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A Prayer for the Czar

04/09/2021 11:51:54 AM

Apr9

Prince Philip of England passed away today.  As I thought about his passing, I thought of Jewish prayers for non-Jewish kings and queens.  My mind almost immediately went to the scene from Fiddler on the Roof when a peasant asks the Rabbi, “Is there a prayer for the czar?”  The Rabbi responds, “May the lord bless and keep the czar… Far away from us”.

However, in researching this quote (to make sure I remembered it accurately) I found out there actually was a prayer for the czar.  It was found in a Lithuanian Machzor from 1914.  It reads:

May He Who grants salvation to kings and dominion to rulers,

Whose kingdom is a kingdom spanning all eternity,

Who releases David, his servant, from the evil sword,

Who places a road in the sea and a path in the mighty waters –

May He bless, protect, guard, assist, elevate, exalt, and lift upwards

Our master CZAR NIKOLAI ALEXANDROVICH,

With his wife, the honorable CZARINA ALEXANDRA FEODOROVNA

Their son, the crown prince ALEXI NIKOLAIOVICH

And his mother, the honorable CZARINA MARIA FEODORAVNA

And the entire house of our king, may their glory be exalted.

May the King of kings in His mercy give him life, and protect him,

And save him from every trouble, woe and injury.

May nations submit under his feet, and may his enemies fall before him,

And may he succeed in whatever he endeavors.

May the King of kings, in His mercy, grant compassion in his heart 

and the heart of all his advisors

To do favors for us and for all Israel, our brethren.

In his days and in our days, may Judah be saved, and may Israel dwell securely,

And may the Redeemer come to Zion.

So may it be His will – and we say:  AMEN.

(translation provided by http://rabbischeinberg.blogspot.com/2012/07/a-blessing-for-czar-in-honor-of-july-4.html)

Prayers like this have existed throughout the centuries in our prayer books.  We even have one in our prayer book for the government of the United States.  Of course, there are cynical reasons to believe a prayer like this would be included in a Jewish prayer book. 

Perhaps it was included to curry favor with the current regime, or to show our loyalty to the nations in which we lived, or for protection.  However, I think there is another reason. 

I believe prayers like this force us to humanize our public figures.  This prayer serves to remind us that on top of being a public figure, this person was also a father, husband, and son.  In short that there is person behind the position.

Therefore, it is not the title we honor in recognizing the death of a public figure but the soul that was brought into this world.  In Judaism, every soul when brought into the world is pure.  Through the course of our lives the light of that soul is either allowed to shine through good choices or becomes stifled in its ability to shine through poor choices a person makes.

Perhaps that soul remained pure and was allowed to shine through.  Perhaps it was corrupted and the shine was blocked.  This idea was summarized in the following from Miamonidies: Every person is granted free will (r’shut). Should one wish, one can follow the way of goodness and become a tzadik, and should one wish, one can follow the way of wickedness and become a rasha... (Rambam, Hilchot Teshuvah, perek 5:1)

As a result of this idea, Judaism again forces us to face the fact that any soul corruption was due to the person being human and choices that they made. This serves in juxtaposition to the idea that a person’s soul was faulty.  And how do we do know a person’s soul is not faulty at birth?  Because of the idea of betzelem Elohim, that we are all created in the image of God.

Therefore, perhaps the prayer for the czar is really there to say that in the end, regardless of one’s feelings about a public figure, even if they had no empathy in their life we need to practice that trait in our lives.  We are not allowed to lower ourselves simply because they did.  Accordingly, whether it is the czar or Prince Philip, as Jews we will mourn the passing of a soul. We will mourn the missed opportunities in their life to service their nation.  We will mourn the passing of a husband, father, brother and son.  We may not always like who a person was and we are free to call their character into question.  However, as Jews we are never free to ignore a soul and the impact it had on our lives or the lives of others for better or worse

Tue, June 22 2021 12 Tammuz 5781