Rabbi Josh Franklin
In early rabbinic literature, the rabbis of old had a debate about the value of the blessing peace provides us. Each rabbi offers his opinion as to why peace is fundamental to our existence and continued survival. Rabbi Eliezer HaKapar proclaims that so great is peace that it is the seal of all other blessings. His son added that so great is peace, that even when war is completely necessary, peace is preferred. Rabbi Hanania taught that so great is peace, that it outweighs all of the other works of creation. The oneupmanship about the greatness of peace continues ad nauseam long past these few examples. One might wonder why the rabbis were so obsessed with peace. The reason it seems, was that they lived in a time of ongoing war and persecution. They put peace on a pedestal because their lives were too often lacking it.
Our deepest prayers are for the things for which we feel the most desperate. Right now, as Ukraine and her citizens struggle to defend her borders and homes against unprovoked Russian aggression, my prayers are for peace in the region. The onlooking world feels powerless in the face of the Russian attacks on Ukraine and threats on anyone who even talks about interceding. While prayers for peace might seem hollow, they offer us an avenue of hope when despair feels ever pervasive. Prayers for peace bring us together to remind us that our starting point is always love for each other even when hatred fuels conflict. As the Psalmist writes, we should always “seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:15).
Jewish prayer books are filled with prayers for peace. The crowning benediction of our central set of prayers implores: “May the One who makes peace on high, bring peace to us, to Israel and to all the world.” Another prayer concludes, “Bless Your people at all times and at every moment with Your peace.” One line from the now out-of-print prayerbook Gates of Prayer poetically pleas: “Grant us peace, Your most precious gift, O eternal source of peace, and give us the will to proclaim its message to all the peoples of the earth.” While these prayers may speak to the timeless need for peace, I feel compelled to offer a prayer from my heart directed specifically toward Ukraine and her people.
May the God who loves peace, and teaches us to pursue it, instill within us and in all of humanity the inclination to love and be compassionate, to support the vulnerable among us, to uplift the oppressed and the fallen and to restore harmony where it has been shattered.
Shelter those in danger underneath the shade of your warm embrace. Sustain those who flee for their lives with sanctuary and open arms to greet them. Quell the fears of those who tremble with angst and terror. Grant wisdom and good counsel to those who lead us, and bless them with both the courage to stand up to tyranny and brutality and the patient hearts needed to work together toward peace.
When peace comes, may it not just be a lack of war and violence. May it be like the prophetic vision promised by Isaiah: “Let nation not lift up sword against nation; neither should they learn war anymore (Isaiah 2:4).” Show us the paths of peace, O God, so that we can walk humbly together with each other, and with You.
Father Constantine Lazarakis
Each Sunday, I pray the following words: “For civil authorities and our armed forces, grant them to govern in peace, Lord, so that in their tranquility we, too, may live calm and serene lives, in all piety and virtue.” This prayer is a constant reminder of how much we take for granted, and how fragile our lives are. As Russia invades Ukraine, it is important for us to remember the true victims of war. Today, the Wall Street Journal published photos of a mother holding her newborn baby in a maternity hospital doubling as a bomb shelter, and of little children huddled with their families in a local sports center, also converted into a make-shift bomb shelter. Can you imagine having to leave home in fear for your life, waiting for the next shoe to drop in a place like Southampton Youth Services or Southampton Hospital?
While we look on, there is precious little that we can do to help. But we can lift our hearts in prayer, raise our voices for justice and offer our solidarity to the innocents who have been killed, injured, displaced and ravaged by war. Neither the expansion of territory nor the quest for a “unifying” national identity are worth the cost in human lives. While I can’t claim to understand the nuance of the history between Russia and Ukraine, it is clear that territorial ambitions have now taken priority over the lives of the people. Whenever that is the case, everyone loses.
As we follow these events, let us never lose sight of the true victims of war, and let us also take heed, that in our civil discourse, both abroad and at home, we always remember our common humanity. And let us pray that God restore sanity to the civil authorities perpetrating violence against the people so that Ukrainians, Russians and all of us may live peacefully.