|Vol. II, No. 12
Adar 5605, March 1845
Prayers For Schools.
We hardly know whether it be strictly in the limits of our plan to give publicity to articles merely devotional in their character. At least we presume that some of our readers may look upon them as out of place in a periodical professing to give information concerning the Jewish literature and religion. Still we cannot deny ourself the pleasure to make space for the subjoined prayers, furnished us by a correspondent who insists on remaining unknown, to which resolve we are reluctantly compelled to yield. For though we cannot deem the reasons for this studied concealment, communicated to us in a private note, sufficiently cogent, we would, on no account, violate the confidence reposed in us. Our correspondent may therefore continue to furnish us with articles for our magazine, in the full confidence that the name shall be carefully kept from the public; and the articles will find an insertion if they are of equal merit with the present communication, which latter requisite, we doubt not, will not be found wanting.
The author of those prayers is perfectly right in supposing that devotional exhortations, conceived in a true spirit, are of great value, and that they do not require to be strictly original in order to be useful. To Israelites, at least, novelty in doctrine would be an abhorrent thing; we have but one guide to our acts and thoughts, and this is the Bible, or as we think more correct to call the work, the “records of revelation.” Whatever is taught there is the doctrine of our religion, whatever is shown there to be the spirit of prayer, even that is the mode which we must follow. Whoever, therefore, prays, must do it as our prophets have shown us to be the acceptable manner, and whoever utters his devotion in this spirit cannot be far erring from the true standard. With all this, to pray acceptably to others, or to express our idea more intelligibly, so to give utterance to our thoughts as to induce others to feel as we feel, and to join in the devotion which fills our soul, is not an easy task, and is a gift possessed but by few. This fact is one reason why we adhere so strictly to the form of prayers which we have received from a long line of pious forefathers, as all the petitions contained in our books are of that kind, that they comprise every thing which we can ask of our God and Father. We speak of the body of the daily prayers, against which no valid objection that we know of has ever been raised. We will not now discuss the question whether the amount of prayers is not too long for those engaged in business and active pursuits; we speak only of the character of the petitions, and of these we maintain that they are unexceptionable in their main features. It is for this reason, if for no other, that we should dread to see any change or reform attempted in our mode of worship, especially as the effort to provide substitutes, hitherto, have proved complete failures, if we may be allowed to judge. It strikes us that the persons who have attempted to write prayers or devotional poetry, have not been childlike and simple enough; they aimed at grandiloquence, finely-rounded periods, great poetical imagery, and have in this manner missed the very essence of prayer, to wit:—humility. We are well aware of the splendid poetical force of the psalms and songs of praise contained in the Scriptures; but our modern poets have not the inspiration which animated a David, nor are they endowed with the fiery eloquence which burst from Moses and Isaiah. Yet even these, and the other prophets, when they prayed, dropped the lofty tone of imaginative diction, and became the humble suppliants for favour and mercy, or confessed their sin and the sin of the people in simple unadorned speech. How requisite is it, therefore, for us to pause before we confide the wishes of our souls, and the aspirations of our hearts, to be moulded by persons unfit for this great task, however competent they may be as eloquent preachers and sublime poets in other respects.
We do not wish by this to be understood as opposed to any one’s making a prayer to express the wishes of his heart, or to give tongue to his wants before the throne of Grace; nor to induce those who feel themselves able to exercise their talents in devotional effusions, to forego giving utterance to their pious thoughts and reflections as aids to others; on the contrary, both ought to be encouraged, and both are strictly within the limits of our received opinions as we understand them. Only we would caution the many, how they implicitly yield what has been so well approved of for experimental prayers which have only the stamp of novelty to recommend them. But upon the principle that voluntary and occasional prayers are not inconsistent with the received forms which we have, we hope to see the efforts to produce appeals in the style and spirit of the Bible more extended than it has been; and we see, at the same time, no objection to use such as these on especial occasions, in addition to, not instead of, the usual service in our houses and Synagogues. This use of new prayers is especially to be recommended when, from the nature of the case, the vernacular language of the country is employed, as the constant repetition of the same words and ideas, in the common speech of the people, makes the sounds at length so familiar to the ear as to fail of exciting the proper devotional feelings; but an occasional change of the Phraseology will, in all probability, remove this evil, and keep alive in the people a proper appreciation of the duties in which they are engaged. We have pursued the same course, in imitation of many eminent men in Germany and elsewhere, of introducing or concluding the sermon with a prayer analogous to the subject discussed; but this is the limit, too, beyond which we do not think ourselves authorized to go, we must not touch the sacred trust we have in our hands, by an over-zeal to beautify it, lest we injure our good cause, which needs but little else at our hands than a simplicity of faith to follow in the duties it asks of us. In this, as in every thing else, truth lies in the middle; and it would be as senseless in us to exclaim against voluntary prayers, as it is in some others that they cannot bear a set form of devotion. In both means there is safety.—Having premised this much, we request the earnest attention of our readers to the subjoined communication.—Ed. Oc.
To the Editor of the Occident.
Reverend Sir: In the hopes of being of some little use in my generation, I send you a copy of prayers, which may be acceptable to the Superintendents of the different Hebrew Sunday Schools, where the English language is the vehicle of instruction. If they meet with your approbation, you would confer a favour upon me in assisting my very humble efforts, by giving them a place in your valuable and widely-circulated periodical, as this will be at once the best sanction for their use, and the most ready means of placing them in the hands of the far scattered few, who are labouring for the enlightenment of our people.
