March 7, 2004

Can I pray for my enemy’s defeat? Please?

Master of the Universe, please deliver us from That Dog.

The one with the chesty bark that resonates from its backyard into our bedroom before 7 a.m. and after 11 p.m.

The one that growls menacingly when we walk from our garage into the house. The one that bit me.

While you’re at it, Lord, deliver me from That Dog’s owners, too. May they find a nice home for themselves and their psychotic pet somewhere far, far away. Like Nome, Alaska, for instance. And may it, in your great providence, be soon.


Do you think it’ll work?

It’s not exactly like calling down fire and brimstone. There was no smiting requested. Just divine relocation. May the spirit move them, if you will.

The idea came to me after I read reports from New York last week about members of a Satmar Hasidic Jewish enclave in Brooklyn, N.Y., who are praying for God to intervene on their behalf and stop the gentrification of their Williamsburg neighborhood by — GASP! — artists. And lots of ’em.

“Master of the Universe, our Father, Father of mercy, have mercy upon us and upon the borders of our village and do not allow the prosecution to come inside our home, please remove from upon us the plague of the artists, that we shouldn’t drown in evil waters, and that they shouldn’t come to our residence and ruin it,” said their Hebrew prayer titled, “For the Protection of Our City Williamsburg from the Plague of the Artists.”

A plague of artists.

Hide the children.

What would such a plague look like, anyway? A bunch of underweight, slightly grubby guys in faux-hawks and complicated eyeglasses, twirling their messenger bags menacingly as they pour out of their evil headquarters — a Starbucks — and onto the streets like so many locusts bent on destruction?

So maybe “plague” is a little dramatic, but I’m not the one worried about my neighborhood changing in ways that make me spiritually panic.

“Place in the hearts of the homeowners that they shouldn’t build, God forbid, for these people, and strengthen their hearts that they can withstand this difficult test, and that they will not sell for the lure of money,” the Brooklyn Hasidim’s prayer continues.

“Please our Father God of Mercy, have mercy upon our generation that is weak and remove from us this difficult test from these people, these immoral antagonists that from their doing will multiply, God forbid, the excruciating tests and the sight of impurity and immorality that is growing in the world.”

(Kudos to the folks at newyork for posting an English translation of the prayer.)

Is it wrong to pray like that?

To ask God to intervene between you and your — real or imaginary — enemies?

When televangelist-cum-politico-cum-university-chancellor Pat Robertson announced last summer the launch of what he called “Operation Supreme Court Freedom,” most of us winced.

Good ol’ Pat, a bit more peevish than usual after the Supreme Court justices struck down Texas’ sodomy law back in July, encouraged people to pray for God to, well, unseat three liberal justices.

“One justice is 83 years old, another has cancer and another has a heart condition,” Robertson said on his Web site. “Would it not be possible for God to put it in the minds of these three judges that the time has come to retire?”

Kinda creepy, right?

Maybe not the kind of thing someone should be asking God to do, right?

But what about the plague of artists?

And what about That Dog?

Does my request break any rules about prayer?

The Hebrew Psalms are chock full of David’s requests for God to alternately deliver and/or smite his enemies. But then a few hundred pages ahead in the Christian Bible, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

So which is it?

David Augsburger, a professor in the school of theology at Fuller Seminary in California, was telling me the other day how he will not “ask God to do to anyone else anything that I do not want God to have the freedom to do to me.”

“I will not ask God to change someone else’s heart, motivation or attitude when I would not have God manipulating me without my voluntary ascent,” he said. “When people pray for tragedies to fall on other people to change them, they are embarrassing God.”


Rabbi David Rosenberg, director of the Newberger Hillel Center at the University of Chicago, said the prayer of the Hasidim from Brooklyn fell within the parameters of traditional Jewish prayer.

“Whenever Jews have felt threatened, whether it’s by an enemy or an attack from an army or by diseases or droughts or floods, they have prayed,” the rabbi told me. “If you approach God humbly, with reverence, what they are doing is completely authentic.”

Then he told me a story from the Talmud about a rabbi in the 3rd century who was being bothered by some bullies.

“Initially, he wanted to pray that they should be punished,” Rosenberg said. “His wife said, ‘No, no. You should pray that they should repent.’ So he did. He prayed that they should repent.

“That becomes kind of a model,” Rosenberg said, as he went on to remind me of a scene from “Fiddler on the Roof.”

So in the spirit of Tevye’s prayer, let me revise my initial petition: May God keep That Dog — far away from us.

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