Prayers and Readings in Response to Natural Disasters
Prayers for approaching hurricanes, fires, strength and healing, loss, and embracing life.
Prayer for recovery after Hurricane Sandy
In a midrash on the opening of this weeks parasha, Vayera, the rabbis suggest that God pays a visit to Abraham as he lies, recuperating, at the opening of his tent. This first act of bikkurcholim establishes a model for our people to see, hear and respond immediately and personally to the suffering of others. During these difficult days, we pray for those stricken by the devastation of Hurricane Sandy and for those who have committed themselves to responding to their need.
We pray that those who suffer find comfort through their faith in You and through the loving kindness of those emergency workers and volunteers who have come to their aid.
We pray that those who have lost so much have the fortitude to rebuild their lives. Let us seek out ways to help them build their tents anew and make of them, once again, havens of healing and hospitality. May all who have been battered by this storm discover many hearts and hands open to them. None of us stands alone in times of trouble.
Baruch Atah, Adonai, magein Avraham vezrat Sarah. Blessed are You, Adonai, shield of Abraham, help of Sarah. Baruch Atah Adonai, ozer Yisrael bguvrah: Blessed are You, Adonai. You are the Source of our strength.
an approaching hurricane by Rabbi Fred Guttman
God of the heavens: nature and all that You have created are truly awesome. Often, we; take these wonders for granted. Teach us to cherish all of your gifts.
Try as we might, we know that we cannot control the oceans, the mountains, the weather. We also firmly believe that ever since the time of Noah, You do not send floods, make the earth shake, or dispatch weather formations, such as hurricanes, as warnings or punishments.
So we ask, as this Hurricane Irene is approaching land and approaching our brothers and sisters, that You shelter all who will be in its path. Watch over everyone, their loved ones, friends, and fellow people, many of whom are preparing to evacuate. Guard them as they prepare, perhaps to leave their homes again. Give them strength, courage, and resolve to ride out this storm; answer their prayers and ours that they be blessed with goodness and be spared from harm.
Baruch ata Adonai, Elohanu Melech Haolam she kocho u-gevurato maleh olam.
Blessed are You, Source of Life and Nature, whose awesome power and strength fill our world and inspire us to be strong in the face of all of life's difficulties.
We Cannot Pray to You
We cannot pray to You, O God,
to banish war,
for You have filled the world
with paths to peace,
if only we would take them.
We cannot pray to You
to end starvation,
for there is food enough for all,
if only we would share it.
We cannot merely pray
for prejudice to cease,
for we might see
the good in all
that lies before our eyes,
if only we would use them.
We cannot merely pray
"Root out despair,"
for the spark of hope
already waits within the human heart,
for us to fan it into flame.
We must not ask of You, O God,
to take the task that You
have given us.
We cannot shirk,
we cannot flee away,
Avoiding obligation for ever.
Therefore we pray, O God,
for wisdom and will, for courage
to do and to become,
not only to look on
with helpless yearning
as though we had no strength.
For Your sake and ours
speedily and soon, let it be:
that our land may be safe,
that our lives may be blessed.
Adapted from Rabbi Jack Riemers New Prayers for the High Holy Days, as it appears in Gates of Repentance, pp. 363-364
As we gather this Shabbat, each in our own communities, we are united by the grief and anguish we feel over the destruction of homes and lives by fire this week. We cry out as did Job:
Today again my complaint is bitter;
My strength is spent on account of my groaning.
Would that I knew how to reach God,
How to get to God's dwelling place. (Job 23:2-3)
We, like Job, are weary from grieving:
Grieving for a lost sense of safety in this world.
Grieving for homes and memories lost.
Grieving for souls extinguished before their time.
Grieving for communities that bear witness to the unbearable
and must somehow go on.
Hear our voice, Eternal God;
Have compassion upon us,
And accept our prayer with favor and mercy,
For You are a God who hears prayer and supplication.
We praise You, O God: You hearken to prayer.
Adapted from URJ service following September 11
Facing Pain and Despair with Hope and Faith
From Psalm 42
Like a hind crying out for springs of water, so my soul cries out for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living El; O, when will I come to appear before God?
