Judah Kerbel

Fighting COVID-19 through Each Amidah Blessing

Every Rosh Ha-Shannah and Yom Kippur, we declare that three things can overturn an awful decree: repentance, prayer, and charity. While Rambam and Ramban famously disputed whether our thrice daily prayers constitute a mitzvah d’oraita (positive commandment), all would agree that in a time of distress, in a time of desperation, it is a mitzvah to pray. Many of us are limited in our ability to actively wipe out the novel coronavirus or cure those who are ill, but our expression of prayer is one aid we can turn to in order to do our share to fight the spread of this virus. It is a religious imperative to pray at a time of disaster and plague (Rambam Ta’aniyot 1:1; Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayim 576:5). In a time where we need to connect with and come closer with God, tefillah can be that instrument.

Tefillah for many is the most natural way to have a conversation with God. While text is fixed no matter the circumstance, different situations and context may inform the intention behind the blessing in different ways. On any given day, I personally try to use the blessings of the Amidah as an opportunity to frame the various issues I encounter in life. The current crisis, found in the pandemic of the novel coronavirus, not only creates a requirement for prayer but also inspires the way through which we recite the blessings of the Amidah.

What follows is a short kavannah for each blessing of the Amidah. Some blessings lend themselves to obvious connections; others may be more of a stretch. If even some of these speak to you, great; hopefully they will at least provide a springboard for framing the urgency of the moment in the context of prayer.

  1. Avot – as we approach You, we know that You are in charge of this world and that we stand in front of You. Your deeds are great in a way that we cannot begin to describe. You are inherently a gomeil chasadim tovim, You bestow acts of loving-kindness. Just as You were the “shield of Abraham,” You are our shield. I believe in God’s propensity for kindness and protection.
  2. Gevurot (Divine Might) – The virus is a manifestation of the fact that God is in control of this world and, through a microscopic species, possesses ultimate power. At the same time, God is rofei cholim, as God heals the ill. Once those who are ill are healed, God will be matir assurim – we will be able to emerge from the prisons of quarantines and social distancing.
  3. Kedusha (Holiness) – u-kedoshim b’chol yom yehalelucha, selah! (and the holy ones praise You daily, Selah!) Even though we are not able to gather to say kedusha, the holy Jewish people are still be able to pray from home and continue to pray on a daily basis. We will not cease our service of God!
  4. Da’at (Knowledge) – we need a lot of wisdom at this moment. Please grant insight to scientists and medical professionals to assist them in developing vaccines and treatment for this novel coronavirus. Please grant wisdom to all of us to make the right decisions in a time of great uncertainty.
  5. Teshuva (Repentance) – “Bring us back, our Father, to Your Torah” – allow us to return to our batei midrash and yeshivot to learn Torah together. “Draw us near, Our King, to Your service” – allow us to return to the place where we serve you, in our shuls! “Bring us back to You in full ‘teshuva'” – may we come back to the way things are supposed to be because that is what You want.[1]
  6. Selicha (Forgiveness) – the human condition is that we are flawed, and therefore, we do not live forever. Yet, even if we are deserving of punishment, please forgive us and accept our efforts to be better human beings.
  7. Ge’ulah (Redemption) – “look on our affliction” – look at all of the suffering throughout the world and feel our pain. “Plead our cause” – not just to empathize with our suffering, but to be on our team. And “redeem us soon for Your name’s sake” – so that we can all be healthy and serve you wholeheartedly.
  8. Refuah (Healing) – the lists of those in need of healing grow longer and longer. Help us cut down those lists by granting a full recovery to those infected by the virus. “Heal us, Lord, and we shall be healed. Save us and we shall be saved” – only You, in Your great compassion, have the power to grant a complete healing.
  9. Birkat Ha-Shanim (Prosperity) – due to the viral nature of this disease, many are forced to not work and have lost their livelihood. Please grant those who are suffering economic challenges blessing and prosperity soon!
  10. Kibbutz Galuyot (Ingathering of Exiles) – as this pandemic has becoming a global crisis, we are not able to travel. Many who make the pilgrimage to Eretz Yisrael during Pesach will not be able to. Gather us soon so that we can visit Your holy land and support the State of Israel.
  11. Hashavat Ha-Mishpat (Restore justice) – “restore our judges as at first and our counselors as at the beginning” – Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch wrote that “our people need leaders, men who will champion truth.”[2] Please grant our leaders the courage to lead us through difficult times that take great coordination and vision in order to protect us.
  12. Birkat Ha-Minim (Against Enemies) – the novel coronavirus is the greatest enemy of the human race at this moment. Destroy it and remove it without delay so that we may all merit to live and serve You faithfully!
  13. Tzaddikim (The Righteous) – have compassion on the righteous and pious among us, that they will not receive undue suffering. May we all merit to be counted among them.
  14. Binyan Yerushalayim (Rebuilding Jerusalem) – it is even more painful to not have a Beit Ha-Mikdash during a time of distress like this. Your Holy Temple is meant to serve as a place of prayer for all people, and this is a time period during which all nations of the world need to reach You. May we merit soon to have Your divine Presence so we can reach You more directly.
  15. Malkhut Beit David (Kingdom of David) – “for yearn for Your salvation all day.” This blessing speaks of the coming of Mashiach. We are told that he will come either “be’itah,” in its proper time, or “achishena,” God will hurry His coming. Whether this pandemic comes to an end after its proper or course or through God’s more direct intervention, may that time come sooner than later. May we be redeemed from a sorrowful world sooner than later.
    We may not always properly yearn for salvation, but now is a time we yearn to be all together in a rebuilt Jerusalem performing the korban Pesach, paschal sacrifice.
  1. Shema Koleinu (Hear our Prayers) – God, we are desperate for this to come to an end. Please listen to the voices of those who are sick. Please listen to the voices of those who have family and friends who are sick. Please listen to the voices of those who are suffering in isolation. Have mercy and compassion on us during this difficult time, and “do not turn us away empty-handed from Your presence.”
  2. Avodah (Temple Service) – we do not offer sacrifices anymore, but “instead of bulls we offer the prayer of our lips” (Hosea 14:3). May our prayers be acceptable to you as are sacrifices. May the recital of Pitum Ha-Ketoret take the place of offering incense in order to stop this plague.
  3. Hoda’ah (Thanksgiving) – Even in the midst of crisis, we are thankful for everything we do have. We are thankful for every moment we have to live. For every person who recovers from the virus. For whatever unintended blessings may come out of this difficult time. Our lives are entrusted to you, and we thank You for every small miracle we may experience.
  4. Peace – may this be a time where the world comes together. Where our leaders come together. May we have peace in our homes, as we spend more time in close quarters with our family. May we have inner peace during a time that provokes anxiety and uncertainty.

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart find favor before You, Lord my Rock and Redeemer” (Psalms 19:15).[3]

[1] See Rabbi Menachem Penner’s comments here:

[2] As cited in the Koren Ani Tefillah Siddur, ed. Rabbi Dr. Jay Goldmintz, p. 325.

[3] Some translations, by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, adapted from the Koren Ani Tefillah Siddur.

About the Author
Judah Kerbel is the rabbi of Queens Jewish Center and a development associate for the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. He received his rabbinic ordination from RIETS and an MA in medieval Jewish history from the Bernard Revel Graduate School. He serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America.
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