20 October 2023

‘Our sages have taught,
whoever takes a single
human life, it is as if they
have destroyed an entire world’

The Torah scrolls in Milton Keynes and District Reform Synagogue, including scroll No 970 (left) from Pacov in the Czech Republic (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Throughout this week, my prayer diary on my blog each morning this week, I am drawing on the prayers and resources produced for the Week of Prayer for World Peace this year.

Of course, as I prepare my prayers and reflections for each morning, I find myself under the shadow of the escalating violence in Israel, Gaza and Palestine, watching as it spreads to neighbouring Lebanon and Egypt, and as the Middle East threatens to both explode and implode, while antisemitism continues to spread throughout northern Europe and north America.

On this Friday evening, I am very conscious that every Shabbat begins, continues and concludes with the greeting Shabbat Shalom שַׁבַּת שָׁלוֹם. It is not merely an expression of hope for domestic, family and community peace, but an expression of hope for peace and justice for the whole creation, as well as harmony, wholeness and prosperity.

The Kaddish prayers usually include a prayer like this or a variant of it: ‘May the One who causes peace to reign in the high heavens let peace descend on us, on all Israel, and on all the world, and let us say: Amen.’

Last Saturday morning, as many were still reeling from the news of the murders and kidnappings by Hamas that sparked the latest violent crisis, I attended the Shabbat Morning Service for Milton Keynes and District Reform Synagogue, led on Zoom by Student Rabbi Shulamit Morris-Evans, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion Jews and a student rabbi at Leo Baeck College.

Everyone who attended online seemed to appreciate the use of ‘A Prayer in a Time of War’ in the Movement for Reform Judaism Siddur or prayer book:

At this time of conflict we turn to You, God, as the Creator of all human beings, each of us made in Your image, each of us equal in Your sight. Our sages have taught, whoever takes a single human life, it is as if they have destroyed an entire world.

They also taught, in that hour when the Egyptians drowned in the Sea of Reeds, the angels wished to sing a song of praise before God. But God rebuked them saying, My children are drowning in the sea, would you utter a song before Me in honour of that!?

Be with Your children of all nations and religions, and give them strength and courage in this time of uncertainty and fear. Any war claims its victims on all sides. Have mercy on them and bring this conflict speedily to an end, so that its casualties may be few and damage light; so that acts of violence and bloodshed may be replaced with words and acts of conciliation. Shelter under Your care those who perish and show compassion to those who mourn for them. For those injured in body or mind, bring a perfect healing, so that their lives are not destroyed.

A prayer for peace adapted from the texts of the prayers for peace found in the Sim Shalom (1985) and Lev Shalem (2016), the siddurim or prayer books of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis, prays:

May we merit to bring about the day when war and bloodshed cease,
and a great peace embraces the whole universe.
‘No nation will lift up a sword to another,
and the art of war will no longer be studied.’ (Isaiah 2: 4)

May we live to see the leaders of all the nations
inspired to do good with their peoples
and with all other peoples of the world,
bringing about the fulfilment of the Scriptural blessing,

‘I will bring peace to the Earth,
and you will lie down with no one to terrify you,
and I will bring calm to all vicious creatures on Earth,
and the sword will no longer pass in your Land.’ (Leviticus 26: 6)

Let knowledge fill the Earth as water fills the ocean,
and let all people of all ethnicities, races, beliefs, genders and orientations
enjoy true equality, security, safety and livelihood,
in a true spirit of co-existence and cooperation.
And let us say, Amen.

A prayer for peace found in various forms in many Jewish traditions prays:

Grant us peace, Your most precious gift, O Eternal Source of peace, and enable our people Israel to be its messenger to all the world. Bless our country, that it may ever be a pursuer of peace and its advocate in the council of nations. May contentment reign within our borders, health and happiness within our homes. Strengthen the bonds of friendship and harmony among the inhabitants of all lands. Plant virtue in every soul and may our love for You hallow every home and every heart. We praise You, O God, Giver of peace.

Well-known sayings found among the Sayings of the Sages include:

Hillel used to say: ‘Be a disciple of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow men and women, and drawing them near to the Torah.’

Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel used to say: ‘The world is sustained by three things: justice, truth, and peace.’

‘There are four kinds of actions that bring benefits in this world but whose full reward is reserved for the world-to-come, and they are: Honouring father and mother; deeds of loving kindness; making peace between enemies; and the study of Torah, which is equal to them all.’

Shabbat Shalom שַׁבַּת שָׁלוֹם

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