תְּפִלָה לְחַג הָעֲבוֹדָה | Prayer for Labor Day, by Isaac Gantwerk Mayer

This is a petition for the worker in the style of “Av Haraḥamim” and similar texts, using Biblical and Mishnaic language and co-opting it into a new meaning. It could be read after the Torah service (like many other petitionary texts) or focused on in private.

The Biblical relationship between God, humanity, and labor is fascinating. Often it is treated as a curse placed upon us, and just as often as the purpose of humanity. In Genesis 3:19 it is the curse placed upon a disobedient First Adam, but less than a chapter earlier in Genesis 2:15 it is the reason for First Adam’s creation in the first place!

In the past century or so, traditional Judaism has somewhat tilted away from the ideas of workers’ rights so clearly stated in the Tanakh and in rabbinic texts. Partially this was to disassociate from the Bundists, partially out of fear of “looking too Communist” in a xenophobic American society, and partially because the Jewish working class is nowhere near as substantial a part of the community as it once was. If this text is meant to do anything, it’s to show that love of God and love of the worker aren’t opposed to each other – in fact, they go hand in hand!

Hebrew English

מִי שֶׁגָּזַר עִצָּבוֹן לִבְנֵי אֱנוֹשׁ,
לְהַאֲכִילֵינוּ לֶחֶם בְּזֵעַת אַפֵּינוּ, (ראה – בראשית ג:יט)
הוּא יְבָרֵךְ וְיִתְמֹךְ וִיכַלְכֵּל וִיסַיֵּעַ וִיחַזֵּק וִיאַמֵּץ
אֶת כׇּל־פּוֹעֲלֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאֶת כׇּל־פּוֹעֲלֵי הָעוֹלָם –
אֶת עֲבָדִים וְאֶת שְׁפָחוֹת, אֶת נְעָרִים וְאֶת נְעָרוֹת,
אֶת אִכָּרִים וְאֶת כוֹרְמִים, אֶת שְׂכִירִים וְאֶת יוֹצְרִים,
אֶת עֹשֵׂי מְלָאכָה וְאֶת חֹשְׁבֵי מַחֲשָׁבֹת, (ראה – שמות לה:לה)
אֶת כׇּל־מִינֵי עֲמֵלִים שֶׁעוֹמְלִים בְּעֲמָלָיו.
May the One who decreed toil upon humanity,
Feeding us bread from the sweat of our brow,[1]see Genesis 3:19
Bless and sustain and support and aid and strengthen and fortify
All the workers of Yisrael and all the workers of the world –
Servants and maids, workingmen and workingwomen,
Farmers and wine pressers, hirelings and artisans,
Skilled craftspeople and careful designers,[2]see Exodus 35:35
All laborers who labor in their labors.

אֵל שִׂמְחַת גִּילֵינוּ, (ראה – תהלים מג:ד)
שֶׁחָפֵץ בְּעֲבוֹדָתֵנוּ בְּשִׂמְחַה,
הוֹדִיעֵנוּ וְנִמְצְאָה יִתְרוֹן בְּכׇל־עֲמָלֵינוּ, (ראה – קהלת א:ג)
וְנַחֲמֵנוּ מִמַּעֲשֵׂנוּ וּמֵעִצְּבוֹן יָדֵינוּ, (ראה – בראשית ה:כט)
וְקָרֵב הַיּוֹם הַהוּא,
הַיּוֹם שֶׁיַּעַבְדוּ לְךָ כׇּל־הָעַמִּים בְּשִׂמְחָה וּבִרְנָנָה,
הַיּוֹם שֶׁנֵּשֵׁב אִישׁ תַּחַת גַּפְנוֹ וְתַחַת תְּאֵנָתוֹ, (ראה – מיכה ד:ד)
הַיּוֹם שֶׁכֻּלּוֹ שַׁבָּת מְנוּחָה לְחַיֵּי הָעוֹלָמִים. (ראה – משנה תמיד ז:ד)
God, happiness of our rejoicing,[3]see Psalms 43:4
The One who desires our service in happiness,
Teach us that we may find the worth in all our labors,[4]see Ecclesiastes 1:3
And comfort us from our deeds and the toil of our hands,[5]see Genesis 5:29
And bring near the day,
The day where all the peoples will serve you in joy and song,
The day where we shall sit, each under his vine and under his figtree,[6]see Micah 4:4
The day where it will be entirely Shabbat rest and eternal life.[7]see Mishnah Tamid 7:4

כַּכָּתוּב בְּתוֹרָתֶיךָ –
וְהוֹתִֽירְךָ֩ יְהֹוָ֨ה אֱלֹהֶ֜יךָ בְּכֹ֣ל ׀ מַעֲשֵׂ֣ה יָדֶ֗ךָ
בִּפְרִ֨י בִטְנְךָ֜ וּבִפְרִ֧י בְהֶמְתְּךָ֛ וּבִפְרִ֥י אַדְמָתְךָ֖ לְטֹבָ֑ה
כִּ֣י ׀ יָשׁ֣וּב יְהֹוָ֗ה לָשׂ֤וּשׂ עָלֶ֙יךָ֙ לְט֔וֹב כַּאֲשֶׁר־שָׂ֖שׂ עַל־אֲבֹתֶֽיךָ׃ (דברים ל:ט)
As it is written in Your Torah –
And Adonai your God will greatly increase you in all the deeds of your hands,
in the fruit of the womb and in the fruit of the cattle and in the fruit of your soil for good,
for yet again Adonai will exult about you for good, as with your ancestors.[8]Deuteronomy 30:9

וּבְדִבְרֵי נְבִיאֶיךָ כָּתוּב לֵאמֹר –
כֹּ֣ה ׀ אָמַ֣ר יְהוָ֗ה מִנְעִ֤י קוֹלֵךְ֙ מִבֶּ֔כִי וְעֵינַ֖יִךְ מִדִּמְעָ֑ה
כִּי֩ יֵ֨שׁ שָׂכָ֤ר לִפְעֻלָּתֵךְ֙ נְאֻם־יְהוָ֔ה וְשָׁ֖בוּ מֵאֶ֥רֶץ אוֹיֵֽב׃ (ירמיהו לא:טז)
And in the words of Your Prophets it is written, saying –
Thus says Adonai, “Hold back your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears,
for there is a reward for your labor,” says Adonai; “they will return from the land of the enemy.”[9]Jeremiah 31:16

וּבְכִתְבֵי הַנָּעִים זְמִרוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל (זהו דויד. ראה – שמואל ב׳ כג:א) מְזֻמָּר לֵאמֹר –
מַצְמִ֤יחַ חָצִ֨יר ׀ לַבְּהֵמָ֗ה
וְ֭עֵשֶׂב לַעֲבֹדַ֣ת הָאָדָ֑ם
לְה֥וֹצִיא לֶ֗֝חֶם מִן־הָאָֽרֶץ׃ (תהלים קד:יד)
And in the writings of the Sweet Singer of Israel,[10]i.e. David. See II Samuel 23:1 it is sung, saying –
Growing the grass for the cattle,
and plants for humanity’s work,
to bring forth bread from the earth.[11]Psalm 104:14

Notes   [ + ]

  1. see Genesis 3:19
  2. see Exodus 35:35
  3. see Psalms 43:4
  4. see Ecclesiastes 1:3
  5. see Genesis 5:29
  6. see Micah 4:4
  7. see Mishnah Tamid 7:4
  8. Deuteronomy 30:9
  9. Jeremiah 31:16
  10. i.e. David. See II Samuel 23:1
  11. Psalm 104:14

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