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Inaugural Addresses: Readings for Shabbat

To bring some historical perspective to inauguration day, I shared excerpts from several presidential inauguration addresses throughout the Shabbat evening service. One notices, reading these, that many of our presidents have been a Theologian-in-Chief – none more than Lincoln, whose concept of God and skill at writing transcend all the rest.

Rabbi David Segal Aspen Jewish Congregation Shabbat / Inauguration Day January 20, 2017 • 23 Tevet 5777 • Parshat Shemot


Donald J. Trump, Inaugural Address, January 20, 2017

When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice. The bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity [Psalm 133:1, Hinei mah tov]. We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable… It’s time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget, that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots.

[Let us hope these are not mere words, but core commitments. Let us stand for them. And in that spirit, we pray. -DJS]

Prayer for our Country (from Mishkan HaNefesh)

God of holiness, we hear Your message: Justice, justice shall you pursue. God of freedom, we hear Your charge: Proclaim liberty throughout the land. Inspire us through Your teachings and commandments to love and uphold our precious democracy. Let every citizen take responsibility for the rights and freedoms we cherish. Let each of us be an advocate for justice, an activist for liberty, a defender of dignity. And let us champion the values that make our nation a haven for the persecuted, a beacon of hope among the nations. May our actions reflect compassion for all people, within our borders and abroad. May our leaders and officials embody the vision of our founders: to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity. We pray for courage and conscience as we aim to support our country’s highest values and aspirations: the hard-won rights that define us as a people, the responsibilities that they entail. We pray for all who serve our country with selfless devotion — in peace and in war, from fields of battle to clinics and classrooms, from government to the grassroots: all those whose noble deeds and sacrifice benefit our nation and our world. We are grateful for the rights of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness that our founders ascribed to You, our Creator. We pray for their wisdom and moral strength, that we may be guardians of these rights for ourselves and for the sake of all people, now and forever.

BEFORE SHEMA (key theme: unity/oneness)

Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

BEFORE MI CHAMOCHA (key theme: liberation from narrow places)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933

This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive, and will prosper. So first of all let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance… We do not distrust the future of essential democracy. The people of the United States have not failed. In their need they have registered a mandate that they want direct, vigorous action. They have asked for discipline and direction under leadership. They have made me the present instrument of their wishes. In the spirit of the gift I take it. In this dedication of a nation we humbly ask the blessing of God. May He protect each and every one of us! May He guide me in the days to come!

BEFORE AMIDAH (key theme: thanking and petitioning God)

George Washington, First Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789

… I shall take my present leave; but not without resorting once more to the benign Parent of the Human Race, in humble supplication that since He has been pleased to favor the American people with opportunities for deliberating in perfect tranquillity and dispositions for deciding with unparalleled unanimity on a form of government for the security of their union, and the advancement of their happiness, so His divine blessing may be equally conspicuous in the enlarged views, the temperate consultations, and the wise measures on which the success of this government must depend.


Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address, March 5, 1865

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

BEFORE TORAH SERVICE (key theme: being rooted in your story)

Thomas Jefferson, Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1805

I shall need, too, the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our forefathers, as Israel of old, from their native land, and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life; who has covered our infancy with His providence, and our riper years with His wisdom and power; and to whose goodness I ask you to join with me in supplications, that He will so enlighten the minds of your servants, guide their councils, and prosper their measures, that whatsoever they do shall result in your good and shall secure you the peace, friendship, and approbation of all nations.

BEFORE ALEINU (key theme: the responsibility rests on us)

John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961 (56 years ago today)

So let us begin anew, remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate… And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: Ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man. Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.

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