Memorial service opening prayer

This is a prayer used as a reading  in memory of Jessica.

Don’t grieve for me, for now I’m free
I’m following the path God laid for me.
I took his hand when I heard him call
I turned my back and left it all.
I could not stay another day
to laugh, to love, to work or play.
Tasks undone must stay that away.
I found that peace at close of day.
If my parting has left a void
then fill it with remembered joy.
A friendship shared, a laugh, a kiss,
ah, yes these things I too will miss.
Be not burdened with times of sorrow
I wish you the sunshine of tomorrow.
My life s been full, Iv e savored much,
good friends, good times,
a loved one s touch.
Perhaps my time seemed all to brief,
don’t lenghten it now with undue grief.
Lift up your hearts and share with me
God wanted me now:
He set me free.

Robert Burcham

A modified version:

Don’t grieve for me, for now I’m free;
I took his hand when I heard him call;
I turned my back and left it all.

If my parting has left a void;
then fill it with remembered joy.

My life’s been full, I’ve savored much;
good friends, good times,
a loved one’s touch.

A friendship shared, a laugh, a kiss;
ah, yes these things I too will miss.
Perhaps my time seemed all to brief;
don’t lengthen it now with undo grief.
Lift up your hearts and share with me;
God wanted me now,
He set me free.

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President Obama at the memorial service for Mandela. Photo: Screenshot.

Below is the full transcript of Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein’s opening prayer at the memorial service held for Nelson Mandela in South Africa on December 10, 2013.

G-d and King, who is full of compassion, G-d of the spirits of all flesh, in whose hands are the souls of the living and the dead, receive, we beseech You, in Your great loving kindness the soul of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela who has been gathered unto his people.

Remember for him the righteousness which he has done.

Remember, O L-rd, how he exemplified the finest qualities of your servant Joseph, about whose great leadership, generosity of spirit and powers of forgiveness, we read in your Hebrew Bible. Joseph, the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham was thrown into a pit with snakes and scorpions by his brothers who were filled with hatred and jealousy towards him; and he was then sold into slavery and exiled from his father and from his home for twenty two years, many of which, due to a terrible injustice, were spent in jail..

Joseph emerged from jail to become a leader and head of government of a mighty nation, and when he was reunited with his brothers, had the opportunity to exact vengeance and justice.  And yet, Joseph, the righteous, transcended his personal pain and need for retribution by forgiving his brothers so that his family would not be torn apart and destroyed forever.

So too, Oh L-rd, your servant Nelson Mandela, like the biblical Joseph, rose up from jail to become President of a mighty nation; he too transcended his personal pain and years of suffering to forgive and to embrace his brothers and sisters who had inflicted so much pain on him and so many millions of others, in order that our diverse South African family would not be torn apart by hatred and division.

Madiba brought to life the ancient words of Joseph when he said to his brothers   in Genesis chapter 50 verse 19:

“‘Fear not – for am I in place of G-d? Although you intended me harm, G-d redirected  it for good: in order to accomplish – as is clear this day – that a vast people be kept alive. So now, fear not – I will sustain you and your young ones.’ And so he comforted them and spoke to their heart.”

Nelson Mandela spoke to our hearts. He brought us comfort. And through his mighty power of forgiveness he sustained us, and liberated our country from the pit of prejudice and injustice, unleashing the awesome generosity of spirit of millions of South Africans.

Let his reward be with him, and his recompense before him. Shelter his soul in the shadow of Your wings. Make known to him the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand, bliss for evermore. Bestow upon him the abounding happiness that is treasured up for the righteous

O G-d, who heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds, grant Your consolation to the mourners. Strengthen and support them in the day of their grief and sorrow; and remember them and their families for a long and good life. Wipe away the tears of all South Africans, and indeed the world. Bless the people of this country, a nation of heroes, who came together to transcend the pain of the past, in order to build a great nation on earth,  and inspire our hearts to continue to walk in the path of Nelson Mandela, to live up to his majestic legacy.

