Take a look at this prayer. It’s the second paragraph of the Aleinu prayer, said at the end of every Jewish prayer service:
Therefore we put our hope in You, Adonai our God, to soon see the glory of Your strength, to remove all idols from the Earth, and to completely cut off all false gods; to repair the world, Your holy empire. And for all living flesh to call Your name, and for all the wicked of the Earth to turn to You. May all the world’s inhabitants recognize and know that to You every knee must bend and every tongue must swear loyalty. Before You, Adonai, our God, may all bow down, and give honor to Your precious name, and may all take upon themselves the yoke of Your rule. And may You reign over them soon and forever and always. Because all rule is Yours alone, and You will rule in honor forever and ever. As it is written in Your Torah: “Adonai will reign forever and ever.” And it is said: “Adonai will be Ruler over the whole Earth, and on that day, God will be One, and God’s name will be One.
And now take a look at this prayer. It’s by the artist and author Judy Chicago:
And then all that has divided us will merge
And then compassion will be wedded to power
And then softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind
And then both men and women will be gentle
And then both men and women will be strong
And then no person will be subject to another’s will
And then all will be rich and free and varied
And then the greed of some will give way to the needs of many
And then all will equally share in the Earth’s abundance
And then we will all care for the sick and the weak and the old
And then all will nourish the young
And then all will cherish life’s creatures
And then all will live in harmony with each other and the Earth
And then everywhere will be called Eden once again
Both prayers speak of unity and harmony in a world to come. Both prophecies paint a picture of a universe unimaginable, yet equally unimaginable would be a world where the potential for such prophecies of a world united did not exist. Yet, these prayers, to their core, are remarkably different. One prayer centers dreams of unity around God, while the other prayer has no mention of divinity whatsoever.
In the Aleinu, unity is created by humanity abandoning idolatry and worshiping the Creator of all. Misled souls, we pray, will one day abandon false gods and engage in a worship deep and true. In Judy Chicago’s vision, unity is life lived virtuously and harmoniously. Rather than uniformly direct our worship towards the Source of Life, we act with such sublime compassion, thoughtfulness, courage, and equity that our very lives become prayers themselves.
If you were asked to say one of these prayers everyday, which one would you say? Which text would call you to become the person you would like to be? For me, both prayers are compelling. Despite its deplorably chauvinistic tone, the Aleinu presents a vision of Divine-human embrace that moves me to open my heart to God’s Presence without and within. At the same time, as I arrive at the end of my prayers, I want Judy Chicago’s words ringing in my ears, calling me to cultivate the simple yet sublime qualities of compassion, softness, strength, and generosity. When I first began praying on a daily basis, I would read the Aleinu followed by Judy Chicago’s words. I think it’s time to begin this practice again. Want to join me?