One of Judaism’s oldest prayers, recited more than any other, gives us the guidance we need to face the modern challenges of political ambiguity, the uncertainty of voting and even corruption in government.
It’s called the Aaronic Blessing and it’s packed with beauty and meaning for such a time as this.
“May the Lord bless you and keep you”
The first section – Y’Varech’cha Adonai V’Yishm’recha – asks God to prosper us with material and physical well-being. We are to remember that the God of Israel is our ultimate provider and protection, and not only our government or own efforts.
We should not allow the stones being thrown back and forth between politicians and their factions to become a stumbling block dragging us down to despair, but a steppingstone to the realization of just how much we need God’s intervention.
This is not fatalism or ignoring the need to get involved in politics and working for better government and society, but rather a courageous determination not to give up when things seem to be going wrong or the way we want.
It is a prayer that holds on to hope in spite of corrupt politicians, dirty propaganda or because our chosen party was not elected. It is a call to turn our faces to the Lord in this hour, to the “Keeper of Israel and Shield of Abraham” for His hand in establishing a stable and responsible government that will serve and protect the people of Israel under His watchful care.
“The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you”
The second section – Ya’er Adonai Panav Elecha Vi’y’chuneka – begins by asking the Almighty to grant us wisdom. The “shine” of God’s face (Ya’er) in Hebrew is related to the word for “light,” a metaphor for wisdom and understanding. We ought not pray or live merely by what we think is best, nor by how we understand politics nor by gut reactions that are often just another negative response to what looks like a bad situation.
In times of uncertainty or trouble, we can fall on our faces in humility before God and allow His face to enlighten us. Like when Moses and Aaron were faced with a situation they could not understand and didn’t know how to handle, they moved away from the assembly, drew close to the Tent of Meeting, and fell on their faces in humility before the Lord (Numbers 20:6).
This is a prayer of faith. “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” when there is uncertainty, danger or doubt.
In this section of the Aaronic Blessing prayer there is also a plea for God to be gracious to us and ask to find favor in His sight. His wisdom does not make us so prideful that we forget our dependence on God. Nor does it make us so arrogant that we find no favor with man.
This is especially true when we don’t get our way, become angry and want to lash out at others who disagree with us whether in politics, theology or personal relationships. We must protect our hearts from the outrage that can lead to hopelessness so that we can continue to live in faith and ask God to be gracious to us and to Israel, though we do not deserve it.
“The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace”
Which lead us to the third section – Yisa Adonai Panav Elecha V’Yasem L’Cha Shalom. As we pray and ask the Lord to “shine His face on us” and “lift up His countenance upon us,” it is for us to now lift our eyes and our faces towards Him. That is where we find the wisdom, humility, strength and hope not only to pray, but to live as we ought.
When a person, politician or a nation does not conduct themselves properly, whether in the face of uncertainties, disappointments or danger, we cannot face our God with honor or integrity, nor should we expect His favor, light, blessing or protection.
When our hearts are right before the Lord, we can lift up our heads in the presence of God, and this, in turn, evokes a similar response from the Lord. When our gaze meets our Maker, we are at peace, and there is no greater strength than to walk in the light and fellowship with the will of God.
The well-known poetic prayer or piyyut says it best, “May He who makes shalom in the heavenlies, give us shalom, and upon all Israel. Let us all say ‘Amen.’”
These are the blessings we should have in mind as we pray for Israel. Security, wisdom, humility, favor with God and the peace that passes all understanding that comes from trusting that “He who keeps Israel never slumbers nor sleeps.” (Psalm 121:4)