Praying for Peace in the Vatican

What makes this entire public event somewhat questionable is the fact that neither Peres nor Abbas are well-known for participating in either public or private religious prayer.

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Rabbi Berel Wein,

Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein

The much heralded public prayer for peace and reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority took place this week at the Vatican in Rome. The event was hosted and sponsored by Pope Francis and included the participation of religious leaders and official clergy of the three main monotheistic faiths. But the main stars of the event were Shimon Peres, Mohammed Abbas and naturally, the Pope himself.

I am all in favor of prayer and I am certainly an avid supporter of peace. But somehow I have a queasy feeling about this public relations coup to promote the Catholic Church as the alternate diplomatic mediator in the Israeli – Palestinian dispute.

What makes this entire public event somewhat questionable is the fact that neither Peres nor Abbas are well-known for participating in either public or private religious prayer. As all of us are well aware, public prayer is a very delicate matter. Sometimes it is too public at the expense of meaningful prayer itself.

Even though public prayer with a minyan is obligatory in Jewish law and tradition, we are all aware that the moment of private and truly heartfelt prayer offered alone can also be most meaningful and spiritually satisfying. In my opinion this latest Vatican prayer session suffers from too much formality and publicity.

I don't know if it was possible, but if the Pope could have gotten Abbas and Peres alone in a room without media and fanfare and their true prayer would have been offered, perhaps the entire event would yet have proved to be of benefit. As it stands now, very little positive accomplishment is on the horizon from this overly advertised event.

Jews pray three times daily for peace. It is the final blessing of the amidah, the central prayer of the ritual prayer service. The reason that it is the final prayer of that service is because it encompasses all of the blessings, hopes and longings that the other preceding texts of prayer expressed.

The Talmud saw peace as being the proper receptacle that can carry and contain all of the other prayers, benefits and rewards of life. Without peace and inner serenity even the blessings of family, wealth and physical well being remain somehow unfulfilled and unsatisfactory. Therefore peace and the prayer for peace are viewed as the most necessary repository of human attainment and achievement.

But even though we ask Heaven on a regular basis for this blessing of peace the truth is that the fulfillment of that blessing, as perhaps of all other blessings in life, is dependent upon us. We are taught in Psalms that we are to search for peace and pursue it. Peace is made on earth by human effort and Divine blessing. Heaven has created peace on high without the necessity for human aid and intervention. However, peace on earth also requires Heavenly guidance and encouragement but as in all matters here on earth what human beings do and decide has influence and consequence.

Apparently it is not sufficient to only pray for peace but one must search for it and pursue it in order to achieve it. And that is what makes our situation here in the Middle East one of such difficulty since it is not at all clear that the pursuit of peace with Israel is really one of the objectives of Abbas and the Palestinian Authority.

Nevertheless, I do not want to be the one to cast cold water on the Pope’s initiative for praying for peace. Many times what we initially and even halfheartedly pray for becomes what we actually later desire and work toward. So this public media event at the Vatican can bear fruit if the parties involved internalize the wish for peace and pursue it.

Peace is always costly and imperfectly achieved. Many a wrenching experience must be undergone on the road to achieving peace, whether it is on a personal level or on a national level. To a certain extent peace involves sublimating memory and releasing the hold of the past on one’s vision of the future.
In order for that to happen, since this is contrary to human nature, Divine assistance is vitally necessary. Hence, our thrice daily prayer to the God of Israel that He grant us the blessing of peace and the strength to pursue it.

Again, I believe that prayer without the trappings of undue publicity and media notoriety is the most effective way of invoking Heaven’s blessing upon us. I hope that all of the parties involved in this week’s prayer session did so in sincerity and will truly pursue the search for the ways of peace  needed so desperately.