Can you pray for people who have done harm? The question seems absurd to me. Why would I turn to God on behalf of such people? What is the purpose of placing them on my heart?
These past weeks have been particularly challenging for all Americans: last week’s shootings at a Florida High School, the failure of Congress to secure a place for the “dreamers” in our country, and a President who flaunts the rule of law and due process. That’s just a start. Do I pray for those who perpetrate heinous crimes? Do I ask for grace for leaders who fail to protect? Do I ask God’s blessing for a President who divides and damages our nation?
In Torah, there is a hint of the efficacy of prayer for everyone – those we love and those who challenge us to the depths of our sensibilities. At Exodus 28:29 we read that Aaron the High Priest wears a breastplate with 12 stones, one representing each of the twelve tribes. In other words, he places over his heart the totality of the Israelite community. All people, good and bad, caring and callous, are in the prayers of the High Priest. “Aaron shall carry the names of the children of Israel on the breast piece of decision over his heart, when he enters the sanctuary, for remembrance before the LORD at all times.”
From this I glean a lesson of resilience. When I am mired in hate and anger, I cannot move forward. When I can see the whole picture and offer prayer that is inclusive, I can better act toward reconciliation and resolution. This is not to say that I diminish my resolve toward combatting hate, lessen my support for those in danger, or limit my advocacy for our nation’s future. In fact my resolve is greater when I remain aware. Torah teaches us to place the totality of peoplehood upon our heart - but not all goes in our heart. A breastplate of gold and decorated with stones is heavy to wear, heavy like the worries of this crazy world. But placing such gear on one’s heart keeps the disparities and disputes in view while not taking them into our essence. Speak of them as we breathe out, but do not absorb them as we breathe in.
Placing the entirety of society on my heart takes me out of my narrowed perspective. It brings me awareness and humility. These attributes help me to better connect with the highest good and discern the best way forward for our world.
I’ll keep the 17 who died last week in my heart. I’ll keep the NRA on my heart. I’ll keep the dreamers in my heart. I’ll keep the fear mongering xenophobes on my heart. I’ll keep this wonderful country’s future in my heart. And I’ll pray about our President. God help me in this endeavor because the breastplate is heavy to hold and my patience is waning.
Rabbi Evan J. Krame