My tears have been my food, day and night; my enemies taunt me all day, asking,
"Where is your God?
My God, my soul is cast down within me as I remember You in the land
of the Jordan River and Mount Herman's peaks and the smaller mountain of Sinai.
Deep cries out to deep, the sounds of the opened sluices of heaven;
all your breakers and your billows have swept over me.
By day, Adonai will command chesed/lovingkindness, and at night,
God's resting place will be with me; this is my prayer to the Almighty, God of my life.
I say to the Almighty, my Rock: "Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I walk in dark gloom, oppressed by enemies? Crushing my bones,
my enemies revile me, taunting me all day with, "Where is your God?
Why so downcast, my soul? Why disquieted within me? Have hope in God!
I will yet praise God, my ever-present Help, my God.
Translation from Healing of Body, Healing of Soul, ed. Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub
Praised Be the Lord of Imperfection
Praised be the Lord
Your flaws are everywhere:
In the elm's unbalanced foliage
and the asymmetric faces of Your creatures.
You form the ripping floods
that tear the forests
and bend tornadoes in a twisted dance.
The lion is blotched with age and mud,
and the Shabbas silverware lies stained
as a reminder.
Praised be Your Torah of scratches and scars.
Praised be Your discolorations,
for they are puzzles and poems
of your sacred character.
To one that is joined to all the living, there is hope
Gesher Tzar Me'od
Kol ha-o-lam ku-lo
Gesher tzar me'od (3x)
Lo l'fa-ched, lo l'fached klal
The whole world is a very narrow bridge;
the important thing is not to be afraid.
-Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav
It is never too late
To start over again,
To feel again
To love again
To hope again
(Adapted from Rabbi Harold Schulweis' "It is Never Too Late")
It is written: "God is my refuge and my strength, a very present help in time of trouble" (Psalm 46:1). Help us to feel that help. Let Your presence be a light within to dispel the darkness. Let Your nearness, Your silent speech within the heart, be a comfort to us.
We pray for the courage to carry on in the face of disappointment, for the wisdom to learn from adversity, for the strength to build a new and better life. Your spirit can transform affliction into salvation; enlighten us, therefore, that we may look to the dawn of a new day with confidence and trust. May hope abide beyond the moment's loss. For You, O God of hope, are our sustaining power, even when we have fallen. Keep us from self-recrimination. Give us peace of mind and contentment of spirit. Amen.
We come to you, O God, for Your gracious help. You dwell within our hearts, You feel our distress, You know our pain and how burdened we are. Give us strength to bear our burdens with courage, wisdom, and grace. Help us to be true to our better selves, to discern our real work in life, and to do it with all our might. When we struggle within our own hearts, stay by our side. Then we shall be able to say with Your prophet (Isaiah 40:31): But those who hold fast to the Eternal shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
May our work, and the ties that bind us to family and friends, make life rich in meaning for us, so that each day we live may be yet another step leading us nearer to You. Amen.
(Adapted from On the Doorposts of Your House, CCAR)
I have called on Your name, O [God],
From the depths of the Pit.
Hear my plea;
Do not shut Your ear
To my groan, to my cry!
- Lamentations 3:55-56
A tree spoke to me today.
Can you see it? A strange sight,
Gnarled and twisted by the fury of the winds and sea.
You say, "How can you find beauty in its jagged form?"
Ah! But to me its message is more appealing
Than the quiet symmetry of a perfect tree.
My tree stands on a rocky crag jutting out over the mighty ocean.
Its footing seems precarious
Yet its roots are twined in and about the rock
Enabling it to withstand the storms that come.
And come they do - fierce gales that bend the tree back toward the land.
Whipping off its branches on the seaward side.
Again and again the winds have done their worst.
Trying to uproot my tree, trying to tear it from its moorings.
Yes, it has had to bend its back but it has never broken;
Its green arms can always stretch out to land.
The ocean spray has spit upon it,
Laughing at the seeming bravery of a single tree.
The tree is like a life - yours or mine perhaps.
The gales sweep about us
Threatening to tear us from our footing.
Sometimes they are about us; sometimes within us.
And we become twisted and warped,
Not able to maintain the beauty God intended for us.
