Universal Prayers in our Particular Jewish Language

In the space of this month’s ORacle, I would like to share background on a liturgical change I have introduced to the Oseh Shalom prayer for peace at our worship services. In addition, we’ll share this new version of Oseh Shalom in our bulletin each week.

Oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu, v’al kol yisrael, *v’al kol yosh’vei tevel.
May the one who makes peace in the high heavens, make peace upon us, for all of Israel, and for *all who inhabit the earth.

One of the ways we express our core values as a Jewish People is through prayer. Most of our prayers are comprised of samples from biblical texts. The phrase “oseh shalom bimromav” is borrowed from the Book of Job, a book with a universal message about the nature of evil. The phrase “v’al kol yosh’vei tevel” is from the Book of Isaiah. This prophet’s iconic image of peace, “they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks,” was not simply meant to be enjoyed by Israel, but by all those who inhabit the earth.

Oseh Shalom is an important prayer. It ends the longer Kaddish and is repeated often. In a traditional worship service, the Kaddish is used to conclude different sections of the prayer service and as a memorial prayer. The words and meaning of Oseh Shalom punctuate our services and our lives.

I first remember reading the universal addition to Oseh Shalom in an Israeli prayerbook in the late 1990s. It became better known after the late Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres’ three children used this version of the Kaddish to remember their father during his funeral in 2016. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, commented on how fitting this addition was: “Shimon Peres’ life was so powerfully anchored in Jewish values and this land and state he loved with every fiber of his being. But his life was also intertwined with people all over the world, as exemplified by the scores of world leaders gathered to pay their respects.”

This global pandemic invites us to question our relationship within a global society. Our Jewish tradition does not give simple answers about who should fall in our circle of concern and prayer. Our Jewish tradition does capture an overall desire for not only our people, but all peoples to enjoy peace. I hope you will find it meaningful to join with me in extending the words of Oseh Shalom as a particular Jewish prayer for universal peace.

What is Counting the Omer?

The seven weeks between Passover  and Shavuot is known as “the Omer period.” An omer refers to the barley offering brought to the Temple on the second day of Passover. Starting on that day, the Torah instructs: “you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete: you must count until the day after the seventh week – 50 days” (Leviticus 23:15-16). The Festival of Shavuot is observed on the 50th day.

We mark each day of the Omer with a blessing. In addition, our Jewish mystical tradition has used the Omer as a type of mindfulness practice since the Middle Ages.