Regarding “Pray For The President? A Divine Dilemma” (Editor’s column, Jan. 13), the text for the prayer in widespread use throughout the diaspora, “Hanoten teshu’a,” first appears in print in Spain and is directed for the welfare of King Ferdinand II. While the outcome in that case was disastrous, Jewish wisdom nevertheless taught that remaining loyal citizens even under the most despotic rulers was still the best road for long-term survival.
The great Yemenite Rabbi Yosef Kafah discovered that whoever wrote the text of the prayer did so with great subtlety and included subversive allusions. For example, the opening line reads, “He who gives deliverance unto kings and dominion unto princes, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, who delivers his servant David from the destructive sword.” This is a quote from Psalms 144:10. But the next verse is a desperate plea for help from the grip of a deceitful enemy, “Rescue me, save me from the hands of foreigners, whose mouths speak lies, and whose oaths are false.” Even the call to God confirms that only His kingdom is everlasting, the rest are temporary.
The next line, “Who makes a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters,” derives from Isaiah 43:16. The next verse there continues to describe the destruction of the Egyptian forces. Indeed, there is little reason to reference God’s might over the waters in the context of this prayer, if not for the continuation of retribution against oppressors.
In sum, this prayer for the leader’s well-being also contains between the lines a hope for the destruction of evil and a hope for the Jews to leave exile and return to Zion.