Yet as we send down our roots of faith
[God's} love and mercy flows through us and heals our scars
And helps us to reach out to others arms of help and kindness,
Enabling [God's} beauty to still be seen in us,
Imperfect though we are.
Help us, O God,
To be as brave and unswerving as my tree.
If you have one hour of air
and many hours to go,
you must breathe slowly.
If you have one arm's length
and many things to care for,
you must give freely.
If you have one chance to know God
and many doubts, you must
set your heart on fire.
We are blessed.
Every day is a chance.
We have two arms
Fear wastes air.
Mark Nepo, from Prayers for Healing, ed. Maggie Oman
Dark is the world for me
for all its cities and stars.
If not for the certainty that God listens to our cry,
who could stand so much misery,
so much callousness?
(Abraham Joshua Heschel, from I Asked for Wonder, ed. Samuel H. Dresner
Adonai, bless me with courage
Help me gain strength from You
Life has a way of handing us surprises
That take an amazing amount of courage to overcome
Create in me a clear and steady focus
A heart that is filled with the awareness that Adonai is with me
On the sunniest day and in the darkest night
I will be whatever life demands of me
Courage is my knowledge of You.
Anita Rosenberg, from WRJ's Covenant of the Soul
It has become more difficult
To face each day.
Tears well up in my eyes
My heart aches
I feel empty alone lost in darkness
I stand at the precipice of my future
The path behind me seems to have disappeared
and the road before me
I feel I can't traverse it safely.
Give me strength to find the light.
I am grateful for the love of family and friends
Who embrace me
In my despair.
Help me to feel your love.
Instill in me the lifeline of our people
Let me grasp onto it with strong hands
Let my grip not loosen.
May I feel the support of those who surround me
To Your loving hands I commit my spirit
When asleep and awake.
You are with me; I shall not fear.
Help me, O God, in my time of need.
A Song for Courage
Debbie Perlman, Flames to Heaven: New Psalms for Healing and Praise
Reach down for me, O Eternal,
To draw me up besides You;
Coax me away from anger and fear,
Beckoning forward, climbing higher.
Grasp tightly as I grope above,
Bind my heart to You.
Place my hand upon the sturdy branch
That eases the climb to You.
For You are the sure Hand
Beneath my elbow,
Guiding my steps as the
Blind are guided.
You are the Light
Shining through dark branches
Illuminating the ascent
Through strangling vines.
You are the steady Voice
That recall me from my confusion,
And bids me order my days,
That I might turn to you in wonder.
Recall me, recall me, sing my name
That I might hear Your welcome;
Lift me, turn me, to breathe fresh air
Above the forest canopy.
Would you discover the mystery of God?
Would you discovery the limit of the Almighty?
Higher than heavenwhat can you do?
Deeper than Sheolwhat can you know?
But if you direct your mind,
And spread forth your hands toward Him
You will then put misery out of mind,
Consider it as water that has flowed past.
Life will be brighter than noon;
You will shine, you will be like the morning.
You will be secure, for there is hope.
Job 11:7-8, 13, 16-18
I have set you, Eternal One, continually before me, ever at my side; I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad and my soul can rejoice, for I am safe in Your presence. For You will not abandon me to death nor send Your faithful one to destruction. You show me the path of life. Your presence brings fullness of joy; enduring happiness is Your gift.
From Psalm 16, translation from On the Doorposts of Your House
For silver, the crucible;
for gold, the furnace;
for the heart, the living God.
Creator of the universe, You gave me life, in which joys and sorrows are commingled in accordance with Your wisdom; and You send death, with its promise of eternal peace. Teach
me to accept humbly and courageously whatever burden is laid upon me. Comfort me and all who mourn, and let the light of faith illumine the darkness of our sorrow with the hope of immortality. Strengthen us at all times with an unfailing trust in Your providence.
On the Doorposts of Your House
The Echo of Your Promise
Based on Psalm 77
Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis
When I cry my voice trembles with fear
When I call out it cracks with anger.
How can I greet the dawn with song
when darkness eclipses the rising sun
To whom shall I turn
when the clouds of the present eclipse the rays of
Turn me around to yesterday
that I may be consoled by its memories.
