Friday, January 13, 2023

America discovers prayer

Who says America is a bereft spiritual nation? While there are troubling issues in this country from here to yazoo, there was a moment of crisis that inspired a nation to pray. Last week during a nationally televised game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills, an unprecedented crisis unfolded on the field. Damar Hamilton, a member of the Buffalo Bills, collapsed on the field, and we learned later he went into cardiac arrest. Tens of thousands of fans in the stands who moments before were a raucous crowd became speechless. People watched helplessly as medical officials tried to resuscitate Hamlin on the field.  At that point, a most unusual twist occurred both on and off the field. The players from both teams banded together on the field and began to pray. A Bengals fan held up a hastily made placard bearing the words "Pray for Buffalo #3 Hamlin." Fans from both teams gathered outside the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, to which Mr. Hamlin had been taken, and collectively prayed for the young man. Suddenly prayer—the ancient activity of speaking to God in the belief that he can hear and respond—was everywhere. Top-level coaches and players, former and present, posted appeals to "Pray for Damar." The NFL on Monday night issued a statement advising only that its "thoughts" were with Mr. Hamlin and his family. A day later, the league changed its social-media platforms with those of all 32 professional teams to an image of Mr. Hamlin's No. 3 Bills jersey bearing the words "Pray for Damar." Former quarterback Dan Orlovsky, discussing the game with two panelists on ESPN, did the until-now unthinkable: He bowed his head and actually prayed—with two other commentators bowing their heads in respectful accord. The prayer concluded, and each said, Amen. I wouldn't be surprised if this was the first time ESPN had a live prayer session broadcasted by their sports commentators.  The Talmud teaches that even when a sharp knife is pressed against a person's neck, one should not give up and think that G-d no longer has compassion. The famous verse from Tehilim/Psalms refers to King David praying from ממעמקים or the depths. The reality is that not every prayer gets answered in the manner that we wish. Sometimes for reasons beyond human comprehension, G-d allows pain and suffering to occur. However, the most powerful element of prayer is not that G-d will grant whatever request we have but rather for us to feel that we are not alone. Worse than the actual suffering is to be suffering alone. When one engages in prayer, the person is never alone, for G-d is always with the person. This is what King David refers to as כי אתה עמדי  or "You are with me."  Thousands of years ago, Jonah, the prophet, went to the city of Ninveh and instructed the gentile nation to engage in serious prayer to avoid catastrophe. The people responded in kind and poured their hearts to Almighty G-d and a crisis was averted. Last week in the United States of America, a nation that is fair to say is struggling with morality and Godliness, discovered the power of prayer. Demar Hamilton, who lay on the field lifeless, was discharged from the hospital this week. It remains to be seen if this story is just anecdotal or if this reflects something about the character of this country. Regardless, in an era of one disheartening story after another, a football game played in Cincinnati stood out like a shining city on a hill. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch.

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