Rabbi Marvin Hier: Only Clergy To Speak at National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC

February 8, 2018

Rabbi Marvin Hier, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Founder and Dean, was the only clergy who spoke at the bipartisan National Prayer Breakfast. The annual event took take place today in Washington, DC and was hosted by the United States Congress.

The event was attended by President Donald Trump and members of his Cabinet, 200 members of the US House of Representatives and Senate, 4 foreign Presidents, 3 Prime Ministers, 3,600 people from over 100 countries, members of Israel’s Knesset, and religious leaders. Every President since Dwight Eisenhower has spoken at the gathering.

Speakers in the past have included Mother Teresa, Tony Blair, Bono, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey.

Rabbi Hier’s speech is entitled “We’re at Bat Here”:
(Watch Rabbi Hier's speech here)


"Let me begin by asking the Almighty to bless our great country, the United States of America, our President, the members of Congress, the Cabinet, the distinguished world leaders, and all those gathered here today for this National Prayer Breakfast.

“The difference between prayer and prophecy,” commented the great 20th century thinker, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, “is that in prophecy it is G-d who initiates the call, while in prayer it is always man who dials first.” The other difference, of course, is that unlike man, G-d’s line is never busy!

In Deuteronomy 30 [V11] we read, “The commandments I have given ... are not in the heavens ... for you to say who can ascend....” As the Psalmist proclaims “The heavens belong to G-d, but the earth was given to man.” [Book of Psalms, Psalm 115]

No human being, my friends, is ever consulted about when he will be born, nor is he advised of the precise time of his death. But the great blessing of life is every man’s ability to turn the imposed fate he is born with into destiny; to convert life’s seemingly unalterable challenges into G-d given opportunities

Simon Wiesenthal did that. He began his career as an architect, but he could not escape the horrors of the Holocaust where 89 members of his family were murdered -- especially that unforgettable day when he heard that his beloved mother, Rosa, was one of the hundreds placed on a cattle car about to be carted off to the death camps. Determined to see her one last time, he chased after the cattle car as it left the platform shouting out her name again and again, but she never heard his desperate cries as he ran beside the train that carted her off to the Belzec death camp.

So, when the war ended, and the whole world went home to forget, he alone remained behind to remember. He refused to live out his life as a silent spectator trapped forever by fate. Instead, he picked himself up by the bootstraps, turned his fate into destiny, and changed roles from being a mere observer to becoming G-d’s partner to begin a new chapter that led to tracking down more than 1,100 Nazi war criminals, amongst them the Commandants of Treblinka and Sobibór, the inventor of the mobile gas vans and the person who arrested Anne Frank -- switching roles from a builder of homes to one who brought to justice the killers who had destroyed them.

I’ll always remember what he said at the celebration of his 90th birthday at the Imperial Hotel in Vienna. Hundreds of people attended the event and when he got up to speak he said, “I never celebrate my birthday but today is different, you know why I’m here – I chose this hotel because it was Hitler’s favorite and he and Himmler had permanent suites here, but I wanted to come here to show the world that his thousand year Third Reich is no more, but we, the survivors (the Jews) he wanted to exterminate are still here singing and dancing even in Hitler’s favorite hotel!”

This idea of turning fate into destiny is the main message of Exodus chapter 2, “And Moses saw… the bush was burning…, but not consumed. So, [he]… turned aside and looked at this great sight, and wondered why is the bush not consumed?” [Exodus 2:2]

And “when the Almighty saw Moses turning toward the bush he said...I have seen the affliction of my people, and heard its outcry… now go to the Pharaoh and you shall take my people, the children of Israel out of Egypt…” [Exodus 2:4-5]

“Who am I,” responds Moses, “that I should go to the Pharaoh and take the children of Israel out? I am not a man of words and am slow of speech…” [Exodus 3:11]

“Yes,” replies the Almighty, “Who has made man’s mouth, is it not I?” [Exodus 4:11] “Now, therefore go….” [Exodus 4:12]

Still not satisfied, Moses demands “Show me thy face!” [Exodus 33:18]

To which the Almighty responds, “You can only see my back – my face shall never be seen.” [Exodus 33:23]

G-d was teaching Moses, earth is your space not your creator’s –

its future – of standing up to evil – feeding the hungry – caring for the infirm - planting the seeds for a better tomorrow for your children’s children is in your hands not mine!

And, so, it was that Moses, a humble man with a speech impediment, accepted the task and delivered G-d’s moral code, our capsule for survival, which to this very day, 3,500 years later, still remains the core value of all religions and humankind. May G-d allow each of us to reach our fullest potential by converting our fate into destiny for the betterment of mankind.”

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The Simon Wiesenthal Center is one of the largest international Jewish human rights organizations with over 400,000 member families in the United States. It is an NGO at international agencies including the United Nations, UNESCO, the OSCE, the OAS, the Council of Europe and the Latin American Parliament (Parlatino).