Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR offered blessings on Jan. 22 at the Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., which traditionally is held the day following the official inauguration.
“Elohei ha-ahavah, God of Love,” Brous began, addressing more than 2,000 attendees, including President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and their wives, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden. “Help us widen the boundaries of our hearts.”
Brous, who founded IKAR in Los Angeles in 2004, was one of three rabbis among the clergy from numerous faiths who participated in Tuesday morning’s ceremony. Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, led a responsive reading from Psalm 116, and Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, joined a Muslim leader in a responsive recitation of the priestly blessing found in the book of Numbers.
[Watch the entire Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service]
“Give depth to our faith,” said Brous. “Let our actions bear witness to the expansiveness of your mercy. Grant us the grace to love our neighbors and to love ourselves.”
Rabbis have been involved in the four most recent inaugural prayer services, according to a list on Wikipedia. In 2009, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of Kehilath Jeshurun, an Orthodox Synagogue in New York City, took part in the service held following Obama’s first inauguration. The move provoked criticism from the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America, which objected to Lookstein’s participation in an interfaith service held in the sanctuary of a church.
Brous, who was one of hundreds of American rabbis to publicly support Obama’s reelection bid last year, has made social justice and activism a centerpiece of her rabbinate, and those themes recurred throughout Tuesday morning’s 90-minute service.
Many who spoke invoked the memory of Rev. Martin Luther King, including Rev. Dr. Raphael Gamaliel Warnock, senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga., the congregation that King and his father both led. Warnock concluded the service with a prayer that the country’s leaders recommit to building what King called “the beloved community.”
“Transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of the human family,” Warnock said. “And through us, may the earth and all of the families of the earth be blessed.”
Full Text of Brous’s Prayer:
“Elohei ha-ahavah, God of Love. Help us widen the boundaries of our hearts. You know us better than we know ourselves: the distinctions we make, the biases we hold, the ways in which we fail to manifest our greatest potential as we diminish ourselves and others with our impatience, lack of compassion and vision, lack of hope. Give depth to our faith; let our actions bear witness to the expansiveness of your mercy. Grant us the grace to love our neighbors and to love ourselves. We pray that you bring your presence among us, as light, as life and as holy inspiration.”