Leibesh: Rabbi! May I ask you a question?
Rabbi: Certainly, Lebisch!
Leibesh: Is there a proper blessing… for the Tsar?
Rabbi: A blessing for the Tsar? Of course! May God bless and keep the Tsar… far away from us!
— From Fiddler on the Roof, 1971
A prayer for the government is a standard feature in most siddurim [prayer books]. Two examples:
May he who gives salvation to kings and dominion to princes, whose kingdom is aan everlasting kingdom, who delivers his servant David from the evil sword, who makes a way in the sea, a path though the mighty waters, bless and protect, guard and help, exalt, magnify and uplift the President, Vice-President and all officials of this land. May the supreme King of kings, in His mercy put into their hearts and the hearts of their counselors and officials to deal kindly with us and with all Israel. In their days and in ours, may Judah be saved, and Israel dwell in safety, and may the Redeemer come to Zion. May this be His will, and let us say, Amen. – The Koren Sacks Siddur, p. 520.
O Guardian of life and liberty, may our nation always merit Your protection. Teach us to give thanks for what we have by sharing it with those who are in need. Keep our eyes open to the wonders of creation, and alert to the care of the earth. May we never be lazy in the work of peace; may we honor those who have died in defense of our ideals. Grant our leaders wisdom and forbearance. May they govern with justice and compassion. Help us all to appreciate one another, and to respect the many ways that we may serve You. May our homes be safe from affliction and strife, and our country be sound in body and spirit. Amen. – Mishkan T’filah p. 376
As you can see, prayers for the government are specific to the country in which we reside. A British siddur would pray for the Queen and the government, and so on. With that specificity, the prayer points out that we are praying for a particular government, the real government, not for an ideal of government.
Rabbi Sacks points out in his commentary that our prayers for the government echo the teaching of the prophet Jeremiah to the Jews living in exile in Babylon in the 6th century BCE:
Seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Holy One for it; because it its peace shall you have peace. – Jeremiah 29:7.
They also echo the teaching in the 1st century of Rabbi Chaninah:
Rabbi Chaninah Segan HaKohanim said: Pray for the welfare of the government, since but for fear of it men would swallow each other alive. – Pirkei Avot 3:2
For more about the times in which Rabbi Chaninah lived, click the link on his name.
We are living in a time in which strong feelings run high. There are those who are happy about the leadership in the U.S., and those who are very unhappy with the government.
We pray for the government not only to ask for Divine help, but also to remind ourselves that the government in place is the only one we’ve got. Even in the worst case suggested in Fiddler, Jews prayed for safety under the government that existed.
In a democracy we have a participatory role that Tevya couldn’t have imagined. We fulfill our sacred duties within our democracy when we vote, and when we express our opinions to our elected officials. Without our active participation, it ceases to be a democracy.
What is your prayer for the government of the United States? And what are you going to do to put that prayer into action?