Opening Prayers and Readings

Opening Prayers and Readings

The beginning of the service is the time to set the tone. By opening with a special reading, the congregation knows that the service has a special theme and we can consider how we might focus our prayers differently during this service. What is the connection between our prayers and our pursuit of tikkun olam? An introductory reading might help us begin to answer that question. In addition, candle lighting during Friday night services would also be an appropriate time to include a special reading. With the lighting of the candles, we reflect on what it means for us to be an “Or Lagoyim,” a “light unto the nations,” and how that shapes our actions.

The following prayers and readings are appropriate for the beginnning of the service.

A rabbi and a soap-maker once went for a walk together. The soap-maker said to the rabbi: “What good is Judaism? After thousands of years of teaching about goodness, truth, justice, and peace, after all the study of Torah, and all the fine ideals of the Prophets, look at all the trouble and misery in the world! If Judaism is so wonderful and true, why should all this be so?”

The rabbi said nothing. They continued walking until he noticed a child playing in the gutter. The child was filthy with soot and grime. “Look at that child,” said the rabbi. “You say that soap makes people clean, but see the dirt on that youngster. What good is soap? With all the soap in the world, that child is still filthy. I wonder if soap is of any use at all.”

The soap-maker protested and said, “But, Rabbi, soap can’t do any good unless it is used!”

“Exactly!” cried the rabbi. “So it is with Judaism. It isn’t effective unless it is applied in daily life and used!”

-RAC L’taken seminar, Shabbat morning service

Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to devise a purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we know:

That Man is here for the sake of other Men…Above all, for those upon whose smile and well-being our own happiness depends, and also for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy.

Many times a day I realize how much my own outer and inner life is build upon the labors of my fellow men, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.

-Albert Einstein, from Moments of Transcendance: Inspirational Readings for Yom Kippur, edited by Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins, p 202.

The great Rabbi Israel Salanter was missing from his synagogue on the Eve of Atonement, the Kol Nidre, the holiest night of the Jewish calendar. The elders of the synagogue went out searching for him and they found him. There are two versions: one, he was taking care of a wounded calf, the other, he was helping some sick child. And they said to him, “Rabbi, why aren’t you in the synagogue?” He said, “Do you see what I’m doing?” “But, Rabbi, it’s your duty to be in the synagogue praying.” He said, “I am praying. Every act of kindness is a prayer—a prayer that walks, moves, breathes and lives.”

-Rabbi William B. Silverman from Moments of Transcendance: Inspirational Readings for Yom Kippur, edited by Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins, p15.