I have noticed a trend in Reform Jewish worship in recent years.
At some regional and national conventions I have attended, leaders of some of the worship services leave out a prayer that expresses a sentiment which I believe to be all-important and foundational to Judaism.
That prayer is about hope.
I can hear and see in my mind the words of the prayer on this theme that we recited when I was a child. It followed “Va-anachnu” (we bend the knee...) and preceded “Bayom Hahu” (on that day, the Eternal shall be One and God’s name shall be one.”
Here is the paragraph from the 1940 revision of the Union Prayer Book (published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis/CCAR) that became ingrained in my memory and my soul (with a few emendations):
“May the time not be distant, O God, when Your name shall be worshiped in all the earth, when unbelief shall disappear and error be no more. Fervently we pray that the day may come when all people shall invoke Your name, when corruption and evil shall give way to purity and goodness, when superstition shall no longer enslave the mind, nor idolatry blind the eye, when all who dwell on earth shall know that to You alone every knee must bend and every tongue give homage. O may all, created in Your image, recognize that they are brothers and sisters, so that, one in spirit and one in fellowship, they may be forever united before Your. Then shall Your dominion be established on earth and the word of Your ancient prophet be fulfilled: The Eternal will reign forever and ever.”
Gates of Prayer (CCAR, 1975) and Gates of Repentance (CCAR, 1979) featured a slightly revised version of this prayer. Mishkan T’filah (CCAR 2007) also includes a new rendering based on the texts of past prayerbooks.
No matter what the specific wording might be, this reading acts as a bridge between “We will bend our knee and bow and give thanks to the Holy One” and “On that day.” In fact, in my view, it makes no sense to move from the first prayer to the second one without a reading in between that specifies what we believe to be the nature and character of “that day.”
I am certain that the omission of this prayer by some worship leaders is a matter of timing, based on a sense that, at that point, it is best to quickly press forward to conclude the service.
While leading music at a service at a regional rabbinic conference last year, I led my musical setting of an alternative “hope” prayer, written by Rabbi Richard Levy, which was included in Mishkan T’filah. Before I sang it, I said, “We are going to sing my melody to Rabbi Levy’s reading before moving on to the Kaddish prayer. There is always time for hope.” And we joined together, intoning these words:
“May we gain wisdom in our lives, overflowing like a river with understanding. Loved, each of us, for the peace we bring to others. May our deeds exceed our speech, and may we never lift up our hand but to conquer fear and doubt and despair. Rise up like the sun, O God, over all humanity. Cause light to go forth over all the lands between the seas. And light up the universe with the joy of wholeness, of freedom, and of peace.”
When I created the melody, I incorporated the Hebrew of “on that day” into the song as a refrain in the middle and at the end. (Here is a link to a live recording of the prayer/song):
So what “hopes” for humanity and our world do these two readings have in common?
- Wisdom and understanding.
- An end to corruption, evil, and all types of idolatry, coupled with the ability to conquer fear, doubt and despair.
- A sense of godliness and goodness in the belief and actions of all humanity
- Recognition of our common humanity in a spirit of unity and fellowship, that can lead to peace.
Should we really gloss over or omit these convictions from our worship? Is it possible that we do because we no longer believe we can attain them?
Any service that I lead includes some version of this prayer for hope. These prayers offer us inspiration to engender empathy and compassion within our communal life. They direct us to overcome fear of “the other” and to try to discover the common threads that can bring together people who come from different backgrounds, faiths and viewpoints. Even if the goals expressed in a prayer for hope seem to be out of our grasp, we can’t throw up our hands and give up.
In a song they wrote in 2010, folksingers Pete Seeger and Lorre Wyatt offered one reason why we can’t give up: “When we look and we see things are not what they should be, God’s counting on me, God’s counting on you....Hoping we’ll all pull through.”
And, in the Sayings of the Rabbis/Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Tarfon offered another reason: “It’s not your duty to complete the work, but neither are free to neglect it.”
God is counting on us to keep working and hoping, so that others can continue our efforts in the future.
And I truly believe, even now, that we will all pull through.