Music of Halacha: A New President
A New President
Rabbi Chanina, the deputy High Priest says, “Pray for the welfare of the government, because if people did not fear it, a person would swallow his fellow alive.”
(Chapters of Our Fathers 3:2)
Are we obligated to pray for a government even if we disagree with its policies? Do Rabbi Chanina’s words apply to a president for whom some of us did not vote? Must we pray for the new president’s government, or, should we pray for him and his family as well?
Rabbi Chanina seemed to be a practical man. He understood the need and benefits of political stability and taught that we should pray for the stability of the government. Yet, it is not that simple; Rabbi Chanina should not have been the deputy high priest, but the high priest himself. However, the government was selling the position of high priest to the highest bidder (Yebamot 61a), and Rabbi Chanina could not afford to pay the heavy price. The rabbi had suffered from the corruption of the government. He witnessed how Jews had spiritually suffered because of the king, and yet, he insisted that we pray for that same government. (Anaf Eitz Avot) It is possible, even likely, that many were praying for the king’s downfall, but Rabbi Chanina, a victim of the king’s greed, insisted that we pray for him and his government.
I hear echoes of a prophet in Rabbi Chanina’s words: Jeremiah (29:7) urged the Jews to “Seek the peace of the city to which I have exiled you and pray for it to God, for through its peace, you will have peace.” The prophet was encouraging Israel to pray for the peace of the nation that had conquered Israel, destroyed Jerusalem, razed the Temple and exiled the nation. The prophet seems to be stressing the very practical concern for peace and stability. Jeremiah gently reminded the people that they would benefit from the stability of their enemies, now their hosts.
There is someone in Riverdale who has a siddur published in Frankfurt, Germany in 1935. He showed me the prayer that was recited for “Chancellor Adolph Hitler”. It is difficult to imagine Jews praying for the health of a monster that was absolutely clear about his intentions and feelings for Jews. They did pray that God send him wisdom and cause him to lead with compassion, but I still shudder to think that Jews actually prayed for him.
Josephus (Book III, Chapter 16) describes a visit by the Macedonian king, Selekukos Soter, to Jerusalem. The High Priest showed the monarch how the Jews prayed for him in the Temple.
The community of Carlsberg, Germany observed 40 days of mourning in 1697 for the death of their Habsburg ruler. The Jews of Transylvania were devastated by his death, for they considered him their protection from the Ottoman Empire. (Responsa Mareh Yechezkail, Footnote 275)
We have always followed the teachings of Jeremiah, and Rabbi Chanina, even when we not only disagreed with the policies of the government, but even when the leader was our enemy! There is no question that we must pray for our government even if we voted for someone else, even if we disagree with its policies, and even if we feared those policies. Our personal opinions do not matter. We must pray for the government and its leader. We are praying for all of us to benefit from the stability of our country. We pray that God will grant wisdom and compassion to all our leaders and that they will succeed in dealing with all their daunting challenges.
Does Halacha obligate us to pray for President Obama’s health and family? Yes.
Ezra describes how Darius found a scroll stored in the Babylonian archives in which Cyrus relied on Israel’s prayers ‘for the life of the king and his children.” (Ezra 6:10) Ezra is not describing the practical prayers recommended by Jeremiah, but a straightforward prayer for Cyrus and his family.
In fact, we are obligated to recite a blessing if we see President Obama in person: “Who has given of His glory to human beings”. We believe that God actively and willfully gave of His glory to the new president. We are obligated to treat the new president with respect as an expression of our conviction that he was blessed by God in order to rise to his great position.
The Foundation Stone prays for President Barack Obama. We pray that God will bless him and his family with good health, strength and great success. We ask that God continue to reflect His glory in President Obama, and grant him wisdom, insight, patience, compassion and the ability to realize his dreams for himself, his family and his country.