Pray for Our Enemies

Yael Eckstein  |  August 16, 2023

Elderly man in white robe looking down at book beside window.

so pursue them with your tempest
     and terrify them with your storm.
Cover their faces with shame, LORD,
     so that they will seek your name.
— Psalm 83:15-16

Prayer in Judaism is defined as “the work of the heart,” which profoundly changes the nature of prayer from one of entreating God to an act that transforms who we are—not what God does. These devotions focus on different facets of prayer and what lessons we can learn about the power of our prayers.

Growing up in Israel during turbulent times, children are unfortunately exposed to the evils of war and terror from an early age. I remember the first time my daughter came home from school and told me about a conversation her friends were having during recess.

“Maya said she wanted all the bad guys to just go away,” she reported matter of factly, “but Sarah said she wishes they could just become good guys and then no one would have to be scared anymore.” Beyond the heartbreak, I was struck by the profundity hidden within the different perspectives offered by these sweet girls.

In the Jewish tradition, how do we approach the fate of our enemies? The short answer is that we must pray for our enemies.

Pray for Our Enemies

Psalm 83 describes an assault by nations around the world who united to destroy Israel. It begins, “O God, do not remain silent, do not turn a deaf ear” (v.1). What, exactly, does the psalmist want God to do? At first glance, it seems that he was praying for the destruction of his enemies. However, he continues: “So pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your storm… so that they will seek your name.”

The psalmist did not want his enemies to die; but rather, like young Sarah, he wanted them to repent and live.

Every human being is created in the image of God. Even our greatest enemy has the potential to become our partner in bringing light to the world. So, as hard as it may be, we must pray to God that every person—including our enemies—should be granted the opportunity to repent.

Life isn’t about settling personal vendettas; it’s about increasing God’s light in the world.

Your Turn:

As counterintuitive as it may be, pray for your enemies, for the souls of those that have hurt you or brought evil into the world.