by Noah Genovese-Mester
Every year the Passover seder is concluded with the phrase, “Next Year in Jerusalem!” This phrase is a relic of a time when Jerusalem was under the control of foreign kings and the Jewish people were scattered in diaspora. For thousands of years, Jerusalem was under foreign control, and only after the Second World War were our prayers answered and Jerusalem returned to the Jewish people. Today, we no longer have to pray for Jerusalem, Israel stands as an independent nation, and all peoples of the world are free to go to and from Jerusalem as they please. God listened to the hopes and prayers of our ancestors for the Holy Land to be returned to the Jews, and even though it took thousands of years Jerusalem was returned to the Jewish people. Today, even though we no longer pray for a free Jerusalem, our prayers mirror those of our ancestors thousands of years ago.
Today, we pray to God to heal those around us in need of healing, but instead of scourges like smallpox and the bubonic plague, we are plagued by illnesses such as cancer that modern medicine is powerless in curing. Today, we pray for God to protect us Jews and the people of Israel, but instead of being threatened by zealous kings, religious radicals threaten to wipe the Jewish people and the State of Israel off the Earth. Even though the specifics of our prayers have changed over time, today we pray for God to help those plagued by natural disasters, the hungry, and the impoverished, the same as we have for more than four thousand years, and will do for the next four thousand years. Our prayers to God have remained in the same spirit as they always have been, and most likely always will be. We still pray for God to help those in need, even though the people in need are different and the cause of their hardship varies. We pray for God to protect us, even though our enemies differ, our need of strength in facing them remains. We dream of a perfect world with no hunger, sickness, or hatred, just as we always have, but salvation does not come easily.
In the past, prayers have been answered not through divine intervention but by the work of men inspired by God. Though we may pray for help from God, history shows that we must make our prayers come to life. God is not a vending machine; God cannot, or perhaps will not, magically create peace on Earth. Rather, God will bless us with the strength to bring a better future about and give us hope. We must do more than pray, we must work for Tikkun Olam, to repair the world. Today, we pray to God to protect Israel. Then, in the name of God, we must do what we can to make peace in the land and turn the swords of Israel’s enemies into plowshares. We must take action against plagues such as hunger and poverty, and help those across the world and those at our doorstep to live their lives free of hunger, thirst, or fear. We must take our prayers and the will of God into our own hands. We must build the future that we have hoped and prayed for with our hands, and with God at our side. We all have great hope for the future and must all work to build the future we so crave.