Off the Pulpit

Thoughts and Prayers

“Our thoughts and prayers are with you.” What can this mean in the wake of something horrible? If prayer is a way of changing the world, it is too late. What good can prayers do the victims now?

The 17th-century Rabbi Leon de Modena asked us to imagine watching a man pull his boat to shore. If you were confused, you might think that he was really pulling the shore to his boat. People have much the same confusion about prayer: Some believe that you are pulling God closer to you. But in fact, heartfelt prayer pulls you closer to God.

Seen this way, prayer is a sturdy rope of solidarity, one that acknowledges that we are in this together. In a free society when something terrible occurs, as Abraham Joshua Heschel taught, few are guilty but all are responsible. Prayer says: “I am with you. I might have done more. Your pain is not separate from my deeds and my life. I pray that you will have comfort, and that I, along with others who know of your suffering, will work to make a world in which such pain is banished.”