As the Bible says,

“Like one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you, says the L-rd, and in Jerusalem shall you be comforted. Your sun shall never more set, neither shall your moon wane; for the L-rd G-d shall be your everlasting light, and the days of your mourning shall be ended.” And let us say Amen.

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Losing a loved one can bring about an array of emotions and feelings. Making it through the grieving process starts with the memorial and burial as you carry onward to the next stages of coping. To ease the pain, here is a look at some good opening prayers for funerals to get you started.

Prayers #1

Good afternoon everybody. May I ask that we all bow our heads in prayer.

Our Lord we acknowledge your presence here, and come before your throne this afternoon as friends and family of Adrian Elm. We are here because we love him and miss him and we want to cherish our memories of him, we want to honor his life and honor him and support one another as we grieve his passing – a passing from life here with us to everlasting life there with you O Lord.

God, thank you for Adrian! You formed him, you knew him, you walked with him through 80 years, and even now we have confidence that he is in your presence.

Thank you that you are a God of mercy, who promises to comfort us, particularly when we lose our loved ones, and so in these moments now, and in the weeks and months ahead, please bring comfort and mercy to us as we remember, and share fondly all that Adrian was to us.

In the mighty and holy name of Jesus we pray.
Amen.

Prayers #2

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die:
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
A time to break down, and a time to build up:
A time to weep, and a time to laugh:
A time to mourn and a time to dance:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.

Prayers #3

Our father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; But deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, The power, and the glory, For ever and ever.

Prayers #4

The Lord is my shepherd: I shall lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He guides me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.You anoint my head with oil. My cup runs over. Surely goodness and loving kindness shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Prayers #5

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the gentle,
for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness,
for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Prayers #6

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.

Prayers #7

Now my soul is deeply troubled. Shall I pray, ‘Father save me from what lies ahead?’ But that is the very reason why I came! Father, bring glory and honor to your name.

Prayers #8

Father,
We are grieving over the unexpected loss of our brother. Lord, just last Sunday he was telling me how excited he was to be part of this church. He was on fire for You, Father. We all saw how joy radiated from him. His love for You was unquenchable and we are mourning the loss of this wonderful man. Father, be with his wife and young children. Raise this congregation up to be the hands and feet of Jesus to this family. Father, love on John’s children. Wrap Your arms around them, for there will be a day when they see him again in Heaven. Father, speak tenderly to his wife and comfort her in this unbearable time of life. Father, this is a very tragic event and yet we know that nothing surprises You. So, in faith we continue to ask and seek Your will in this most desperate time of need. Father, shower this family with love and affection as they grieve through this painful time. We love You, and thank You for Jesus! Amen

Prayers #9

God be in my head,
and in my understanding;
God be in my eyes,
and in my looking;
God be in my mouth,
and in my speaking;
God be in my heart,
and in my thinking;
God be at my end,
and at my departing.
Amen.

Prayers #10

Lord, in weakness or in strength
we bear your image.
We pray for those we love
who now live in a land of shadows,
where the light of memory is dimmed,
where the familiar lies unknown,
where the beloved become as strangers.
Hold them in your everlasting arms,
and grant to those who care
a strength to serve,
a patience to persevere,
a love to last
and a peace that passes human understanding.
Hold us in your everlasting arms,
today and for all eternity;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Check out this one memorial service with a selection of opening prayers that are recited and exchanged.

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A basic explanation of the what, how and why of this meaningful prayer.

Yizkor (remembrance) is the memorial service recited for deceased parents and other relatives at several points throughout the year. The name of the prayer means “May He remember” (“He” being God and “Yizkor” being the first word of the prayer). Not only do many who recite the prayer find it to be a moving, emotional experience, it also has the power to elevate spiritually the souls of the departed.

