Thoughts and Prayers

As a rabbi and person of faith it pains me to say that I'm sick and tired of thoughts and prayers. In the book of Exodus, as the Israelites are standing at the Sea of Reeds with the Egyptians threatening them from behind, Moses goes to God to pray for salvation. God's response is profound. God says, essentially, "Shut up! Why are you standing here praying to me? Go down and tell the people to move forward!" In one of my favorite movies, Ushpizin, the lead character and his wife, struggling with poverty and infertility, sit together for a meager meal. After telling his wife that he got no money from the Yeshiva where he teaches, he tells her of a beautiful teaching he learned that day. He explains that if you don't get what you pray for then it means you aren't praying hard enough. His wife responds to him, "so nu? Why are you just sitting here? Go and pray harder." Modernity has taught us that prayer doesn't work this way. We can't simply pray away our problems. Like God said to Moses, praying harder won't split any seas.

I believe, deeply, in the power of prayer not to change something on the outside but instead, to change something on the inside. At its best, prayer changes the one praying. It inspires, challenges and motivates us to repair those things in our world that are broken. The first step to solving a problem is admitting there is a problem. Prayer helps us name the problems we face in our world. Solving those problems is up to us. So yes, offer thoughts and prayers. Name what is broken in our world. Shout about our lack of courage to challenge the status quo, cry out about our idolatry of killing machines, plead for respite from the violence that has engulfed us. And then, "go down and tell the people to move forward." Write or call your representatives and tell them that thoughts and prayers aren't enough.

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© 2016 by Rabbi David Paskin

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