Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Thoughts on the National Day of Prayer
By Alan Caruba
I feel sorry for atheists and this is particularly true on the National Day of Prayer, May 6th. Curiously, almost every atheist I know has read the Old and New Testaments from cover to cover, apparently looking for a loophole.
I suspect that the earliest ancestors of modern man were praying in their caves and on their savannas. Prayer comes as naturally to our lips as a kiss.
Thinking about prayer led me to conclude that what we call prayer today is yet another gift of the Jews, one that preceded the gift of a messiah to Christians, even if Jews prefer to wait for one.
"The Jew gave us the Outside and the Inside—our outlook and our inner life. We can hardly get up in the morning or cross the street without being Jewish. We dream Jewish dreams and hope Jewish hopes. Most of our best words, in fact—new, adventure, surprise, unique, individual, person, vocation, time, history, future, freedom, progress, spirit, faith, hope, justice—are the gifts of the Jews." -- Thomas Cahill, Irish Author.
Adin Steinsaltz, writing in “The Essential Talmud” notes that, “In the First Temple era, prayer was entirely spontaneous; when a man felt the need to petition his God or thank Him, he prayed in his own words.” However, the “formal regulation of prayer had already commenced; the first psalms had been composed and were sung by the Levites on special occasions in the Temple, so the general public was aware of the existence of certain official prayer ceremonies that took place at fixed times.”
“The need for a recognized version of prayers became pressing at the beginning of the Second Temple era. “ Having returned from a long exile in Babylonia, the Jews had only sparse knowledge of the Hebrew language and of basic concepts of Judaism. “When they wanted to pray, they lacked both language and content.” As a result a Great Assembly was held and out of that came the decision to compose a standard prayer. It was composed of eighteen benedictions.
Much of this official prayer has survived to this day and it should escape no one that the Jews and Judaism have survived as well. And not just survived, but returned in our lifetimes to rebuild Israel as the world’s only Jewish state. No one with any knowledge of history and a sense of a greater power at work in the affairs of men can ignore the significance of this.
Olive Schreiner, a South African novelist and social activist, wrote: "Indeed it is difficult for all other nations of the world to live in the presence of the Jews. It is irritating and most uncomfortable. The Jews embarrass the world as they have done things which are beyond the imaginable. They have become moral strangers since the day their forefather, Abraham, introduced the world to high ethical standards and to the fear of Heaven.”
“They brought the world the Ten Commandments, which many nations prefer to defy. They violated the rules of history by staying alive, totally at odds with common sense and historical evidence. They outlived all their former enemies, including vast empires such as the Romans and the Greeks. They angered the world with their return to their homeland after 2000 years of exile and after the murder of six million of their brothers and sisters.”
Christian Americans, increasingly feeling the sting of rejection, ridicule, and efforts to isolate them, now have more reason than ever to identify with and understand the centuries of oppression Jews endured.
Jews will join in the National Day of Prayer and no doubt they will regard it as a good thing, having bequeathed a heritage of the earliest prayers and having institutionalized prayer to make it available to all, inside or outside of the temple.
© Alan Caruba, 2010