Were not the seas split asunder
did we not once walk together through the waters
to the dry side
Did we not bless the
bread that came forth from the heavens
Did not voice not reach my ears
and direct my wanderings
The waters, the lightning, the thunder
remind me of yesterday's triumphs
Let the past offer proof of tomorrow
let it be my comforter and guarantor.
I have been here before
known the fright and found your companionship.
I enter the sanctuary again
to await the echo of your promise.
From Healing of Body, Healing of Soul, ed. Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub
Acknowledging the Difficulty of Prayer
I have always found prayer difficult. So often it seems like a fruitless game of hide-and-seek where we seek and God hides Yet I cannot leave prayer alone for long. My need drives me to God. And I have a feeling that God has God's own reasons for hiding, and that finally all my seeking will prove infinitely worthwhile. And I am not sure what I mean by "finding." Some days my very seeking seems a kind of "finding." And, of course, if "finding" means the end of "seeking," it were better to go on seeking.
(Leslie D. Weatherhed, Gates of Prayer, CCAR, 1975, page 3)
Only words that would not be trite in the presence
of a dying man,
only ideas that would not pale in the face of the rising sun
or in the midst of a violent earthquake:
"God is One
"Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts . . .
may be used as metaphors
in speaking of God.
Prayer may not save us,
But prayer makes us worth saving.
(Abraham Joshua Heschel, from I Asked for Wonder, ed. Samuel H. Dresner
Efficacy of Prayer
Prayer is a pathway to God which leads us to feel God's love,
Not only in the heavens above but within us and within those about us.
If we walk on this path with faith,
we will feel God's presence
here in this room
here in our hearts
giving us strength, guidance and hope.
"When you call Me, and come and pray to Me
I will give heed to you. You will search for Me and find Me,
if only you seek Me wholeheartedly. (Jeremiah 29:12-13)
Barukh Atah Adonai, Shomei'ah tefilah.
We praise you, O God, who hears prayer.
from East End Temple's Service of Healing
A Prayer for Prayer:
O My God
My soul's companion
My heart's precious friend
I turn to You. I need to close out the noise
To rise above the noise
The noise that interrupts -
The noise that separates -
The noise that isolates.
I need to hear You again.
In the silence of my innermost being,
In the fragments of my yearned-for wholeness,
I hear whispers of Your presence -
Echoes of the past when You were with me
When I felt Your nearness
When together we walked -
When You held me close, embraced me in Your
love, laughed with me in my joy.
I yearn to hear You again.
In your oneness, I find healing.
In the promise of Your love, I am soothed.
In Your wholeness, I too can become whole again. Please listen to my call-
help me find the words
help me find the strength within
help me shape my mouth, my voice, my heart
so that I can direct my spirit and find You in prayer
In words only my heart can speak
In songs only my soul can sing
Lifting my eyes and heart to You.
Adonai S'fatai Tiftach -open my lips, precious God,
so that I can speak with You again.
(Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman)
Readings on Fire
Take Our Burnt Offerings, Oh God
Rabbi Zoë Klein
It is written in Deuteronomy 12:6-7:
There you are to bring your burnt offerings and other sacrifices,
your tithes and contributions,
your votive and freewill offerings,
and the firstlings of your herds and flocks.
Together with your households
you shall feast there before the Lord your God, happy
Torah has no punctuation.
Time and circumstance punctuate the text.
And this time is apocalyptic sky.
And this circumstance is wildfire.
And so we read verses 6 and 7 differently:
There you are to bring your burnt offerings and other sacrifices,
your tithes and contributions,
your votive and freewill offerings,
and the firstlings of your herds and flocks,
together with your households.
You shall feast there before the Lord your God, happy
Take our burnt offerings, oh God, And our other sacrifices.
Our tithes and contributions, Our sorrow and confusion.
Take our freewill offerings, And our against-our-will offerings.
Take the firstlings of our flocks, And the rest of the flock as well,
Take our forests and lizards, Inchworms and squirrel nests,
Honeybees and pine needles, Mustard flowers and mossy clearings
Take the mother bird along with her eggs Not by Flood but by Fire,
Take our burnt offerings Together with our households.
