Thoughts on Liturgy: Hashkiveinu

Written by Rabbi Josh Levy — 24 October 2014

I spoke on Yom Kippur morning about petitionary prayer – the prayer in which we ask for things.  I said that it is more than it seems, more interesting, more complex.

Nowhere is that more true than for hashkiveinu.  Few of us really believe that, through prayer alone, we will be shielded from “every enemy, disease, violence, hunger and sorrow”.
Every week, every evening, we read these words with those who are not shielded – those experiencing loss, sorrow, those affected by illness.

So what is this prayer?  What can these words possibly mean?

To say hashkiveinu is to recognise the imperfection of our world, that the day that we don’t need to say hashkiveinu is far away.  Again this has been brought home to us this week – with violence in Israel, in Canada, in Egypt.  With the slow and terrifying spread of Ebola.

How can we respond but with this cry of pain, this expression of vulnerability, this statement of hope?

And having named the imperfection, to pray is also to commit to do something about it, to work to make things better.  To say, “responsibility for bringing about the day we no longer need to say the words is ours”.   This evening I ask you to take notice of the WJR Ebola Appeal – to commit to work together to shield others from disease and sorrow.  To work to bring about the day, that we do not need to say:

Let’s sing together…