Opinion |

God Bless America, God Save Us All

'The greatest president God ever created?' Faith leaders offer their own alternative invocations for the Trump inauguration.

Haaretz contributors
Haaretz contributors

There is a longstanding Jewish tradition to pray “for the lives of the leader and his children” (Ezra 6:10) and for “the peace of the government” (Avot 3:2).

When such prayers were first offered, and for centuries thereafter, concern for how a nation’s king or prime minister or czar might treat the Jewish people was paramount. No one has reason to imagine that Donald Trump has anything but affection and good will toward Jews and toward Israel. And we trust that he will show the same good will toward all Americans, as our collective fate is one.

Still and all, though, President Trump deserves our prayers, that he be guided from Above in his every decision; that he value the insights of wise advisors; that he act out of prudence and principle; and that he be keenly aware throughout his term in office of the importance of balancing determination and humility.

Rabbi Avi Shafran is a regular columnist for the American edition of Hamodia, and a contributor to The Forward and Haaretz.

Mr. Trump, you discovered during the campaign that certain crude, combative behaviors worked. We, the American people, rewarded you for all your buffoonish self-promotion, insatiable attention-grabbing, bullying, insulting and name-calling, shameless disregard for truth, manipulative embrace of falsehood, bigoted statements about Latinos and African-Americans, as well as your life-long disdain for women and your well-documented lecherousness.

Shame on us.

My prayer for you, as you assume the most powerful office in the world, is that – against all odds – you’ll realize that governing requires different skills and virtues than scamming an electorate. Making America great again requires classical virtues like honesty, modesty, constancy, beneficence, respect for others. It requires, as the Talmud says, “building peace among people.”

In ancient times Yitro (Exodus 18.21) knew the proper qualifications for leadership: "Noble God-fearing honest people not out to make a buck.”

Do you have any of that in you? You’ve given us no reason for optimism. Only you could possibly have insulted a genuine American hero like John Lewis on MLK weekend. Sad. But perhaps you will discover more within yourself than you’ve shown. May you rise to the occasion and may God save us.

Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky has been a rabbi at Manhattan's Ansche Chesed since 2001.

Donald Trump is having a hard time putting his inauguration together. From entertainers to clergy, many Americans have flatly refused to participate. The one thing he hasn't had a hard time with is finding a Muslim voice, principally because, by all evidence, he hasn't approached any Islamic clergy to offer any kind of invocation. Though what if he had?

When the Prophet Muhammad made his exodus from an increasingly murderous Mecca to a safe haven in Medina, his community grew immeasurably, but found itself beset by new challenges. The Muslims of Medina vowed to support Muhammad, but they were themselves riven; the tribes of Aws and Khazraj were now Muslim. But they had been feuding generationally.

You could say there was a red Medina and a blue Medina.

From time to time, the old tensions flared, and the old world way of doing things resurfaced; on one occasion, a dispute between the two tribes threatened to turn violent, and horrified Muhammad. He counseled his flock that they belonged now to a new community, and their loyalty was not to their ethnicity, their culture, or even their creed, but to right and wrong.

And so he gave them this astonishing advice.

Once two young men, one from the Meccans and one from Medina, fell into dispute, and the man from Mecca and the man from Medina each called their kin for help. The Prophet was dismayed.

He had said, "Support your brother whether he's an oppressor or is oppressed."

Someone said, "O Messenger of God, we understand how to help the one oppressed. But how do we help an oppressor?"

The Prophet said, "By seizing his hand."

Which is to say, he meant, "by restraining him or preventing him from committing injustice, for that is how you support him." (The Collection of Muslim (Sahih Muslim), No. 2584. (The Book of Virtue, Enjoining Good Manners and The Ties of Kinship.) Narrated by Jabir ibn Abd Allah.)

Whether your brother does right or wrong, he is still your brother - and you still have a moral duty to him. If he is wronged, then you must help him. But if he is wronging others, then you must still help him - even as Muhammad's companions were incredulous. A tyrant is our brother? And he should be helped? Yes, Muhammad insisted. Those who do wrong are still your brothers. And are still owed a moral duty.

Where President-elect Trump is in the right, we should support him. Where he is wrong, then we should also support him. But the way we support him is by holding him morally accountable and politically in check. Because we are all, even our ideological opponents, human beings; each of us has a moral responsibility to the other, and none of us is exempt from right and wrong, concern and empathy. Because right and wrong transcends red and blue, color and creed.

Sometimes you hold someone up by holding him back. Checks and balances aren't just the keys to democracy. They're the stuff spiritual salvation is made of.

Haroon Moghul is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Policy. He is president of Avenue Meem, a new media company.

The Jewish attitude toward the government is rooted in the paradoxical teachings of Pirkei Avot, “Pray for the welfare of the government, for without it a person would swallow his fellow alive,” (3:2) and “Be careful with the government, for they befriend a person only for their own needs.” (2:3)

Accordingly, Jewish prayers for the government have sometimes been subversive, or revolutionary, sometimes hinting at a critique of the leader, and sometimes directly calling for the establishment of a more just society.

My prayer begins with the verse from Psalms that starts HaNoten t’shuah, the earliest extant prayer for the government, written in the 16th century. I also include, however, the verse following, which denigrates the ruling authorities. The remainder of the prayer plays with the language of HaNoten t’shuah and consists of verses from Psalms and from the prophetic books adapted for syntax.

