Saturday, 1 June 2019

‘May we find our way to
a life that is richer in love
and nobler in deeds’

‘Auschwitz and Hiroshima are among the dread and tragic symbols of our age’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am continuing to use resources in Service of the Heart for my late evening and night prayers. This is the Jewish prayer book I first acquired over 45 years ago, while I was living in Wexford, and which I thought I had lost in the moves between Dublin and Askeaton, until I found it once again on a book shelf in the rectory in the last few months.

This Service of the Heart was published in London half a century ago by the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues in 1967. Two of the principal contributors to this book were Rabbi John Rayner and Rabbi Chaim Stern, who wrote or rewrote many of the prayers included here.

In recent evenings, I came across, one again, this prayer and reflection written by Chaim Stern:

Auschwitz and Hiroshima are among the dread and tragic symbols of our age. With far-seeing instruments the mind of man uncovers one by one the innermost secrets of matter and energy: but we have not learned to understand the hidden places of our hearts. With the tools of intellect and imagination, we build mighty machines for our journey into outer space: but the wisdom to live in peace here on earth eludes us.

Absorbed in the study of Creation, and eager to exploit it, we often forget its Creator. When we shut our ears, we complain that he does not speak. When we go astray, we pretend that there is no path.

And yet, O Lord, the truth is not hidden from us. We know that even as Yours is the power that sustains and orders Creation, so is Yours the righteousness that has established the moral law.

The grandeur of your Creation tells us of Your might, and the quiet prompting of Your voice within us makes us feel that You deem us worthy of Your tender care. Together may they inspire us to revere your teachings, which You have revealed to our fathers and to us.

May we find our way to a life that is richer in love and nobler in deeds, a life in which the fruits our science, the products of our creative minds, may be used in accordance with Your will: to build and to plant, to clothe and to feed, to comfort and to heal.

May our study of Your Law imbue us with the desire to do Your will. And let the sense of Your presence give meaning to our lives, so that Your promise may be fulfilled:

‘I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion; I will betroth you to me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord.’

The quotation at the end of this prayer is from Hosea 2: 21 ff, but while the prayer was new, Chaim Stern based in on the themes of the Yotzer and Ahavah Rabbah.

The prayer known as the Yotzer or ‘Creator’ is the first of two benedictions that precede the Shema in the morning, and it corresponds to the Ma’ariv Aravim in the evening:

Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who forms light and creates darkness, who makes peace and creates all things ... Blessed are you, Lord, who forms light.

This prayer incorporates Isaiah 45: 7 – although it was amended by the Rabbis to read ‘Creator of all things’ instead of ‘Creator of evil’ – and Psalm 104: 24. The original Yotzer was short. In Gaonic times, when the Talmud was being redacted or edited in Babylon, it received several interpolations of a mystical and angelological, including a Kedushah or doxology built around Isaiah 6: 3.

The prayer known as Ahavah Rabbah is also known as Birkat Torah or ‘the Benediction concerning the Torah.’ This is the second of two benedictions that precede the Shema in the morning, corresponding to the Ahavat Olam in the evening.

‘May we find our way to a life that is richer in love and nobler in deeds, a life in which the fruits our science, the products of our creative minds, may be used in accordance with Your will: to build and to plant, to clothe and to feed, to comfort and to heal.’

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