December 29, Arutz Sheva
I've been meaning to write this article for years, and am remiss for having waited this long.
The voice of Yaacov is the primary weapon of the Jewish people, as opposed to the sword of Eisav. I will assume the reader already knows this and does not need a compendium of sources to prove something so elementary. However, it is easy for us to lose sight of the delicate nature of prayer. As with any mitzvah, there are boundaries and guidelines that must be studied to ensure not only that our prayers are effective, but that they are not counterproductive.
It is for this reason that the Anshei Knesses Hagedola arranged the Shemoneh Esrei with divine wisdom, and most of our prayers were authored by King David and others with ruach hakodesh. The tefillos they arranged for us are guaranteed to be appropriate and effective, in ways both revealed and hidden. Although we are encouraged to speak to God in our own words as well, we must appreciate the awesomeness of the endeavor and proceed with caution. Good intentions alone are not always sufficient, especially for those who should know better.
With this in mind, we need to rectify the prayer for Israel's security forces, which was written by Rabbi Shlomo Goren. This prayer is sacrosanct in the eyes of many, to the extent that when it is recited there is total silence. Even those who speak to their fellow during the reading of the Torah and other parts of the service – a severe violation of halacha – do not dare treat this prayer with disregard. The social consequences alone would strike the fear of God in them.
However, the prayer contains a serious flaw, a dangerous flaw. The main sentiments expressed – that we pray for the wellbeing of our soldiers and victory over our enemies – are most appropriate. However, there is a critical line that must be amended: "ובכל אשר יפנו יצליחו", “and in all they turn they should be successful”.
This line gives a blank check to Israel's soldiers, and tragically that has proven to be a mistake. Our soldiers and other security forces are sometimes used against their own people. They have destroyed Jewish communities, persecuted some of our finest brothers and sisters for political reasons, and demonstrated coldness and cruelty toward those they are commanded to protect and love. While I take great pride in our soldiers, and I believe the IDF is a holy institution, we cannot pray for them to have success in all that they set out to do. We cannot give them a blank check.
I pray for the IDF to utterly vanquish our enemies without suffering a single casualty, as it was in Biblical times. However, when the IDF is being deployed for self-destructive purposes by corrupt or severely misguided leaders, I cannot pray for their success. I do not wish harm on soldiers, but I want their mission to fail. Let their equipment stop working. Let them catch cold and be forced to call in sick. Let them refuse immoral orders. Ideally, let the evil decree be rescinded. Whatever the case may be, let these missions utterly fail.
When this prayer is being read, and the reader says “and in all they turn they should be successful”, I quietly add the line “only against our enemies”. It is my small way of recognizing that our security forces cannot be given a blank check, that our words have power, and that our prayers for their success must be qualified with this in mind. It is entirely plausible that the countless prayers for the IDF to be successful in all that they turn have unwittingly contributed to our own harm.
It may be painful for those who love Israel and the IDF to come to this realization, but the unfortunate reality makes it necessary for the prayer to be amended. When Rabbi Goren composed this prayer, he surely could not fathom that the security forces would one day destroy Jewish communities with their own hands and persecute some of our most valiant people. We hope that this situation is rectified immediately, even before the coming of Moshiach.
We pray for it as well. But when we do, let us choose our words wisely.