“May the one who grants salvation to kings, who rescues David your servant from the evil sword, rescue us and deliver us from the hands of strangers, whose mouths speak falsehood, and whose right hand is a right hand of lying. (Psalms 144:10-11)

“May the one who made a way in the sea and a path in the strong waters (Isaiah 43:16) bring liberation to all inhabitants of this land. Help us, your witnesses, bring good tidings to the humble, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim release to the captives, and liberation to the imprisoned. (Isaiah 43:10, 61:1)

“May God bless, keep, and protect all of the people of this land. Deliver us from the deceitful and unjust man; send forth your light and your truth to lead us. (Psalms 43:1,3)

Guide the rulers of this land to execute justice, to protect the outcasts, to help those who seek refuge find asylum, and to end exploitation. Let those in power establish themselves in mercy and truth, to devote themselves to justice and be zealous for righteousness. (Isaiah 16:3-5)

“Let justice well up as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream. (Amos 5:24) and the work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness calm and confidence forever.”(Isaiah 32:1)

Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the Executive Director of T'ruah.

O Creator! You have given life to us all, and you reside in every single one of us. You are the potter, and we are your clay. You have molded each of us into pots, infusing your divine self within our beings. We are grateful to be of you and with you. Let us honor your creation with the love and respect it deserves.

O Beloved! You are compassion, generosity, and justice. You are absolute love. And as we identify your qualities, let us identify the qualities we seek to bring into our own lives. Many of us are far from realizing you, and so we ask – please bless us and guide us so that we may also become embodiments of compassion, generosity, and justice.

O True Sovereign! You know as well as anyone that there is immense injustice in our world. Our nation divided, our communities fracturing, our hearts breaking. It concerns us that our incoming administration has not demonstrated an ability to embody empathy or justice. It concerns us that our incoming administration has marginalized various communities and fueled the flames of hate. We pray that you help ensure justice in our world and bless us all with clarity of vision, clarity in our hearts.

O Fearless One! When Babur entered South Asia and massacred innocent civilians, Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, opposed him openly and fearlessly. He declared that anyone in power who attacks the disenfranchised would be held accountable. He stood firmly against injustice. His commitment to doing the right thing and equal rights is at the foundation of the Sikh belief system, and we believe it is a universal ethic to which all can subscribe. Please help each and every one of us to stand firmly against injustice in whatever form it may appear.

O Divine Being! We ask you to help heal the wounds of our nation with loving justice. Let us treat one another with dignity and respect. Let us recognize the injustices various communities face and commit ourselves to addressing them. And, above all else, let us live in a way that honors You and your divine presence permeating each and every one of us.

(Imagery adapted from compositions written by Bhagat Kabir and Guru Nanak in the Guru Granth Sahib.)

Simran Jeet Singh is Assistant Professor of Religion at Trinity University and Senior Religion Fellow for the Sikh Coalition.

“Open up Your hands to provide for the needs of all human beings with favor.”

Mr. President, these words from Psalm 145 are directed towards God, but at your inauguration to the highest office of the most powerful nation on earth, I hear the great psalmist’s voice speaking to you, and to every one of us who can help this great country provide for all those currently in need.

Mr. President, we pray to God to help you enable our country to feed, clothe, and shelter its citizens. We pray to God to help you inspire all of us to achieve our potential, to be productive and to be rewarded in moral, ethical, and economically beneficial ways. In your merit, because of your devotion to America and to what is right, may God help you to protect us, and to carry a message of strength and goodness to the entire world. May you model, in the image of God, an America that is great not only because of what we can achieve for our families, our communities, and the world, but because we yearn to achieve in ways that are just, ethical, and meaningful.

Thousands of years ago, in the wake of one of the most challenging and painful episodes in Jewish history, our rabbis wrote, “On the day the Holy Temple was destroyed in Jerusalem, the hope of the Messianic era was born.” Mr. President, you have heard the great challenges and the pain of the American people, and you have heard our hopes. And like those still reeling from the destruction of the Temple, it is precisely because of our challenges—because of our need for bread, shelter, safety, and harmony—that we see this as a time of hope and opportunity.

We envision the dangers that our brave police officers and firefighters face every day being transformed into love for and from all those they protect. With God’s help, we envision our many religious divisions being transformed into religious communities unified in the desire to make this great nation even greater. We see this as a time to replace the frustrations of a world filled with terror, war, disease, and death with the hope of a secure world, one in which people can thrive with purpose and fulfillment. We see this as a time when our sense of doom and dread might be replaced with joy and eagerness to work together in sisterhood and brotherhood to make this once again a single nation born out of many.

We are a nation of people from diverse geographies and cultures, people who have been welcomed by the open arms of the United States to set down roots, learn new ways, and in turn, to devote our energies to making it possible for others to do the same.

Mr. President, the psalmist asks God to open up God’s hands, God’s heart, as it were. We ask God to give you the strength to lead America so that she may continue to open up her hands and heart to all those who seek inspiration and protection. May God continue to bless this nation, allowing her to grow greater and stronger through the hard work and sincere loyalty of all who are so privileged to dwell “from sea to shining sea.” And with our open arms, may we join hands as one diverse but united people, following your inspiration and your lead, Mr. President, walking in the image and grace of God towards a future of doing good and fulfilling the great promise of our blessed United States of America.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin is the president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School.

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