Dear God, remember Daniel, Who walked out of the furnace alive.
Dear God, remember Moses, Who saw the burning bush and survived.
Dear God, remember Israel, Who stood at the foot of the mountain while it was aflame.
Dear God remember us, Who beg in your mercy to be saved.
Take our burnt offerings, oh God, Our heated fury at our loss,
Our searing terror and scorching devastation, Our smoldering fear and charred possessions,
Our fevered anguish and smoking grief, Our fuming remorse and explosive laments,
Take our burnt offerings, oh God, And fan in us a scintilla of gratitude, for family and life,
Take our burnt offerings, oh God, And kindle in us instead an ember of love.
Take this burnt offering, oh God, And spark in us the strength and the will to rebuild.
Then we shall feast before the Lord our God, happy. We shall feast before God and be happy.
A Prayer by Rabbi Paul Kipnes
Eloheinu velohei avoteinu v'imoteinu, Our God and God of our fathers and mothers, As the flames burn, wreaking havoc upon our forests, our homes, our fire fighters, our sense of security, We turn to You for comfort and support. Help us to differentiate between flames of destruction and light that shows us Your way.
We know that flames can destroy. A people decimated once, twice but more, Having passed through infernos set by humans filled with hate, we remember the destructive abilities of these flames. Remembering that humans set those fires, we lay the blame at their feet, not Yours. Keep us far from apocalyptic thoughts, for we know that You ask us to care for this world, an awesome responsibility.
We also know that we can seek You in the flames. We remember Your Loving Hand, guiding us in our infancy: In a burning bush You spoke to Moses, sending him to lead our people out of slavery, In a pillar of fire You lead our people each day through the wilderness to the Promised Land, With black fire on white fire, You wrote the Torah, our guide for living in this world. Through Your light, we found our way.
Be with us now, these smoke and fire-filled days. Draw us close to those harmed by these flames, hearing their cry, responding to their needs. Lead us to support those who fight the fires, who care for the displaced, who bring healing to those suffering. Though our attention spans seem so short, may we be slow to forget those who were in danger.
And may we all embrace at least one lesson spoken aloud by so many who - facing the flames - rushed to pack up their valuables: That memories of love and of time spent with family and friends are priceless, holy and sacred. This can never be taken away. As we rush to meet the challenge of living in this imperfect world of ours, May we slow down enough to cherish those who are truly valuable - kadosh/holy - to us.
Baruch Ata Adonai, Hamavdil bein kodesh l'chol. Blessed are You, O God, who differentiates between the truly valuable and everything else.
Biblical Readings on Fire
There was a great and mighty wind,
splitting mountains and shattering rocks by the power of Adonai;
but Adonai was not in the wind.
After the wind, an earthquake;
but Adonai was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake, fire,
but Adonai was not in the fire.
And after the fire, a still, small voice.
(I Kings 19:11-12)
Face-to-face, Adonai spoke with you at the mountain from inside the fire.
But now thus said Adonai
Who created you, O Jacob, who formed you, O Israel;
Fear not, for I will redeem you;
I have singled you out by name; You are Mine.
When you pass through water, I will be with you;
Through streams, they shall not overwhelm you.
When you walk through fire, you shall not be scorched;
Through flame, it shall not burn you.
For I am Adonai your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
Prayers for Strength and Healing
Be with me, God. I feel so lost. I can't seem to escape the dark cloud
that is hanging over me today. Help me, God. Give me strength
to combat despair and fear. Show me how to put my pain
into perspective. Teach me to have faith in the new day
that is coming. Thank you, God, for today's blessings,
for tomorrow's hope, and for Your abiding love.
Teach me always to believe in my power to return to life, to hope, and to You, God,
no matter what pains I have endured, no matter how far I have strayed from You.
Give me the strength to resurrect my weary spirit.
Revive me, God, so I can embrace life once more
in joy, in passion, in peace.
When I feel tainted, God, remind me that I am holy.
When I feel weak, teach me that I am strong.
When I am shattered, assure me that I can heal.
When I am weary, renew my spirit.
When I am lost, show me that you are near.
May God heal you, body and soul.
