A Prayer On Inauguration Day
By Rabbi Boaz D. Heilman
January 20, 2021
I can now allow myself a breath of relief. The Inauguration ceremony went off without a hitch.
Regardless of our political preference and affiliation, we are still one United States, an example to the entire world of how democracies work.
The last few years—and particularly the past two weeks—have demonstrated to us all how delicate our system of government is, how fragile our society, and how close we came to seeing it all fall apart.
I am relieved that today we saw proof that our flag is still there.
But my sense of relief shouldn’t be seen an indication that I feel that the hard work is behind us. To the contrary, we have so much yet to do before we can even think of resting on our laurels. America continues to be a deeply divided nation. Families and friendships have been torn asunder. In many cases, the love—or at least the respect and dignity—that we owe one another has been replaced by animosity.
The usual pomp and circumstance of a Presidential Inauguration were toned down this year, reminding us that the world today is standing precariously on the edge of a steep precipice. Despite signs of progress toward regional peace (at least in the Middle East), nations are still doing their utmost to arm themselves to the teeth with conventional, nuclear, and biological weapons. We are still confronting the challenges of climate change, a battered economy, hunger, poverty and ignorance. The tragic toll of COVID continues to rise, inflicting untold misery and tragedy all around the world.
Despite our growing awareness of racism and anti-Semitism in America and elsewhere, these hatreds—among other pernicious phobias—are showing no signs of abating.
And the threat of insurrection in our own nation is far from over.
This day’s events will make many of us feel that we have made great strides towards a better future. And I truly believe that we have. Yet I also know that, in a week or two, once we return to our normal, day-to-day lives, once the glow dissipates, we will realize how much yet remains to be accomplished.
It is precisely at such a time that we need to take to heart and mind the teaching of the Rabbis: “The task is great and the day is short…. It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it.”
So, even as I breathe this sigh of relief, no matter how you or I will observe this day, let’s not forget what it stands for. It’s a salute to our chosen way of life and method of governance. It’s a celebration of the continuation of the greatest experiment in self-determination the world has ever known.
As we begin the process of rebuilding and repair, let’s allow ourselves a moment of reflection and prayer. And then let’s begin the work. Let’s turn to one another—to our neighbors, friends and family—and begin the process of healing and forgiveness. Only then will we be able to confront the larger issues facing us.
We pray to the Creator of all to grant the new administration strength and health, to steady the hands and resolve of President Biden and Vice President Harris as they begin their challenging work of uniting the people, restoring stability, and eradicating the COVID virus from our midst.
In the Reform Prayerbook, Mishkan Tefilah, we find the following prayer:
“O Guardian of life and liberty, may our nation always merit Your protection. Teach us to give thanks for what we have by sharing it with those who are in need. Keep our eyes open to the wonders of creation, and alert to the care of the earth. May we never be lazy in the work of peace; may we honor those who have died in defense of our ideals. Grant our leaders wisdom and forebearance. May they govern with justice and compassion. Help us all to appreciate one another, and to respect the many ways that we may serve You. May our homes be safe from affliction and strife, and our country be sound in body and spirit.”
May these words always be before our eyes as we take on the work before us.
© 2021 by Boaz D. Heilman