A Prayer for My Commonwealth



Last Monday, it was my great honor to offer the invocation at the annual Massachusetts State of the Commonwealth Address given by Governor Deval Patrick. Here are the words that I shared:

In the Torah portion
That the Jewish people read this week
We hear the story of the exodus;
Specifically, the recitation of the plagues
God brings down upon Egypt
Calling out to Pharaoh:

How long
Will you refuse
To humble yourself
Before me?
Let my people go
That they may serve me…

So, God, we turn to you on the occasion
Of this assembly
As our esteemed Governor, Deval Patrick
And his colleagues
Here in the chamber of our government
Gather to reflect on the
State of our Commonwealth
Under the hopeful gaze
Of the women, men and children
Who live and work here
In Massachusetts,
And ask before you, God:

Let us humble ourselves.

Let us remember
We are in your service;
There is a higher purpose.

In the scripture
We read of the plague of thick darkness:
…A darkness that can be touched…
That descended upon all the land of Egypt
For three days
People could not see one another…
While all the Israelites enjoyed light
In their dwellings

How could it be
That for the Egyptians
It was utter darkness
But among the Hebrew slaves
There was light?

The rabbis teach
That the darkness was caused
By the Egyptians’ own
Blindness
They were blind
To the suffering of the Hebrews!

For, seeing the pain of others
Rising up against injustice
Reaching up for the higher purpose
Brings light –

While closing our eyes
Can only cause darkness…

Dear God,
Much light has burst forth from this chamber
This room,
A cradle of American Democracy
Where courageous representatives and senators
In which bold governors
Have championed the rights of all people;
A body that in recent memory
Became a model for the nation
By guaranteeing every person access
To health care
By protecting the marriage rights
Of all people
By defending our young people
From bullying and abuse
These lawmakers have blazed
The flaming light of justice
And so our eyes are open
To both the suffering
And the beauty
Of one another.

Please God;
Let not our eyes begin to close;
Let not the darkness descend;
Even during these painful economic times
When resources seem so scarce
And politics have become so cruel
For the need is so very, very real.

Open up our eyes, oh God,
Open them wide!

Let us continue to see the truth
About our sisters and brothers
Throughout our great Commonwealth;
And let us continue to be
A model for our nation
Unafraid
Undeterred
Like the shining dome of this great hall
Reflecting the midday sun
From this very street
So aptly named
A Beacon -
A Beacon of shining light
Across our nation.

And let us say, amen!

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Rabbi Jonah Pesner

About Rabbi Jonah Pesner

Rabbi Jonah Pesner is Senior Vice President of the URJ. Rabbi Pesner is also the founding Director of Just Congregations. He works with synagogues pursuing social justice across the country and teaches on all three campuses of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He has led efforts to engage thousands of members of congregations to join together in successful campaigns for health care access, affordable housing, public education and other social action initiatives.

2 Responses to “A Prayer for My Commonwealth”

  1. avatar

    Beautiful, powerful words for an important occasion. I take great pride in your presence at those proceedings and how you bring honor to us all. Yashar Koach!

  2. avatar

    I cannot say it better than Deborah Zecher already has, Rabbi Pesner…..but I wish for you to know that I, too, am deeply moved by the power and beauty of your words, and by how you have represented us all. I thank you sincerely and profoundly.

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