It was over a decade ago, in the wake of a spate of terrible terrorist attacks on Jews in Israel, that the Council of Great Torah Sages called upon Jews to recite chapters of Psalms in shul after praying, followed by the short prayer “Acheinu, [Our Brethren]” a supplication to God to show mercy to His people. Many shuls, to their great credit, to this day still dutifully seize that special merit at the end of their services. None of us can know what dangers that collective credit may have averted, may be averting still.
It occurred to me, though, that recent events might well inspire us – not only those of us Jews who look to the Council of Great Torah Sages for guidance, but all good-hearted Jews, haredi, “modern Orthodox,” non-Orthodox, “traditional,” and secular-minded alike – to consider reciting the holy words with special concentration, and the short prayer with an additional, somewhat different, intent.
For we have witnessed of late…
- Reports of verbal and physical attacks on innocent Jews, even children, by other Jews who were, ostensibly, dissatisfied with their marks’ level of modesty.
- The exploitation of media to bring such outrages, and exaggerations of their scope, to the entire world’s attention.
- Verbal and physical attacks on religious Jews by secularists fired up over the reports.
- Astoundingly tasteless demonstrations appropriating Nazi symbols, even the abuse of children by their inclusion in the sick spectacle.
- The indiscriminate lumping together by pundits and self-appointed judgment-pronouncers of the irresponsible acts of would-be “zealots” with valid issues like the propriety of voluntarily sex-segregated buses for communities that want them, or of the refusal by Israeli soldiers who, out of religious conviction, do not wish to listen to women singing .
- Editorials and opinion-mongering in the press smearing “the haredim” as a group for the alleged acts of a woefully misguided few; attacking leading Rabbis for not choosing to chastise people who have no regard for them or their rebukes; derogating the very concept of traditional Jewish modesty.
And so, a thought, about what we might consider having in mind during the prayer “Acheinu”:
“Acheinu kol Bais Yisrael – Our brethren, the entire Jewish People”
Our brethren – Let all Jews always remember that we are all, in fact, brothers and sisters–
“Hanesunim bitzara u’bishivya – who are delivered into confinement and captivity”
Who are confined and imprisoned by personal attitudes, and blind to the feelings and convictions of others…
“Ha’omdim bein bayam u’vein bayabasha – whether they be on the sea or dry land”
Whether they are borne afloat in the world of Torah-study and observance or anchored in a world parched of both…
“HaMakom yiracheim aleihem viyotzi’eim mitzara li’rvacha – May the Omnipresent have mercy on them and remove them from distress to relief”
May the One Who is present in every Jewish heart release them from their close-mindedness to a state of openness to others and Jewish concern for other Jews
“U’mei’afela li’ora – and from darkness to light”
From the darkness of hatred and frustration that yields derision of others (and worse) to the enlightened recognition that fellow Jews, even those one may feel are misguided, deserve respect and care.
“U’mishibud lig’ula – and from subjugation to redemption”
From slavery to incivility to the freedom of open minds and hearts–leading to the ultimate redemption
“Hashta b’agala u’viz’man kariv – now, speedily, and close at hand”
Not next year, not next month, but today.
And let us say amen.
© 2012 Ami Magazine