"Is there a blessing for the Czar?"

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 And, in addition: “Seek the shalom”, translated as “the welfare” - “of the city to which you have been exiled. And pray for its welfare, for in its welfare you will find your own.” “B’shlomah yihyeh lachem shalom.”

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Although some minor alterations have been made only relating to names and attributes having been corrected

“Is There a Blessing for the Czar?”

With Rabbi Reuven Ben-Avraham.

A Blessing on your Head … Mazeltov, Mazeltov

I will begin with the question: “Is there a blessing for the Czar?

I am sure that most of us have seen the play, or the movie “Fiddler on the Roof” and we will well recall, that question one of the townspeople asks the rabbi of ‘Anatevka’ very early in the story. And it’s a good question, right? Of course right! After all, we have a blessing for everything, we have a blessing for this, and a blessing for that. Thus surely we must have a blessing for the Czar. If so, what would it be?

The rabbi’s answer was, as we all know, quite clever: “May Elohim bless and keep the Czar (short pause - with a fast finish) far away from us!” Of course the rabbi did not have to do much thinking to come up with this reply, for he knew it quite well. In fact, everyone in Anatevka should have known it of by heart:

But we should ask ourselves, “should we pray for the welfare for the leaders of the country we live in?”

First: When and how did the notion of Jews praying for the emperor, king, queen or ruler of the land wherein we happened to live, arise?

Second: What can we learn from this history that can help us understand how and why we pray for the officers or representatives or, collectively, the government, of the land in which we live today, a country that will be so very different from where we Hebrews originally used to live?

First, where did it all begin? Where did we first start praying for the rulers of the land where we happened to live?

The answer is of course, is in the Tanakh.

When Yisrael - Israel was exiled from Judea to Babylon in 597 BCE, the prophet Yirmyahu - Jeremiah wrote a letter to the deported Hebrews from Judea. As is clearly stated in Yirmyahu - Jeremiah 29:1;

“Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem unto the residue of the elders of the captivity, and to the priests, and to the prophets, and to all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon”. (JPS).

And what does he say to them? Well in brief he really says - “Settle down there! Take a Wife! Have children! Multiply!” But here it is as he wrote it;

“Thus saith of hosts, the Elohim of Israel, unto all the captivity, whom I have caused to be carried away captive from Jerusalem unto Babylon: Build ye houses, and dwell in them, and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply ye there, and be not diminished. And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray unto for it; for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace” Yirmyahu – Jeremiah 29:4-7 (JPS).

And, in addition: “Seek the shalom”, translated as “the welfare” - “of the city to which you have been exiled. And pray for its welfare, for in its welfare you will find your own.” - “Vi’shlomah Yih’yeh La’chem Shalom.”

There is a similar message in the Apocryphal Book of Baruch ostensibly the work of Jeremiah’s scribe. He writes: “Pray for the life of Nebuchadnezzar.”

This is shocking. “Nebuchadnezzar?” Let’s face it Nebuchadnezzar was the conqueror of Jerusalem the very one who plundered our “Beit HaMikadash” - - “Temple” and deported its inhabitants to Babylon! And yet, Baruch is calling on us to pray for him and his son Belshazzar. Why? So that “their days on earth may be like the days of heaven.” Really? The Book of Ezra says essentially the same thing:

“Pray for the life of the king and of his sons” Ezira - Ezra 6:10 (JPS).

So, we have a tradition going back millennia that, wherever we happen to live, we should pray for the welfare of the community, and of its rulers even if they have caused us misfortune.

So the Tanakh and the texts of early prayers make clear not only we should pray, but also why: because we’re strangers; and aliens and thus we lack rights. We live at the sufferance of, at the mercy of, the ruler or rulers of the land where we happen to live. We employ our Elohim for the rulers to be good to us.

Hence, although we may literally be praying that Our Heavenly Father should be merciful to the rulers of our land, the ultimate concern of our prayer is in reality for our own safety and security.

By the Middle Ages, in our prayer schedule arrived a widely adopted text to fulfil this object. This text is known by its first words, “Ha-noten teshuah la-melachim” – “Who givest salvation unto kings” (Tehillim - Psalms 144:10 JPS). This prayer soon became a prominent part of the regular public worship of us Jews on Shabbat in most parts of the world.

The prayer reads as follows:

“May the One Who grants victory to kings and dominion to princes, ... bless, protect, guard and help, and exalt, magnify and uplift (the rulers of our land). May the supreme King of kings mercifully grant them life and protect them, and save them from every trouble, woe and injury, … and may they succeed in all their endeavours. May the Supreme King of Kings mercifully inspire them to deal kindly with us.(emphasis added).

What kind of a prayer is this?

It really does not matter where we live, for this generic prayer suggests that somehow we do not belong, and I suppose many of us know it, whereas many have gotten very much used to be where we are!

But like it or not the day will come when we will all, and I do mean every single Yid on earth will be going home to Eretz Yisrael! How do I know that, it says so in the Tanakh and I believe every single Word of it!

But let me commence without dispersion over 2,000 years ago:

First, we need to understand that the prophets, foretold so many things, and I have just covered our dispersion to Babylon, but of course currently we are still living in a far larger dispersion from the one when the Romans destroyed the second Temple, and we were scattered because sadly’

“ … ye shall be plucked from off the land …And among these nations shalt thou have no repose, and there shall be no rest for the sole of thy foot; but shall give thee there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and languishing of soul” Devarim - Deuteronomy 28:63 & 65 (JPS of the Torah).

It was estimated that at that time, there were around 6 million Yidden in the land, and just over 5 million were dispersed far and wide, whilst around just under 1 million remained somehow, but they suffered greatly by the hands of the Romans fulfilling Moshe’s prophecy:

“And ye shall be left few in number, whereas ye were as the stars of heaven for multitude; because thou didst not hearken unto the voice of thy Elohim” Devarim - Deuteronomy 28:62 (JPS).

However, Moshe also prophesied that that the dispersion would be in his own words, to the four corners of the earth”;

“And shall scatter thee among all peoples, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth” Devarim - Deuteronomy 28:64 (JPS).

Of course the great news is that Eretz Yisrael is a Nation once more, and there are yidden who have gone home from hundred’s of countries living there now. But sadly Yisrael is far from being a great Nation, like it will be one day in the future, for the country today is very much a secular nation, to say the least and it is sadly not one that is dedicated to Elohim, blessed be He!

The truth is that the great return as prophesied has not as yet occurred and lets face it, myself and most reading this are still living in a foreign land! But it will be Elohim that will finally move us!

“For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all the countries, and will bring you into your own land …Then the nations that are left round about you shall know that I have builded the ruined places … I have spoken it, and I will do it” Yechezkel - Ezekiel 36:24 & 36 (JPS).

Thus in the meantime we will have to continue to pray for our leaders, regardless who they are.

In the meantime we will always remember that “Fiddler on the Roof” is a wonderful memory one we will never forget; Oy Tevye you’re still singing?

“If I were a rich man
Ya ba dibba dibba dibba dibba dibba dibba dum
All day long, I'd biddy biddy bum … ”

 

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Rabbi Reuven Ben-Avraham.

 

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