Obama: Does he have a prayer?
Since this is a Sunday morning, let's talk about prayer . . . Barack Obama's prayer.
While Obama was visiting Jerusalem's Western Wall, he followed the tradition of leaving a written prayer in one of the cracks between the stones. According to Wikipedia:
There is a much publicised practice of placing slips of paper containing written prayers into the crevices of the Wall. The earliest account of this phenomenon is recounted by the Munkatcher Rebbe and is recorded in Sefer Tamei Ha-minhagim U'mekorei Ha-dinim. The story involves Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar who died in Jerusalem in 1743. A certain man came to him in great distress after he had become so destitute that he couldn’t afford to buy food for his family. The Ohr Ha-chaim wrote him an amulet in Ashuri script on parchment and instructed the man to place it between the holy stones of the Western Wall.This passage cites page 270 of Avraham Yitzchak Sperling, Sefer Tamei Ha-minhagim U'mekorei Ha-dinim; Inyanei Hilula D'Rashbi (Jerusalem: Shai Le-morah Publishing, 1999). My Hebrew's not very good, but "sefer" means "book," "tamei" looks to be related to the word for "taste" ("taa'm"), "ha" is the definite article (the), "minhagim" looks to be the plural for the nominalized form of the verb "nahag" (conduct), "u" is the conjunction "and," "mekorei" is the nominalized form of the verb "karaa" (call), and "dinim" is plural for "judgment" ("din") . . . I think. Anyway, this is the title of the Hebrew text translated into English as The customs and ceremonies of Judaism, their origins and rationale, which was first published in 1890 by Avraham Yitzchak Sperling, a rabbi.
The main point is that this custom of slipping written prayers in the cracks between the stones of the Western Wall goes back only about 300 years, so far as we know.
While these prayers don't have the 'sanctity' of long-established tradition, they are considered a sanctioned practice and to be respected as private. Despite the custom of respecting the privacy of such prayers, curiosity apparently overcame one Jewish seminary student present at the wall when Obama placed his prayer in a crevice, for this student removed the prayer and passed it along to Israel's second-largest newspaper Maariv (Hebrew: מַעֲרִיב, lit. Evening), which published a photograph of the prayer on its front page.
Ordinarily such a prayer would be private, but since the milk got spilled when the cow escaped the barn, I might as well join other 'journalists' and publish Obama's prayer:
For those who have difficulty reading cursive, Yahoo! News has conveniently provided this prayer in print form:
Lord -- protect my family and me. Forgive me my sins, and help me guard against pride and despair. Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just. And make me an instrument of your will.This is a pretty good personal prayer. Did Obama expect this 'private' prayer to be made public? Maybe not. It doesn't strike me as the sort of prayer intended for public consumption. This prayer does, of course, offer up the words of a very public man, and his words reflect his position and his concerns. As prominent as he is -- and given the historic significance of who he is -- he and his family will need protection. I won't speculate on what his "sins" might be -- if he gets elected in November, all of those sins will soon become very public -- but his asking for God to guard him against pride and despair is excellent, and very understandable for one in his position. Asking for wisdom to do what is right and just is also good.
But asking to be an instrument of God's will? That's asking for trouble, isn't it? Admittedly, this is a typical expression in prayers offered up by evangelicals, but I can almost hear Obama's critics cite these closing words as evidence for Obama's supposed messianic complex. While I don't think that Obama has a messianic complex, I do worry a bit about any political leader -- especially one who might become president of the United States -- considering himself an instrument of God's will.
It sounds kind of familiar.