Amidst days of beautiful piyutim (liturgical poems), petitions for forgiveness early in the morning, blasts of the shofar (ram's horn), the haunting melody of Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, Our King), and the famous u'netaneh tokef, one prayer stood out among the rest. The Prayer for the members of the Israel Defense Force. One version of the text can be found here.
Offered at the conclusion of the Torah reading on Shabbat and holidays, this prayer pierced my consciousness approximately fifteen minutes before the first set of shofar blasts were supposed to undertake that role. The kehillah (congregation) whose davening I attended is Orthodox. They permit women to come to the bimah (raised platform) to offer supplementary prayers. That day, however, the woman did not come to the bimah. She was anonymous to me, but as her voice began to quiver, I finally (like the dew last week) understood just why we include such words in our prayers whether in Israel or abroad.
In Israel most everybody has been a soldier, will be soldier, and/or have children who are or will be soldiers. Until Rosh Hashana morning, I had felt that offering a prayer for soldiers while outside of Israel was a bit forced, save for the times that Israel has come under attack. I looked around, I saw others crying, eventually realizing that I was indeed crying too. At that instant, the motivation for a prayer for the soldiers became painfully clear. Even when Israel is not at war, its young men and women are in the honorably difficult position of defending Israel's borders, sometimes resulting in injury or loss of life. Behind every soldier's M16 and brave face, is a mother, a father, siblings, children, friends, and a community, it is for them that we offer the prayer.
Needless to say, the famous passage of Rosh Hashana davening that declares "On Rosh Hashana they will be inscribed, and on Yom Kippur they will be sealed...who will live and who will die..." takes on special resonance when viewed through the lens of a loving mother pleading before God to bring her child home safely.
Stay tuned this week, as we move towards Yom Kippur.