While the Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer is known for his sacrilegious literary treatments of Jews and Judaism—a ḥasidic typesetter was so offended by the novel Enemies: A Love Story that he destroyed the manuscripts—some of his nonfiction and unpublished works show a different attitude. One indication of this attitude is a short personal prayer, composed in Hebrew and scrawled on the back of a receipt in or around 1952. David Stromberg, whose translation (with some minor adjustments) is excerpted below, speculates that the prayer reflected a slow “return to religion” Singer undertook in the early 1950s.
In contrast to Singer’s Yiddish prose—which is in every way striking, employs a rich and varied vocabulary, and always seems to wink ironically at the reader—the prayer’s Hebrew is simple and sincere, drawing on the standard liturgical tropes and phrases. But its deviations from theological expectations are, therefore, all the more intriguing:
Master of the Universe, fill my heart with love for the Jewish people, and rest for the soul.
Let me see the Creator in each and every creature, and His mercy for each thing He creates.
There’s not a single drop of water or particle of dust in which Your light is lacking, or that is outside your domain. . . .
Though we may not know the purpose of life, or why You sent us into this world to suffer, we understand that it is our duty to build and not to destroy, to comfort and not to torment, to bring joy rather than sorrow to Your creatures.
There is only one joy: to increase and not to lessen the world’s joy. Seek happiness, but not on account of your neighbors or family, for you are they and they are you; you are brethren, children of God.