September 20, 2014 · 25 Elul

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Birkat Shalom/Peace

The final blessing of the Amidah is Birkat Shalom, the prayer for peace. We conclude this blessing with Oseh Shalom, which asks that the One who makes peace in the high places make peace for us. During a social action service, this moment would be an opportunity to include another kind of prayer, one that does not only ask God to bestow peace, but that God help us to bring peace and justice into the world. In addition, the end of the Amidah is generally a time of silence and contemplation. The right reading or piece of music can be very effective in bringing people from that silence into the next portion of the service. If a sermon or D’var Torah about social action follows, the reading can serve as an introduction to it.


In the Jewish tradition, the separation between prayer and action is slight. We’re mindful of the admonition in Isaiah where God says, “I don’t want your fast and your sacrifice. I want you to deal your bread to the hungry, tear apart the chains of the oppressed.” And Leviticus 19 tells us that to be holy in the way God is holy means to set aside a corner of our fields for the poor and homeless, to pay the laborer a timely and fair wage, and to remove stumbling blocks. These are religious activities just as much as prayer is. They are all woven together.

After participating in the civil rights march in Selma, Alabama, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of this century’s great religious figures and a close colleague of Martin Luther King, said, “It felt like my feet were praying.” Prayer is not just the communication we have with God; it is also the work we do to make God’s values real to the world. I think God listens to both kinds of prayer with equal joy.

-Rabbi David Saperstein


A rabbi was asked by a farmer when the world would truly know peace. The rabbi replied, “Follow me.” He then brought the farmer to the side of a brook, put his hand on the farmer’s head, and pressed it into the water until the farmer came up gasping for breath. The rabbi then said: “This is your answer. When man wants peace, when he wants peace as much as you just wanted air, when he comes up gasping for peace, when he is ready to give everything in himself to have peace, as you have given to have air, he will have peace.”

-RAC L’taken seminar, Shabbat evening service


One must repeat from time to time: The world was created for my sake. Never say: What do I care about this or that? Do your part to add something new, to bring forth something that is needed, and to leave the world a little better because you were here briefly.

Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav
RAC L’taken seminar, Shabbat evening service


True, we are often too weak to stop injustices; but the least we can do is protest against them.
True, we are too poor to eliminate hunger; but in feeding one child, we protest against hunger.
True, we are too timid and powerless to take on all the guards of all the political prisons in the world; but in offering our solidarity to one prisoner, we denounce all the tormentors.
True, we are powerless against death; but as long as we help one man, one woman, one child live one hour longer in safety and dignity, we affirm a human's right to live.

Elie Wiesel
Sages and Dreamers



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