By Rabbi David Debow
Prayer and Its Function
Prayer is a method of untying our tongues, which might free our hearts and move our hands and feet to righteous action. In the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “The world we build tomorrow is born in the prayers we say today.”
We are facing a spiritual challenge. Prayer is a way to unite hearts and minds, channeling the combined strength of good-hearted people worldwide. With such collective power, we can achieve great things if we direct this force toward noble and just causes. When the Arab-Israeli conflict was about territory and its control, we fought, found an equilibrium and signed treaties. Because when people genuinely want a safe secure home for their children, there is a common language and an appreciation that more is gained by preserving the soccer field than bombing the enemy in a bid to win once and for all. But when the fight devolves into ideological battle lines – when Hamas reframes the fight as between good and evil, between light and darkness, as an eternal struggle for which there can never be any compromise, then you need to know how to alter your tactics. In the battlefield of territory, tanks are the primary instrument. In the battlefield of ideology, prayer and meditation are the primary weapons.
Prayer is a way to focus and to rank priorities. It helps clarify objectives which will lead to better, more effective action. It is a way to find consensus, to express aspirations and to link people together into both a mighty fist and an outstretched arm. By invoking God in prayer we succeed in assigning proper responsibility. There are things that only God can do and prayer delineates those realms of responsibility. But that which is not assigned to God becomes man’s responsibility, and prayer is a good exercise in rehearsing our responsibilities and making clear what we expect of others.
Here is my prayer:
A Prayer for Repentance
I pray that the evil leaders of Hamas repent of their ways. That they lay down their arms and purge their hearts of hatred. I pray they ask for true forgiveness with a contrite heart for the needless suffering they have brought to this world. And although I know that nothing of this world could ever atone for actions so heinous as theirs, I believe in a God so mighty, merciful and loving that nothing is beyond His power.
I pray that the many followers, friends and supporters of Hamas similarly repent. That they open their eyes to see that Hamas offers only false hope, death and destruction. That they examine their hearts, find the poisoned plant of hatred, wormwood and gall, and root it out. That these followers and friends and supporters take all their remaining goodwill and offer it to the people of Israel in apology. That they come to understand why Israel’s opposition to the demands and wishes of Hamas and its friends and supporters was and is correct and necessary. That they take their desire for constructive change and progress in this world and join it with the people of Israel’s ability and desire to do the same. That all those who saw hope and justice in Hamas recognize the error of their ways and do the difficult work of changing heart and embrace the true hope and possibility that Israel represents.
I pray that Muslims of the world speak up with one clear voice and say: This is not our religion, and these are not our followers. That churches everywhere condemn the action of Hamas with a clarity and force that leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind who is evil and who is not. That Gazans and Palestinians together take responsibility for the biggest obstacle to peace — the hatred that has infected the hearts and minds of so-called supporters of Palestine such that they justify a massacre of innocents, and that rape and butchery can be executed while crying “God is Great” and none among them sees that as the central problem. May God assist them in this momentous return. May He help them face the necessary and cleansing humiliation of error.
A Prayer for Victory
I pray to God, Master of All, that in the absence of such repentance and change of heart that Hamas and its supporters are rendered powerless. That they may no longer be able to manifest the vicious desires of their hearts. That they are rendered null and void. That they are scattered and dismayed, afraid and alone in a world that no longer gives them refuge. That the evil fire burning in their hearts consumes them entirely. That their words and wicked prayers no longer find any sympathy in a world that understands where such hatred inevitably leads.
I pray that the people of Israel, the army of Israel is successful in restoring peace and security to the land of Israel. That Israel remembers that its power and safety lies not in the number of tanks, nor in the iron dome, but in the God-given wisdom and prudence of those that deploy them. That no fence, no border, no Iron Dome is foolproof against a foe that has the liberty to watch and learn and try and fail and try again. I pray that the army of Israel teaches its enemies that to attack Israel is to lose absolutely. That nothing is gained and all is lost in seeking the harm of the people of Israel. I pray that Israel brings victory home without the need for heroes. That the strength of Israel is brought to bear with such overwhelming decisive power that no soldier is lost and that no doubt is left about whether there is profit in rousing the lion of Zion.
I pray the people of Gaza betray the leaders who have brought them nothing but ruin. That they rise up as one with bravery and righteousness and assist the downfall of the evil tyranny that has done nothing but cynically exploit them. That in so doing, they purge themselves of the consuming hatred that has brought such scourge upon their families. Like trees and rocks, they refuse cover to the members of Hamas, pointing the fiery sword of the IDF down their hellish trenches. That they say, “Come Israeli soldier, come, let me show you where Hamas is hiding.”
I am grateful to all the brave soldiers of the world who have been called to battle today and yesterday and will be called again tomorrow in the battle against hatred and nihilism. May God grant you all victory in your shared battle for democracy against its enemies.
A Prayer for Mercy
I pray to God, most merciful, that the people of the world give shelter and care to the humans who will be without a home. The fate of Gaza was sealed when Hamas’s irrational and self-destructive delusions were given voice in the massacre of October 7th. After 15 years of pulling punches, the illusion that some workable peace might emerge from the people of Gaza has been definitively shattered. It is clear to all who see clearly that Gaza, as currently constituted, will sprout Hamas fighters more quickly than Israel can cut them down. It is clear from years of trying that neither concession nor evacuation, not cement walls miles below the surface nor an Iron Dome stretching high into the sky will end this war. Gaza must be destroyed. But the Bible and World War II both teach that there are many ways to destroy a nation.
