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Prayer for the Recovery of President James A. Garfield, by Rabbi Sabato Morais (4 September 1881)

The following eloquent and pathetic discourse on the present precarious condition of the President was delivered In the synagogue Mikveh Israel, yesterday, by its learned and patriotic rabbi, S. Morais:

“Who hath stood in the secret counsel of the Lord, so as to perceive and bear His word?” (Jeremiah 23:18)

No mortal dares answer the query of Jeremiah the prophet by pointing triumphantly to his own self. No human being can presume to have learned how occurrences befalling this world are made to fulfill the intention of its sovereign Creator. All may rather confess, like the psalmist, that we are utterly ignorant —no better than senseless beasts—in our comprehension of the ways of God. Philosophy — that is, the philosophy which admits & power distinct from nature— represents the Omnipotent impassive, carrying out undeviatingly the laws He originally ordained; Prophetism describes the Lord as acting from yearnings and affections—widely discordant teachings, which the very wisest can never reconcile. Our minds do suggest our incapacity to influence the Supreme Judge, and yet our hearts give ns assurance that He will regard us benignantly when we approach Him in the earnestness of faith.

Ought we, then, to hold fast to the instincts of the heart, and cast off the reflections of the mind? Not exactly. Both our sentiments and our meditative faculties are gifts from on high. We can no more discard the latter and embrace the former, or vice versa, than divide ourselves into two parts. But as the causes and their effects, by which the All-knowing Ruler governs the universe, are hidden from us, and as they will always baffle our profoundest researches, we spontaneously follow promptings that our nature understands well and sensibly feels. They are the impulses which draw the child to his loving parent.

Let ns readily concede that a change of purpose in the prescient Lord is an impossibility; but His immutability, like His existence, is above our penetration, while the revelation of His merciful attributes responds to our wants. Hence in our journey through life we prefer oftener to consult prophetism than philosophy. Holy Writ speaks to us in language easy and comforting; and when, in our devious paths here below, we meet with escapes which the soberest of human calculations could not have foreseen, we are instructed to call them signal acts of divine condescension, or miracles.

Last Saturday we experienced one of those deeds of supernal grace. The belief prevailed that medical skill had exhausted its curative powers. “Death held in its pitiless grasp the precious life whose preservation had called forth the best appliances of modern science and the tenderest watching.” Under that saddening impression we entered the house of prayer. Our minds could only contemplate what all considered the inevitable. Still our hearts impelled us before the oracle of the Lord. Was the Heavenly King moved by the sight of His confiding suppliants? Did the anguish of a people at the anticipation of an impending bereavement, together with the deep sympathy of civilized nations, stir up celestial compassion? Walking in the light of the Scriptures, I answer, Yes; even though my intellect spurns the idea of an alteration of purpose in the Deity. His will remained doubtlessly unchanged; but our pious emotions and patriotic sentiments occasioned, in a manner incomprehensible to us, yet certain, the performance of a blissful design.

Oh! let us not seek the unfathomable; but let us continue in close intercommunion with the Spirit that rules the world, until salvation comes. Let us still pray, fervently pray.


Contribute a translationSource (English)
Almighty God!
Thy children call upon Thy name.
Let Thy fatherly response be felt
by the Chief of these United States.
A foul stroke has disordered his body.
Thy hand alone
can build up again
what Perfidy has shattered.
Stretch it forth,
and raise from a bed of two months’ agony
the man we love—
him whose direction a nation needs.
Let our President soon exchange the aching pillow
for the honored chair in the council of his co-workers.
Thus highly-seated Wisdom shall dictate his advice—
Peace seal his decisions;
for Thou didst vouchsafe to give the intellect we admire
a goodly portion in the knowledge of statesmanship,
and philanthropic are the sentiments wherewith
Thou hast endowed Thy servant.
Suffer not the fruition of qualities
eminently developed for the happiness of a model Republic
to be denied us by a flagitious deed.
Grant that we may enjoy them the fullness of the time
for which we sought their application.
May none who made a covenant with anarchy,
none who looked for selfish gain in social agitations,
rear their standing on ground
stained with the blood of a righteous ruler.
Deign to regard this prayerful people;
and the tears bedewing the countenance of the octogenarian mother,
the suppressed grief of the gentlest of wives,
and the distress of the children,
will turn into singing of grateful praise.
Thankful are we indeed unto Thee, O God,
for our having been spared the realization of recent fears.
Deeper still is our recognition of Thy goodness
because this Government has proceeded evenly,
without a break, without a jerk, in its complex movements,
notwithstanding the brutal onset which wild demagogism aimed against it.[1] i.e. The Slaveholders’ Rebellion (1861-1865). 
May it always be so;
and may the eyes now bedimmed by extreme suffering
brighten in renovated health and behold it.
Daily we acknowledge
that Thou art a merciful and faithful physician.
Expectant millions long for the hour
in which it will be announced:
The Lord has delivered Garfield;
He has saved the upholder of rectitude from death,
to lift him up as an illustration of celestial goodness,
and as a blessing to his native land.

This prayer for the recovery of President James A. Garfield after he had been shot and his wound infected was offered by Rabbi Sabato Morais and recorded in The Sunday Dispatch, “The Suspense of a Nation. A Thought and a Prayer” on 4 September 1881. It was preserved by Rabbi Morais in his ledger (p. 175, clipping 297), an archive of newsclippings recording material he contributed to the press, among other announcements. (Many thanks to the Library of the University of Pennsylvania for helping to make this resource accessible.)


The Suspense of a Nation (Sabato Morais Ledger p. 175, clip no. 297) – a

The Suspense of a Nation (Sabato Morais Ledger p. 175, clip no. 297) – b

The Suspense of a Nation (Sabato Morais Ledger p. 175, clip no. 297) – c



1i.e. The Slaveholders’ Rebellion (1861-1865).



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