One of Torah’s famous instructions appears in this week’s parsha: “Justice, justice shalt thou pursue…” (Deut. 16:20) The context is establishing a legal system, but our ethos interprets it broadly as a call for justice in all areas of daily life. This prayer is a call to leave the safety and cloister of our institutions, to go into the streets to learn from the anguish of all people. The last two stanzas include in [brackets] alternative language to Hebrew terms.
To the Streets, Revised
Have you been to the streets of our cities?
Have you seen, for yourself, the toothless madness
Of the poor, the homeless, the wretched and infirm?
Of children abused in their homes.
Of teens who starve their bodies and cut their limbs.
Have you heard the broken voices
Of loneliness and loss, addiction and despair?
Have you witnessed the violence and oppression
That divides us?
Of youths arrested for their color.
Of gangs and police waging war.
Of drugs and weapons in homes and schools.
Have you been to the battlefields and bomb shelters?
Have you witnessed the terror
Of the innocent and the gunman?
Have you heard the cries of fear and dread,
Of shock, alarm and panic?
Of soldiers blinded by war.
Of refugees abandoned to hate.
Of civilians shelled in the night.
Of prisoners tortured in the darkness.
Have you been to our factories and fields?
Have you seen the crushing labor
Of the illegals, the abused, the forgotten and the misused?
Have you heard the silent resignation
Of the indentured and the enslaved?
Of children forced to toil in sweat.
Of youth maimed by machines.
Of women raped in the mills.
Of men dead in the mines.
You the wise and the righteous,
The learned and the wealthy.
From the temples of your wisdom,
From the sanctuaries of your prayer,
From the shelter of holiness and grace.
Our people have
Tasted the ashes of grief,
The dust of loss,
The parching thirst of loneliness.
Our mothers and fathers
Have felt the whip, have been
Forced into labor, have been
Abused and condemned
To violation and violence.
Show me the words that will rescue the captive,
That will free the slave and heal the broken.
Show me the passages that will cure the sick
Feed the hungry and build them homes.
G-d calls us to service in the name of healing.
G-d calls us to action in the name of justice.
G-d calls us to repair the world in the name of holiness.
Only your hands and your strength can bless the world.
Bring your energy and dedication,
Your perseverance and action.
Bring your Midrash [parables] to the darkest allies,
And your Aggadah [lessons] to the neglected countryside.
Bring your Musar [ethics] to the clinics and the infirmaries,
And your Shulchan Aruch [religious rulings] to the shelters and encampments.
Bring your love and devotion to building a better world.
G-d of Old,
Let Your Torah [scripture] and Mitzvot [commandments]
Guide us in loving service
To lives of action,
Heeding Your holy call to tikun olam [repair the world].
© 2014 Alden Solovy and tobendlight.com. All rights reserved.
Postscript: Written as a Passover appeal for social justice, this would also serve as an alternative Yom Kippur reading, perhaps in conjunction with the Unataneh Tokef. Here’s a link to other prayers for social justice. Here’s a link to other prayers and readings for Passover. This is an update to the original prayer, first posted April 3, 2014.
Please check out my ELItalk video, “Falling in Love with Prayer,” and This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day. For reprint permissions and usage guidelines and reprint permissions, see “Share the Prayer!” To receive my latest prayers via email, please subscribe (on the home page). You can also connect on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo Source: Progressive Charlestown