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What is the origin of the prayer for the welfare of the government?

by Rabbi Yosef Resnick

  

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The “prayer for the welfare of the government” (in Hebrew, "t'filla b'shlomah shel malchut") is found in some Siddurim after the Torah reading. In synagogues where it is recited, it is recited on Shabbat and festivals after the Torah reading, before the Torah is put back in the ark.

Here is a translation of the prayer for the welfare of the government:

He who granted victory to kings and dominion to princes, His kingdom is a kingdom of all ages; He who delivered His servant David from the evil sword, He who opened a road through the sea, a path amidst the mighty waters; may He bless and protect, help and exalt, the President and the Vice President and all the officers of the country.

“May the supreme King of kings, in His mercy, sustain them and deliver them, from all distress and misfortune. May the supreme King of kings, in His mercy, inspire them and all their counselors and aides to deal kindly with us and with all Israel. In their days and in our days Judah shall be saved, Israel shall dwell in security, and a redeemer shall come to Zion. May this be the will of G-d, and let us say Amen.”

One should pray not just for one’s own needs, but rather should pray on behalf of every person, that they too should have peace. And when there is peace in the government, everyone else lives in peace
In the 14th century, Rabbi Dovid Abudraham first included this prayer in the Siddur, writing that it is the “custom to bless the King, and to pray to G-d that He may give him victory.1” 

The idea of praying for the government has its source in the Bible:2   “Seek the welfare of the country where I have sent you into exile; pray to the L-rd for it, for your welfare depends on its welfare.” In the fifth century BCE, after the first expulsion from Jerusalem, the Jewish people found themselves unable to govern themselves, so they implored G-d to guide their foreign rulers. The prayer itself is actually a composite of selections from Psalms 145:13 and 144:10, Isaiah 43:16, Jeremiah 29:7, and Isaiah 59:20.

The Mishnah, too, enjoins us to pray for the government. In Pirkei Avot,3   it states: “Rabbi Chanina deputy of the Kohanim said ‘Pray for the welfare of the government. If it were not for the fear of the government, each man would eat his neighbor alive!’”

Rabbeinu Yonah explains that praying for the peace of the government is a means to a greater end. According to Rabbeinu Yonah, one should pray on behalf of the entire world, and be pained at the pain of others, which is the way of the righteous. One should pray not just for one’s own needs, but rather should pray on behalf of every person, that they too should have peace. And when there is peace in the government, everyone else lives in peace.

As for the expression “each man would eat his neighbor alive,” Rav Ovadia Bartenura explains that just as larger fish in the sea eat smaller fish, if it weren’t for the fear of the government, greater men would “swallow” up smaller men. In other words, without law and order, people would take great advantage of each other—or worse.

There is a separate prayer for the welfare of the state of Israel, composed by the Chief Rabbinate of the State of Israel. It can also be found in many prayer books.

Footnotes

  • 1. It is worth noting that he mentions “blessing” the King before he talks of “praying” for the King. Indeed, there is a special blessing one makes upon seeing a gentile King or head of state. See http://www.askmoses.com/article/230,2067240/What-prayer-is-recited-when-seeing-a-monarch.html
  • 2. Jeremiah 29:7.
  • 3. Chapter 3, Mishna 2.

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Mitzvot » Prayer » About
Mitzvot » Prayer » Laws and Customs

Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Kohanim
Plural form of Kohain. Priests of G-d. This title belongs to the male descendants of Aaron, brother of Moses. The primary function of the Kohain was to serve in the Holy Temple. Today the Kohain is still revered and it is his function to recite the Priestly Blessings on certain occasions.
Jerusalem
Established by King David to be the eternal capital of Israel. Both Temples were built there, and the third Temple will be situated there when the Messiah comes.
Judah
1. The fourth son of Jacob and Leah. He was blessed by Jacob to be the leader of the tribes. Consequently, the Davidic royal dynasty is from the tribe of Judah. 2. The southern part of Israel which was occupied by the Tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and always remained under the reign of the kings from the tribe of Judah.
Avot
"Ethics of our Fathers." A tractate of the Mishna (original rendition of the Oral Law) which discusses Jewish ethics and piety.
David
King of Israel who succeeded Saul, becoming king of Israel in 876 BCE. Originally a shepherd, he became popular after he killed the Philistine strongman, Goliath. He is the progenitor of the Davidic royal dynasty -- which will return to the throne with the arrival of King Messiah.
Isaiah
1. One of the greatest prophets, lived in the 7th century BCE. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, containing the prophecies of Isaiah. The book is filled with prophecies concerning the Messianic redemption.
Jeremiah
1. Jewish prophet who lived in the 5th century BCE. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, containing the prophecies of Jeremiah. The book is replete with prophecies concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple.
Psalms
The Book of Psalms. One of the 24 books of the Bible. Compiled by King David; mostly comprised of poetic praise for G-d. A large part of our prayers are culled from this book.
Siddur
Prayer book.
Mishnah
First written rendition of the Oral Law which G-d spoke to Moses. Rabbi Judah the Prince compiled the Mishna in the 2nd century lest the Oral law be forgotten due to the hardships of the Jewish exiles.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.
Siddurim
[Plural form of Siddur] Prayer books.