A Prayer for Our Enemies

July 29, 2012 - 5:00 am

So pursue them with your tempest 
    and terrify them with your storm. 
Cover their faces with shame, Lord,
    so that they will seek your name.” — Psalm 83:15–16

The Talmud records a story about a legendary woman named Bruriah. The wife of a major scholar, Bruriah herself was known for her vast knowledge and quick wit. One day, an acquaintance reveals to Bruriah that someone in the community was harassing him and that he was praying daily for that person’s destruction.

“You fool!” she scolds him. “The verse in Psalms says ‘cast off the sins from the land’ (Psalms 104:35). Sins, not sinners!” In other words, don’t pray for the removal of a fellow human being. Rather, pray for the removal of their evil deeds.

Psalm 83 describes an assault on Israel by her enemies who had united in order to destroy her. The psalm writer opens with the following prayer: “O God, do not remain silent; do not turn a deaf ear” (83:1). We can almost hear his anguished voice pleading, “Do something God! We need Your help!” But what exactly does the psalmist want God to do?

At first glance it seems that he wanted the Almighty to take care of Israel’s enemies and completely destroy them. And sometimes, if we’re honest, isn’t that exactly what we want — the utter destruction of our enemies and their removal from this world.

But when we look closer, we find that there is a greater ideal at play. The psalmist prays to God that He brings destruction upon his enemies, not so that they die – but so that they will repent and live! “So pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your storm. Cover their faces with shame, Lord, so that they will seek your name.”

Yes, God can eliminate our enemies. Or He can bring them to the point where they chose to eliminate their sins. The psalm writer preferred the latter.

We recognize that each human being possesses a Divine soul. Even our greatest enemy has the potential to become our partner in bringing light to the world. So we pray to God that before He ends the life of a person who has dimmed the light of his soul, He first make every attempt to help restore the shine. Life isn’t about settling personal vendettas. It’s about bringing goodness to the whole world.

We are used to praying for our friends, but sometimes we also need to pray for our enemies.


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