I'm having one of those rare picture-perfect moments at the beach. Clear sky, a good book, and two more hours to soak up the tranquility that this scene always evokes in me.
A couple strolls by and I notice that the woman is in tears. They stop and face one another. The woman raises her voice and chokes out something about divorce. She notices me from the corner of her eye and they continue walking. I realize the two young children who passed by not long before are theirs.
Twenty minutes later I see the group walking back, minus the father. As they pass, the woman’s eyes meet mine and she forces a smile. My heart goes out to her as I smile back. I sigh a long Jewish sigh ("oy") and am about to return to my book when it hits me. Is this the best I can do? Sigh and return to my book? We are supposed to be lovers of humanity, fixers of the world!
For a moment, I consider running after her and telling her my husband is a marriage counselor.
After regaining my senses, I move to plan B.
Please God, help this couple overcome their differences and create a loving, secure home for their children.
"Please God", I hear myself whisper, "help this couple to overcome their differences and to create a loving, secure home for their children."
We all like to think of ourselves as lovers of humanity. True lovers of humanity are those with more than a few fuzzy feelings about peace on earth and good will toward man. Lovers of humanity are people whose depth of caring moves them to act in ways that are real in making a difference in the lives of others.
Prayer is one tool of lovers of humanity. It is fundamental to Jewish belief that God desires and listens to our prayers, and that our prayers have tremendous power to help others and change the world. Prayer should be accompanied by action (which can also effect the change we are looking for), but the focus of this article will be on the aspect of prayer alone.
In times of crisis, prayer comes almost naturally. We all know the saying that there is no atheist in a foxhole. And which one of us, on September 11th, didn't find ourselves voicing copious prayers as we watched the gruesome scenes unfold? "God help us all," I found myself saying repeatedly.
That week, prayer services sprung up everywhere and people felt a sense of solace in being able to do something. The power of prayer was felt intensely, connecting people of all faiths. Amidst a world gone mad, we could feel sane together by entreating the God who listens to prayer.
In a world gone mad, we could feel sane together by entreating the God who listens to prayer.
When crisis abates, we tend to lose the intensity of our connection with prayer. We are happy when life returns to a semblance of normalcy, but we also miss the intensity of the crisis because of how real it forces us to be. We miss the sense of connectedness with others, and the feelings of deep concern for innocent victims and their loved ones.
There is a beauty and a power in times of crisis which opens us up to feel deep longings to be a force for good in the world.
Lovers of humanity feel deep concern for people on a regular basis. No crisis is necessary for them to see the needs and feel the pain of others. Lovers of humanity make a conscious effort to tune in to those around them, to see beneath the bitterness, anger and frustration. They look to understand, not to judge. They know that no situation is hopeless when there is the possibility of prayer.
OVERCOME THE BITTERNESS
I used to have a neighbor who was bitter and unpleasant. I was aware of a major trauma this person endured, but the site of him was enough to send me in the other direction. How different things could have been if I’d asked God to help him overcome his bitterness? If I was a lover humanity with an appreciation of the power of prayer, I would open my mouth instead of turning my back.
Who do you know in your life who is a source of pain, annoyance or exasperation? What prayer could you voice for this person, instead of wishing the difficulty would just disappear?
Make a list of people you know who want to get married, who are trying to have children, or are ill.
We know the pain of many people around us. Troubled marriages, bankruptcy, children on drugs. We are not “helpless” to do something. We can do better than just feeling bad for family members and friends. Take a moment to feel someone's pain to the point where you can vocalize a prayer.
The next time you hear an ambulance siren, tune in and ask God to help whoever is in need. Make a list of people you know who want to get married, who are trying to have children, or are ill. Ask God to send mates, grant children, and heal the sick. Make it a regular practice.
Prayer is the hallmark of a Jew's faith that God wants good for every creature and that He alone has the power to change a situation. Open your lips and open yourself to being a true lover of humanity.