For the past seven weeks, synagogues around the world have added prayers for the safe return of the hostages. Some are prayers that already appear in our printed siddurim. In times of great stress, some congregations re-introduce the responsive recitation of Psalm 130 every morning as is done between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. (“Out of the depths I call to you, Adonai, hear my cry, head me plea.”). Other congregations recite a mi sheberakh for captives which already appears in the siddur their congregation is using. Some congregations organize group-recitation of selected psalms, concentrating on those which address the redemption of captives.
At Beth Tzedec we have been reciting a prayer specifically for the current situation which was composed by the Rabbinical Assembly/Masorti Movement in Israel. The prayer concludes with the words in this week’s Torah reading. God’s assured Jacob during the dream in which he saw the angels going up and down the ladder: “Remember, I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Genesis 28:15)
When Jacob awakened and responded to this prayer he added the powerful words ושבתי בשלום אל בית אבי." — If I return safe to my father’s house ...” A prayer we can imagine being on the lips of every soldier in Gaza.
The most well known prayer for the return of captives is the liturgical peace Aẖeinu Kol Beit Yisrael (As for our brothers, the whole house of Israel), which is recited every Monday and Thursday morning following the Torah reading. The popular tune we sing at rallies was composed by Abie Rotenberg during the rocket attacks from Gaza in 2010.
Jacob resumed his journey to the land of b’nei kedem, the “easterners.” He asked the shepherds there, “My brothers, where are you from?” They were clearly not literally his brothers. Rabbi Naphtali Tzvi Berlin, wondered why Jacob went out of his way to greet these strangers. Why would Jacob call a simple shepherd “brother?” Rav Berlin: Good people should relate to every person as a brother or a sister, even if they are strangers. For this is the way of the Torah. The way of love and friendship. We pray for the day when all people, not just the whole house of Israel, can truly be called brother and sisters.