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Flaming fire, minister of the Creator;
stormy winds, messengers of the Most High,
withhold your rage.
Enough have we been scourged.
A city, resting on the bosom of tranquillity,
was aroused by the violence of your strokes.
Chicago awoke to see horror in your train,
havoc mark your footsteps.
She gave forth a shriek that pierced
the heart of mankind;
but with it still mingled the sound of anguish
from vale and forest.
For there, also, ye agents of the Divine rule,
Did sin lend you velocity?
Did human iniquities point
to the doomed spots you should lay waste?
Oh! let the agony of your victims,
the writhing pains of those buried
beneath smouldering palaces,
the misery of the homeless,
the distress of the impoverished,
the pitiful cry of the famishing and the naked,
curb your fury.
Turn ye tempestuous winds
into a gentle breeze restoring life,
and thou consuming fire,
lay upon the altar of the Supreme Judge
the substance devoured,
as an offering of universal atonement.
For, verily, we all have transgressed.
A superabundance of good begat disbelief,
therefore it has become ashes.
Ease engendered pride,
therefore the sons of man have been burdened with trouble.
Like Israel of yore they had set up an idol of gold,
which they conceived would lead them
to the haven of their desires.
They feasted and grew mirthful
before that imaginary god,
and called it almighty,
but they were made to feel
its utter impotence;
they tasted how bitter was the water
with which it blended when reduced to dust.
Oh, Sovereign Maker!
let the sufferings of those
Thou hast tried in a fiery ordeal,
benefit our souls.
For, not by reason of our superior virtues,
hast Thou averted from us,
the people of Pennsylvania,
a woful calamity,
but that we might learn wisdom
from that which befell our unhappy sister cities:
that we might cease to trust in
what makes itself wings
and is borne away in one night,
and put faith solely in Thee,
whose support will never fail.
Grant, O Lord!
that we receive the timely warning
ere we be sorely afflicted by a celestial visitaion.
For Thy judgment is already storming at the gate.
A disease, fatal because of its virulence,
dreaded because of its loathsomeness,
threatens to poison the channels of life. From 1865-1873, a series of recurring epidemics of Smallpox, Typhus, Typhoid, Scarlet Fever, and Yellow Fever all impacted Philadelphia, as well as New York, Boston, New Orleans, Baltimore, Memphis, and Washington DC.
Thy hand, O Omnipotent,
can chase it away.
For the sake of Thy suppliants,
who acknowledge Thy justice;
for the sake of the noble deeds of charily
which have recently illustrated Philadelphia,
cast around her walls Thy invulnerable shield,
and the inhabitants thereof will be saved.
Death shall not triumph over her victories
nor the grave gorge with our children’s flesh
his insatiable longings.
Grant, O God,
that the elements thou hast created
may subserve our will
and conduce to our happiness.
Let air bring daily unto us a renewal of health,
earth gratify our natural craving with its products,
water slake our thirst and preserve the purity of our bodies,
and fire impart warmth and vivacity.
Grant, O Lord!
that in each of us be fulfilled
the entreaty of Thy inspired Psalmist,
as it is written:
He shall call on me, and I will answer him.
I shall be with him in distress.
I will deliver him and grant him honor.
I will satisfy him with length of days,
and show him my salvation. (Psalms 91:15)
This prayer offered by Rabbi Sabato Morais in response to what became known as the Great Chicago Fire was offered at the end of his sermon reprinted in The Philadelphia Inquirer on the following day 1 December 1871. It was preserved by Rabbi Morais in his ledger (page 47), 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.)
|1||From 1865-1873, a series of recurring epidemics of Smallpox, Typhus, Typhoid, Scarlet Fever, and Yellow Fever all impacted Philadelphia, as well as New York, Boston, New Orleans, Baltimore, Memphis, and Washington DC.|
“Prayer offered in response to the Great Chicago Fire, by Rabbi Sabato Morais (1 December 1871)” is shared through the Open Siddur Project with a Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication 1.0 Universal license.