During the next few weeks leading up to Israel's 60th Anniversary, I am interrupting the pattern of examining the vocabulary of the siddur to highlight aspects of our liturgy that emphasize our connection to the land. With so much misrepresentation being made about us, most especially these days by the United Methodist Church, I thought it would be valuable to illustrate for you how Israel has remained central to our aspirations from Biblical times to the present. No document is better suited than the prayer book to make the point. The selections are not in chronological order, but presented to make the point.
The prayer we say at each evening service between the Sh'ma and the Amidah is called "Hashkiveinu." It begins with the words, "Cause us to lie down in peace, Lord our God, and raise us up again to life." That opening phrase is followed by the hope that God will spread the "tabernacle of peace" (perhaps the "peace hut") over us and protect us from enemies, sword, famine and sorrow.
It is a pretty comprehensive prayer for protection from the dangers of the waking world, except that the first words of the paragraph make it clear that we are talking about the period of time between lying down and rising up – that is, the time we are asleep. This prayer is about gentle dreams of peace and contentment, and we ask God to shield us from the horrid dreams of doom and destruction that could plague us in the middle of the night. In other words, we ask God to keep nightmares away from us.
There is a recognition in the prayer that a mind at peace is a shelter from the turmoil that is generated by the daytime worries from which we all suffer. Our deep desire is for the Holy One to tuck us in, so to speak, assuring us that there are no monsters awaiting us in the dark. We want to drift off to a place free from conflict and filled with wholeness.
And so each Friday night we conclude this particular prayer with a call for three kinds of sweet dreams. We acknowledge the power of God who spreads the shelter of peace over those of us in prayer, over the entire people Israel and over Jerusalem. After all, it is a peaceful Jerusalem – whole, restored, filled with our presence and devoid of God's enemies – that is the place of our peace as well. That's the touchstone of our sweetest dreams: Jerusalem, in the land of our ancestors.