restore the respect that people have for them.
ולמלשינים So many of our problems seem to come from our own. Many of the most virulent and vocal opponents of Israel’s existence and security are Jewish, as are those who mock Your holy Torah. You have told us that we should never be the ones to invoke Divine punishment against other Jews – and yet there are so many Jews who endanger Your people and Your word! You provided Chazal with the wisdom to craft this formula in our daily davening, which allows us to ask You to address the problem, without ever having to point a finger at a particular person or group. Please respond by somehow silencing the voices of evil within our own midst.
על הצדיקים Seventy years after the Holocaust, we have not begun to recover from what it did to our ruchniyus. We were robbed of an entire generation of leaders and talmidei chachamim, leaving individuals where there should have been thousands. So many of us thirst for contact with genuine gedolei Torah, and there are so few available, even several generations later. How precious are those gedolei Torah that we do have! Strengthen them, their health, power and prestige!
ולירושלים How beautiful it is to watch the thriving city of Yerushalayim, risen from the dead. For all of its beauty materially and spiritually, it is not yet the Yerushalayim for which our ancestors drenched their siddurim in tears. Only the return of the Shechinah to Har HaBayis, the restoration of the avodah, and the seating of Moshiach on the throne of temporal rule will fulfill their dreams. In the meantime, we worry about those who desecrate its kedushah through their opposition to Your Torah, as well as those who supposedly honor it, but in their zeal warp and distort it.
את צמח You have compared our forthcoming geulah to the sprouting of a plant, קמעא קמעא, slow-growth, a little at a time. After close to two thousand years away from our Land, You allowed us back, and helped us build the largest Jewish (and Torah) community in the world. So many of us disagree about how to look at our beautiful Israel, even as hundreds of millions of her enemies seek to snuff out her existence, and we daven each day for those in Tzahal who literally put their lives on the line to protect bederech hateva the lives of millions of Jews – may You protect them at all times! In the end, it doesn’t matter what labels we attach to our viewpoints. Much more important is that You should end the debate, by taking what You have started, and continuing to nurture it and make it grow towards the full geulah, may it come speedily.
שמע קולינו What more could we say? We are so troubled and overwhelmed that we do not have the proper words for our tefilah. You, however, are our loving Father. You do not require the right words. You hear the pain in the very sound of our wearied and broken voices – קולינו. We don’t ask for what we deserve, or for justice. We fear that if we did, we might get far less than what we want. We ask for rachmanus, because You have taught us that of all Your midos, the most essential are chesed and rachamim.