My most fervent hope and prayer, even as it is the most unlikely, is that Gaza repents. That it converts in a most sincere turnaround and miraculous change of heart and deed. That the nations of the world desist in feeding false hope, in propping up and supporting those very delusions. That the people of the world tell Gaza there is one hope, and one hope only, to escape the coming deluge – and that is to repent.
But I am doubtful about such miracles. It was Gaza that voted for Hamas and supported Hamas in polls and actions all through its reign of terror. Israel can afford no more delusions and the false dichotomy that separates Hamas from its native soil must be relinquished. What is required is the same thing that was required of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan – total and unconditional surrender.
Make no mistake, Hamas will hold its people captive no less than it does the hostages. There will be hunger and plague in the land of Gaza while there will be light and food waiting on the other side. Hamas will make it hard for citizens who care more about the lives of their children than Holy Jihad to escape. But that again is another responsibility that sits entirely on the head of Hamas. Our wish is that a human being who arrives naked and unthreatening, with his hands high in the air at the eye of the needle, will be allowed to pass through. We can make that commitment if and only if the nations of the world become our partners and welcome humans escaping Gaza with us. The area bordering southern Israel must be reconstituted. It is a project for the world entire. A project for those who truly and honestly care about the lives of the people who live here more than a vindication of their false ideology. Give them a safe place to restart their lives in a land that might teach them about tolerance, civility and the possibility of world peace.
A Prayer of Forgiveness
I pray to God for forgiveness. That Israel might forgive the ways in which we, the world, made its life harder. That the people of Israel and their leadership forgive each other for getting too wrapped up in issues that were beside the point. That we have learned the price of overly heated ideological debate and we return to a certain cold pragmatism in which we care more about improving life on the ground for all our children than about being right. I pray Israel might forgive its leaders for mistakes of commission and omission. I pray that forgiveness be thorough and true so that the essential trust between leadership and people, between commanders and the commanded, be quickly restored so that Israel is once again restored to a mighty force that works as one.
A Prayer for Wisdom
I pray to God, the source of all wisdom, all powerful and all good, for the hostages to come back safely. That Hamas admits the futility of this strategy and sends the hostages home. Barring that, I pray that Israeli commandos who have been the angels of God’s miracles in the past once again be granted the privilege to play such a role. But I am sadly aware that brilliant feats of subterfuge and bravery only work once. The card played in Uganda cannot be played again. Thus I am pessimistic about the possibility of again escaping the devil’s choice Hamas is putting to us. I pray that Israel has the fortitude and foresight, the integrity of its people and the wisdom of its Sages, clearly behind it when it refuses to negotiate with terrorists.
I pray that Israel has the strength to teach the world that democracies are stronger than terrorists. And that nations that are beholden to the love of a parent for a child are only made stronger by that love and not weaker. That the overwhelming love of every Jewish parent for all their children, the ones in uniform and the ones at home, the ones already killed and the ones unborn, is allowed to be heard alongside the heartrending cries of the parents of the hostages. I pray that Israel’s leaders are granted wisdom to make some of the most impossible calls that cannot possibly please everyone. I pray that they are granted respect and trust, along with forgiveness, knowing the impossibility of getting it right for everyone.
A Prayer of Thanksgiving
I am grateful to the State of Israel and the people of Israel who are a beacon of light in the darkness. Who, with an undiminished optimism, continue to teach the world what it means to believe in the truth of God’s promise. Who founded a country on the pillars of righteousness like an island in a sea of tyranny, and then, to make it flourish, teaches us all how freedom, a pioneering spirit, and a covenantal community based on duty and responsibility can triumph against incredible odds.
A Prayer for Jerusalem
I pray for you Jerusalem, city of peace, that has once again been made great as Israel’s capital. A city that is home to Muslims, Jews, and Christians. You have taught Israel how to face your enemies resolutely, but without hatred; how to try and try and again to beat a path toward peace, even after rejection after rejection. How to uphold the values of democracy even after your enemies try and exploit every self-imposed restraint. How to continue to discriminate between Arabs who are enemies and Arabs who are friends.
I am grateful to you, Israel, who with strength, intelligence and success has converted former enemies into allies and has taught the world that a rivalry need not be a war to the death. That success is respected, and ultimately peace comes from strength. I am astounded by Israel’s ability to be a victim of irrational hatred but never play the victim. To have every reason to give up on humanity but never do so. To embody a faith, a vision, a truth so strong that you can hold it alive for 2,000 years and then come home and plant it again. And do that entirely on your own. I am challenged by you, Israel, for you have every right to say it is my fault, but you don’t. And you just take responsibility for yourself. I thank you, Israel for being the front lines of democracy, for your brave soldiers who have been called to protect civilization for all of us.
A Prayer of Trust
I trust you Israel to do what is right. You have proven yourself worthy time and again of protecting your citizenry while also upholding the values upon which your society is based. In many cases, the dilemmas are near impossible and the stakes incredibly high. But you manage to face your situation with righteousness and not rage, with law and not passion, with the wisdom of the past and a view towards the future without getting lost in the bewildering whims of the present. I trust that your love of peace impels you towards war. That your love of your children helps you kill your enemies. That your hatred is well calibrated, just enough to go to war and not so much that you won’t stop when it is done. I trust you Israel.
I pray for you Israel, father of nations and source of blessing. May those who bless you be blessed and those who curse you be cursed (Genesis 12:3).