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Prayer of the Guest Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives: Rabbi Dr. Leo Baeck on 12 February 1948

https://opensiddur.org/?p=54108 Prayer of the Guest Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives: Rabbi Dr. Leo Baeck on 12 February 1948 2024-02-05 05:27:28 The Opening Prayer given in the U.S. House of Representatives on Lincoln's Birthday, 12 February 1948. Text the Open Siddur Project Leo Baeck Leo Baeck United States Congressional Record https://opensiddur.org/copyright-policy/ Leo Baeck https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/ Lincoln's Birthday (February 12th) Opening Prayers for Legislative Bodies United States of America 20th century C.E. תחינות teḥinot 58th century A.M. Abraham Lincoln English vernacular prayer Prayers for leaders U.S. House of Representatives Prayers of Guest Chaplains Containment 80th Congress
Guest Chaplain: Rabbi Dr. Leo Baeck, former chief rabbi of Berlin, Germany
Date of Prayer: 12 February 1948
Sponsor: n/a
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Contribute a translationSource (English)
Our Father, our God,
we pray unto Thee on this day
on which sixscore and nineteen years ago
was born that man who came to be Thy servant,
“the man in whom is the spirit,” (Numbers 27:18)
and who for the sake of this land
became witness and testimony of humanity,
herald of Thy command and Thy promise,
to the everlasting blessing of this country
and of mankind.
Our Father,
day by day Thou sendest forth Thy messengers, Thy angels—
our chances to be unselfish and righteous,
our opportunities to walk in Thy ways—
they are the messengers that come from Thee.
We must not miss them
nor disregard them.
Almighty God,
Thou choosest people and selectest nations
“to bring them into the place
which Thou hast prepared”; (Exodus 15:17)
Thou changest the times and the seasons;
Thou makest history enter the world.
Thy servant, Abraham Lincoln,
in a message to Congress, said,
“We cannot escape history,”[1] Abraham Lincoln in his Annual Message to Congress, 1 December 1862. 
so help us, O God,
that we may not evade history,
but may we be granted history.
Reverently I pray Thee
to bless Congress,
its men, and its days.
From the bottom of my heart I pray:
God bless America.

This prayer of the guest chaplain was offered in the second month of the second session of the 80th US Congress. The prayer was published in the Congressional Record—House (1948): p. 1275. The source images of the prayer were copied by Howard Mortman and shared via his @CongressRabbi Twitter account. Providing on this prayer, Dr. Michael A. Meyer in Rabbi Leo Baeck: Living a Religious Imperative in Troubled Times (2020) wrote:

The greatest honor that accrued to Baeck during his visit was the invitation to deliver the opening prayer at a session of the U.S. House of Representatives. Although more than fifty rabbis had preceded him (the first being in 1860), it was a privilege not previously bestowed upon a non–North American rabbi.[2] Find Howard Mortman, When Rabbis Bless Congress: The Great American Story of Jewish Prayers on Capitol Hill (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2020).  It was especially meaningful to Baeck that the date chosen— prob ably by chance— was the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. Baeck had long admired the American Civil War president for his integrity and courage. When he visited Washington in 1930, he declared the Lincoln Memorial the most beautiful site in the city. While in New York, he spent some time in Harlem, “the local Negro area.” In 1940 in Berlin, he had read anew Lincoln’s “magnificent” Gettysburg Address, and had noted in a letter that at its end, Lincoln expressed the hope “that this nation, under God, shall have new birth of freedom.” To which Baeck added, with scarcely veiled reference to Germany: “The question is there. The answer?”[3] Letter to Hans-Hasso von Veltheim-Ostrau, 31 December 1940, in Werke 6: 611.  Now he was given the opportunity to express his great re spect for Lincoln and at the same time to include in his prayer a central ele ment of his own religious philosophy:

Encapsulated in this invocation is Baeck’s conviction that a transcendent element is always present as history’s driving force for good, though the source of that force be shrouded in mystery. In Baeck’s words: “It is not that which is limited, that which arises from the human world, but rather it is the divine that makes history.”[4] Das Wesen des Judentums, in Werke 1: 258.  According to Baeck’s interpretation, when Lincoln said that “we cannot escape history,” he was saying in essence that we are unable to evade the divine moral imperative that, through responsive human action, drives history forward. After the tragedy that the world had just experienced, Lincoln’s words that we cannot escape history served Baeck as a prelude to his own fervent hope for a divinely inspired history that would move humanity toward a better time.

Source(s)

Prayer of the Guest Chaplain (Leo Baeck 12 February 1948)

 

Notes

Notes
1Abraham Lincoln in his Annual Message to Congress, 1 December 1862.
2Find Howard Mortman, When Rabbis Bless Congress: The Great American Story of Jewish Prayers on Capitol Hill (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2020).
3Letter to Hans-Hasso von Veltheim-Ostrau, 31 December 1940, in Werke 6: 611.
4Das Wesen des Judentums, in Werke 1: 258.

 

 

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