May your pain cease,
May your strength increase,
May your fears be released,
May blessings, love and joy surround you.
-Rabbi Naomi Levy Talking to God: Personal Prayers for Times of Joy, Sadness, Struggle and Celebration
God, make me brave for life: oh, braver than this.
Let me straighten after pain, as a tree straightens after the rain,
Shining and lovely again.
God, make me brave for life: much braver than this.
As the blown grass lifts, let me rise from sorrow with quiet eyes,
Knowing Thy way is wise.
God, make me brave, life brings such blinding things.
Help me to keep my sight; help me to see aright
That out of doubt comes light.
-Author unknown, from Prayers for Healing, ed. Maggie Oman
Healing is both an exercise
and an understanding
And yet not of the will
nor of the intention
It is a wisdom
and a deeper knowledge of the daily swing of life and death in all creation.
There is defeat
and acceptance of living
to be established
there must be hope.
Not the hope of healing
but the hope which informs the coming moment and gives it reason.
The hope which is
each person's breath
the certainty of love
and of loving.
Death may live in the living
And healing rise in the dying
for whom the natural end
is part of the gathering
and the harvest to be expected
To know healing is to know that all life is one.
From the East End Temple's Service of Healing
Mi Shebeirach avoteinu, M'kor hab'rachah l'imoteinu.
May the Source of Strength, Who blessed the ones before us,
Help us find the courage, to make our lives a blessing,
And let us say - Amen.
Mi Shebeirach imoteinu, M'kor hab'rachah la'avoteinu.
Bless those in need of healing, with r'fuah sh'leima.
The renewal of body, the renewal of spirit.
And let us say - Amen.
May the One who blessed our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
And our mothers Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel,
bless and heal these ones who are injured, ill, or sick at heart.
May the Holy One of blessing be filled with compassion for them,
To restore and heal, strengthen and enliven,
and quickly send them a complete healing,
A healing of soul and a healing of body, among all others who are stricken,
Speedily, soon, and without delay. And let us say: Amen.
Prayer for a Loss
O God, my need is great as I sink into the deep despair and pain of loss.
Help me face each hour so that I do not submit to the seemingly endless days and nights of darkness and loneliness.
Remind me that life is a journey and death is a destination
so that I may heal and regain the essence and appreciation
of that which is good and beautiful in life.
Grant me health of body and spirit.
Give my heart courage and make me whole again.
Set my soul free and let me remember the love in the past
so that I can give thanks to you for the memories of happy times we had together.
Praise to you, God, Healer of the sick at heart. Please hear my prayer and comfort me.
Maryann Fenster, from WRJ's Covenant of the Soul
breathe and awaken,
leaves are stirring,
all things moving,
new day coming,
-Pawnee prayer from Prayers for Healing, ed. Maggie Oman
Blessed art Thou, oh Lord, every day,
Because every day is precious.
Every day is a lifetime mirroring all life itself.
Thank you for the morning when I feel fresh and young
And wake to the beauty all around me.
Thank you for the afternoon when the sun is high
Suspended in triumph above a work-a-day world.
Thank you for the evening when the shadows cast a sheltering
palm above the universe
Permitting it to pause ready for the dark.
Thank you for the night with the ever-present stars
To remind me that darkness is never absolute.
Thank you for the calm that is restorative,
Not a mindless obliteration of reality
Thank you for the sleep that heals and strengthens
And fills my heart with hope for a new tomorrow.
Marcia H., Twelve Steps to Jewish Recovery
Give me strength to forget
Evils over and done,
History's fall and fouls,
Yesterday's frozen hope.
And give me strength to keep watch
For fair weather after a stormy day,
Incense of flowers
And quiet waves.
Give me strength to wait and time to hope:
Until the last day
Strength to keep watch and rejoice
As doves are hatched and babes are born
As flowers bud and blossom
And visions break out and grow.
Give me strength,
Eliezer Bugatin, from On the Doorposts of Your House
May we be blessed as we go on our way
May we be guided in peace
May we be blessed with health and joy
May this our blessing, amen.
May we be sheltered by wings of peace
May we be kept in safety and in love
May grace and compassion find their
way to every heart
May this be our blessing, amen.