Prayers of Comfort During Times of War

Reports indicate that Hezbollah – the de-facto government of Lebanon – is once again threatening to attack within the near future.

In this article I present our personal reaction to the text of Birkat Hashkivenu (The second blessing following the bedtime Shema) as it relates to our family’s experience in 2006 during The Second Lebanon War, also known as “The War With Hezbollah.”

Please know that we understood the text of Birkat Hashkivenu in the light of our faith in Yeshua. It is my prayer that when the missiles start to fall that the Messiah Yeshua would comfort you as He comforted us!

Birkat Hashkivenu- Words of Comfort During A Time of War

The most challenging experience of our life in Israel was living through the recent Second Lebanon War. At that time we lived in Katzrin, the capital of the Golan Heights. Located in Northern Israel, Katzrin is about ten miles west of the Syrian Border and approximately twenty-five miles south of the Lebanese border. Though our city only received one direct hit by a Katyusha rocket, the air raid sirens sounded four to five timed a day. Consequently, we spent most of the summer of 2006 in our “safe room.” An effective weapon, used by the terrorists, which can be unnerving, is the constant threat of being killed or permanently maimed by a rocket. Birkat Hashkivenu was especially meaningful to our family during this period because its words brought comfort to us during a time of war.

Birkat Hashkivenu- A Running Commentary

Verse One: Lay us down to sleep, Hashem our God, in peace (l’shalom), raise us erect, our King, to life; and spread over us the shelter of Your peace (shlomechah). * At the end of a day, which has been disrupted by the constant wail of air raid sirens and the anxious anticipation of what might happen the following day, it is very difficult to sleep. And who knows, Hezbollah might change their tactic by starting to fire on us in the middle of the night. Hashem, we trust You, that You will let us lie down in the shelter of Your peace (shlomechah) that we might wake up refreshed to face the challenges of a new day.

Verse Two: Set us aright with good counsel from before Your Presence, and save us for Your Names’ sake. Needless to say, but we had to plan our schedules around the possibility of a rocket attack. For some inexplicable reason, Hezbollah hardly ever fired upon us between the hours of 2:30 pm to 4:00 pm so this is the time we did our grocery shopping. [We used to drive to Karmiel or Teverya (Tiberias) to take advantage of the sales, but we did not want to be on the road during a Katyusha rocket attack. Too dangerous!] Because of safety concerns, we once attended a children’s concert in a bomb shelter. This concert was previously scheduled to be held in the Matnas (community center), which was considered to be vulnerable to a rocket attack. Hashem we need your good counsel (aytzah tovah) to govern our daily routines. Help us to use the intelligence [the brain] You gave us.

Verse Three: Shield us, remove from us foe, plague, sword, famine, and woe; and remove spiritual impediment from before us and behind us and in the shadow of Your wings shelter us – for God Who protects and rescues us are You; for God, the Gracious and Compassionate King are You. Across the street from where we lived, there was a valley where we had a clear view of Hatzor, Rosh Pinah, Zefat, and Teveryah. Many times we could see a trail of smoke from a Katyusha rocket as it bore down on one of these cities. Sometimes at night we could see parts of these cities on fire. One night we could see that the Yehudiyah forest, located about five miles south of us, was ablaze. This sight was particularly alarming because we realized that these rockets just missed our city. The “noise” of war was also a source of stress – the jet planes and helicopters flying above us during the day and the tanks rolling through our city at night. One especially unnerving sound was the constant booming of the artillery [rarely at night]. Often the sound was so loud that our windows would shake. Many times we would ask ourselves is the “booming” theirs or ours? Considering the thousands of rockets fired on Israel, the amount of casualties [I do not want to minimize the loss of anyone’s life] and the extent of property damage were relatively low. In my view this is clear evidence of the compassionate God who shelters us in the “shadow of His wings.” Each night we would thank Hashem for preserving our lives from the “foe’s sword” and pray for the families who were not so fortunate.

Verse Five: Safeguard our going and coming – for life and for peace (l’shalom) from now to eternity. Each night we would recount our experiences of that day – “our going and our coming.” One day I remember standing in line at the post office. Suddenly the postmaster said, “Go home we have to close the post office because we have been warned of a missile attack.” I had to decide if I would walk home and in case of an attack duck into a bomb shelter along the way or drive my car and risk being killed by a “direct hit” or the shrapnel from a rocket that had exploded nearby. [I drove home because I did not want my wife to be alone during a Katyusha rocket attack] Routine activities were tinged with an element of uncertainty, not knowing if you would end the day dead or alive. An inward assurance that Hashem’s promise to “safeguard our going and coming” enabled us lead our daily life with a minimum of fear.

Verse Six: Blessed are You Hashem, Who protects His people Israel forever. As we reflected on the events of the day we realized that our experience was not unique. We constantly asked ourselves a question that our people having been asking themselves since our creation as a nation, “Why do people, who I do not know, hate me so much that they want to kill me simply because I am Jewish?” The attempted destruction of our people has survived the mighty armies of Egypt, Rome, and Germany. Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran cannot prevent Hashem from fulfilling His promise to eternally protect His people Israel. Blessing Him for His daily and everlasting protection is our thankful response!

Conclusion

The Second Lebanon War was our first experience living in a combat zone. Many of our Israeli friends told us that we were now “true Israelis” because we had lived through a war, a common experience for veteran Israelis. For our family it was the truths expressed in Birkat Hashkivenu that sustained us and allowed us to come through “The War With Hezbollah” with Shalom rav (great peace).

* Quotations from Birkat Hashkivenu are taken from The Complete ArtScroll Siddur, Nusach Ashkenaz

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Yosef Koelner
Yosef Koelner was born in Chicago and raised in a Jewish home that his parents characterized as “Orthodox”. At birth he was given two first names, an English one, Harvey, and a Hebrew name, Yosef, which was given to him in remembrance of his mother’s deceased brother, Chaim Yosef. Rabbi Yosef’s education includes but is not limited to a BA in Spanish and Latin American Studies from Illinois State University and a MA in Jewish Studies from Gratz College as well as a Doctor of Practical Ministry from Wagner Leadership Institute. He also graduated from Ulpan Alef (Hebrew language studies) Katsrin, Israel. Additional studies include The University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana and an Orthodox Yeshivah in Tzfat Yisrael. His ministry spans four decades and he is currently the Rabbi of Kehilat Bet Avinu. He can be contacted at ravko@ix.netcom.com