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תפלה בלחש | A Whispered Prayer (for protection from noxious air and people), by Tsvi Hirsch Robinson (1909)

Source (Hebrew) Translation (English)

שמרני אל
מלהיות בין רודפים
ובל אהיה מהנרדפים
Keep me, El,
from becoming one among the persecutors
and may I not persecute either.

הרחיקני מריחות הנודפים
ומדברים המזויפים
Keep me away from lingering miasmas[1] At the time this prayer was written, there was a widespread belief in Miasma Theory, that disease was transmitted by noxious miasmas.  
and from counterfeit goods

הצילני ממבקשי הנפש
ואל אתגאל בּרפש…
Save me from those who seek [to save] my soul
and may I not be defiled with filth…

מלטני ממבקרים מקנאה
או מרוע הלב ומשנאה
ממהתלות לא נבונים
מהסותרים ולא בונים
מהמתחסדים ומאומה לא ידעו
מהתפקרים ובשקר טעו—
מהחנפים לעשירים
ולרש הם כיין לנזירים…
Allow me to escape from envious critics
from evil hearts and hatred
from unwise pranks
from those who destroy but never build
from the self-righteous who know nothing
from apostates and liars who err
from sycophants who flatter the wealthy
and who are to the poor as wine to the Nazirite…

מאלה, בּעיניהם צנועים
ולכל הם שנואים
מהמתפארים ביחוסן לעילא
ובעשרם־בחומה גדולה…
אנא שמרני אל שמרני
From those, modest in their own eyes
but hated by all
from those who brag about their pedigree
and their wealth as high as a wall…
Please, keep me El, keep me.

While looking for prayers of yore written for Flag Day in the United States, I came across this prayer, entitled “Tefilah b’Laḥash” (Whispered prayer), by Tsvi Hirsch Robinson is found near the beginning of his anthology of writings in Hebrew, Yiddish, and English, שער אמעריקאן פלעג (The American Flag, 1909). The line “Keep me… from the self-righteous who know nothing” spoke to me. Other lines, concerning the danger of filth and foul smelling air were more difficult to understand but reflected the Miasma Theory of disease common at that time. I was aided by an essay Robinson had written in an earlier compilation, Tsohar (1902), “A Memorial to Our Lamented President [William McKinley]” in which he offered the following assessment of the United States in light of Isaiah 11:5-9.

The logical meaning of these verses is as follows: When man will wear the girdles of “Righteousness” and “Faithfulness,” then he who possessed the ferocious nature of the ravenous wolf as it seeks to rend the innocent lamb (because she made his water turbid) will be transformed; he will lose his ferocious nature and will live friendly with all. He who possessed the character or nature of the venomous reptile that seeks to cast its venom upon the human race (on account of the sin which was committed by its great-great serpentine ancestor in human form, who wished to confer such a boon upon humanity to make all men Godlike, and, instead, only ruined himself because of Eve’s sin) will lose his venom, and he who is as weak as a child will play on its “hole.”

All who resembled lions, tigers, and bears will become friendly amongst themselves, and live in peace and tranquility with all, so that even the little schoolboy will know how to attend them all. All this may come to pass when all will be filled with a true understanding, which will permeate everything as the waters cover the sea. Without flattery we may truly say that in the United States of America, which was founded as a free republic according to its best principles, this prophecy is already in a great measure fulfilled; yet it behooves us to be very careful.

We must be ever vigilant; we must stand on guard, as it were, and closely scrutinize our surroundings with a powerful telescope. We must make a minute microscopical examination of the immense groups of bacilli that float around from the cesspools of impurity and make the air pestilential wherever they go. And what better microscope or greater telescope have we than the Press, which is imbued with the true spirit of American liberality of thought, and does its utmost for the welfare of the people?

By the power of the Press we can observe everything. By its power we can penetrate the most distant recesses; and by its power, through the aid of the great officers of the United States, we can discover the necessary means to make us progress ever to a higher degree of material and moral worth, so that we may serve as an example to others and be paragons and guides to all, — to annihilate impurity, to dry up the miasmatic swamps to destroy the bacilli. It is then that the holy prophecy will be fulfilled, and the eternal happiness of the entire human race will be assured.

Much gratitude to Rabbi Oren Steinitz who prepared a draft translation from which the translation presented here was derived. –Aharon Varady


Tefilah b’laḥash (Tsvi Hirsch Robinson 1909)


1 At the time this prayer was written, there was a widespread belief in Miasma Theory, that disease was transmitted by noxious miasmas.

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