You will readily perceive that they pretend to no originality, which would indeed be a doubtful merit in the prayers of one of our nation, whose pride and aim it should be to fall back constantly to the words and spirit of our inspired teachers. The same ideas, however, clothed in varied language, often awake the attention, and produce an effect that accustomed words, though quite as forcible, might fail to do. It is this consideration, and not the presumption that they possess superior merit, that induces me to desire their introduction into our schools.
Allow me, with assurance, of great respect, to subscribe myself one who glories, as you do, in being
An Heir to the Inheritance of Jacob.
General Prayer For The Use of a Hebrew Sunday School.
Hearken, O ye children of Israel! to the words of the great and only God, delivered to us through his servant Moses. These are His words:
“The Lord, our God, the Lord is one. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”
Preserver of Israel! God of thy chosen people! Thou didst give this great commandment unto our fathers, that they and their children might obey it and be blessed; but they have rebelled against Thee in all their generations: therefore is it that, though Thou hast never forsaken us, thy wrath has been and is heavy against us. It is an humble endeavour to teach the children of thy chosen people, not alone the words, but the spirit of this and of all thy holy commandments, and to enforce their practice, that has called us together this day, and we implore thy divine blessing, without which our efforts will be vain, upon our intentions and exertions. We implore Thee to strengthen us in our strivings to promulgate the knowledge of thy word, and to grant that while teaching, we may learn, and while purifying, we may be purified; and that we may follow that path of trusting obedience which will secure to us the promised blessings through time and eternity. Quicken us, O Lord! with the influence of thy Holy Spirit, that out of the abundance of our hearts our mouths may speak; and grant that our words may sink deep into the hearts of all who come to learn, that the seeds sown among the tares and thistles of neglect and ignorance, may produce fruits of holiness and devotion, promoting adoration of Thee, the only God, and love and good offices towards our fellow-men.
We make these supplications to Thee, O Lord God of our fathers, in the firm conviction that Thou watchest over all our ways, that Thou directest the hearts of those that seek Thee, and that Thou leadest us all by thy right hand of righteousness. How can we, the descendants of Abraham, who are ourselves thy witnesses, doubt thy over-ruling providence? How have we been preserved a separate and distinct nation, through all the persecutions, exterminating wars, dangers, and temptations, to which we have been exposed ever since our dispersion, but by thy ever-watchful providence over the individuals of our scattered people? And has thy care of us ceased? Are thy great and mysterious designs respecting us completed? No! we have thy unfailing promise of better things in store for us. O! enable us patiently to await its fulfilment, and grant that we may so spend our lives, as to hasten our restoration to thy favour, and our glorious redemption, our Father! and our Preserver! Amen.
Prayers for the Opening of a Hebrew Sunday School.
God and guide of Israel thy servant! We beseech Thee to open our hearts to a knowledge of thy law, and to incline us this day to the holy service of imparting this sacred knowledge. Send down thy precious blessing upon our endeavours to teach the children of this remnant of Israel, the truths of that holy religion, which amid wonders and miracles unknown among all other nations of the earth, our ancestors received from Thee.
Let the short time we spend here be indeed devoted to thy service, both by teachers and pupils, and let us remember that to serve Thee, by rendering unto Thee a willing obedience, is the whole duty of our lives. We will therefore with thy heavenly blessing, “teach diligently unto our children,” the words and the spirit of thy holy commandments, and thus by an act of obedience, instruct them to obey Thee also. We commit our endeavours into thy hands, O God of Israel! and again earnestly implore thy Divine assistance. Amen.
God of our fathers! All-merciful, all-powerful Creator! grant us the blessed assistance of thy Holy Spirit, in our efforts to teach the knowledge of Thee, of thy commandments, and of thy promises to these children of Israel. Let them here learn their peculiar duties, as Israelites, towards Thee, towards their fellow creatures, and themselves, and aid them by thy grace, that they may not only learn, but practise them. Grant that we may persevere in our labours, leaving the result of them to Thee, in humble but firm confidence in thy over-ruling providence and untiring goodness. Amen.
Great, ever-present and Eternal God of Israel! The God who made Himself known to our fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the God who now watches over their descendants with an untiring protection and undying mercy, scattered as they are among the nations of the earth, suffering the punishments due to their disobedience and the disobedience of their forefathers! hear our prayers in behalf of thy people Israel!
A small and youthful portion of thy chosen people, little children of Israel, are here assembled, to learn that as surely as the threatened curses have followed our disobedience of thy omnipotent commandments, so surely will the promised blessings follow our return to obedience. Grant, God of Israel, that they may here learn what their holy duties are, and that they may go forth to obey in their daily lives, every portion of thy law, and that by teaching diligently to their children in their after years, what they have here learned in their youth, and practised in their lives, they may hasten the glorious restoration of their people. Amen.
Prayers For The Closing Of School.
Merciful and ever-present God of Israel! grant that the hours we have this morning attempted to devote to thy service, may not have been spent without benefit, both to teachers and pupils. Let thy blessing, all-merciful and all-powerful Being, attend our labours, that the hearts and lives of our children may by them be purified. Amen.
Oh God! open the hearts of these children to receive thy law, and help them to understand and to obey thy commandments. Grant that the proud and rebellious hearts among them may be humbled, and that the lessons they have received here on this first day of the week, may be blessed to them during the remaining days, by making them watchful over their tempers, words, and actions, lest they should sin against Thee. Make them honest in all their dealings, let them take heed never to utter an untruth, make them dutiful to their parents, kind and affectionate to one another, careful in their observance of thy holy Sabbath; and finally grant that they may perceive the full value of their glorious inheritance, and experience the purifying effects of that spirit of obedience, the consequent blessings of which are as certain as they are inestimable. Amen.