Yizkor is predicated on the Jewish concept of the immortality of the soul. Although the deceased can no longer perform mitzvot, they can benefit from prayers, acts of charity, and other good deeds that their survivors perform on their behalf. Yizkor is an excellent time for personal reflection and to commit to particular actions or general self-improvement as a source of merit for the departed.

The Yizkor prayer is typically preceded by an appeal in the synagogue. This is not a mercenary attempt to extort funds from a captive audience; committing to give charity is an inherent part of the Yizkor experience. If one says the prayer by himself at home, he should nevertheless commit to donate to an appropriate charity in the deceased’s memory.

What are the Origins of Yizkor? When is It Recited and Why?

There are four holidays on which we recite Yizkor. It is said on Yom Kippur, the last day of Passover, the second day of Shavuot and on Shemini Atzeret (a separate holiday at the end of Sukkot). (In Israel, where there is one day less of Yom Tov, Yizkor is recited on the seventh day of Passover and the only day of Shavuot; Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are the same day in Israel.)

The original practice was to recite Yizkor only on Yom Kippur. This is because as “yom hakippurim” (“the day of atonements” – plural), the day effects atonement for both the living and the deceased. This is especially true through the act of giving charity, which is both an integral part of the atonement process and an important theme of the prayer Yizkor.

The roots of Yizkor are found in the Midrash Tanchuma (Ha’azinu 1), where it cites Deuteronomy 21:8, “Atone for Your people, Israel, whom You have redeemed.” We are told that the first part of the verse refers to the living of Israel, while the second part refers the deceased. The Midrash continues, “Therefore, our practice is to remember the deceased on Yom Kippur by pledging charity on their behalf.” We are then told not to think that charity no longer helps the departed. Rather, when one pledges charity on the deceased’s behalf, he ascends as quickly as an arrow shot from a bow.

Yizkor was extended from Yom Kippur alone to the Three Festivals, which is thematically appropriate. The Torah tells us (Deuteronomy 16:16-17) that when we make our pilgrimage to the Temple for the holidays, we are not to appear empty-handed. Each person was to make a donation according to his ability. We see from this that charity is also an integral part of the Festivals and therefore a fitting occasion for Yizkor with its emphasis on charity as a merit for the departed.

What Is in Yizkor?

Before starting Yizkor proper, many congregations recite a selection of Biblical verses pertaining to the nature of our lives and after-lives. (For example, “man’s days are like a shadow passing by” – Psalms 144:4; “God will redeem my soul from the depths” – Psalms 49:16, etc.) These verses are followed by the recitation of Psalm 91 (“Yosheiv Ba’seiser”), whose theme is that God is the refuge of mankind. After these readings, we’re ready to begin the actual prayer of Yizkor.

The theme of Yizkor is that we ask God to remember our relatives and to include them in the “bond of life” in paradise alongside the Patriarchs, Matriarchs and other departed righteous. In exchange for this, we commit (without making a vow) to donate charity on their behalf. The primary focus of Yizkor is on one’s parents, but it may also be recited on behalf of other relatives. The paragraphs in the siddur for father, mother and other close relatives have spaces where one can insert the names of the deceased. The Ashkenazic practice is to recite the name of the departed as the son or daughter of (their father’s name); other communities may use the name of the deceased’s mother.

Following Yizkor for one’s relatives, there are paragraphs for victims of the Holocaust and other martyrs.

After all of the Yizkor paragraphs, the prayer Keil Malei Rachamim (“God, full of compassion”) is recited. This prayer is the same one recited at a burial, an unveiling and during the Shabbos mincha service prior to the deceased’s Yahrtzeit. This is followed by the prayer Av Harachamim (“Father of compassion”), a memorial prayer recited on most Sabbaths. It may surprise some to hear that Kaddish is not part of the Yizkor service.

Should I Say Yizkor During the First Year? Should I Go Out if I’m Not Saying It?

A number of aspects of Yizkor are the subject of differences of opinion among the various authorities or matters of local custom. For example, some have the practice not to recite Yizkor during the first year following a death while the emotional wounds are still quite fresh. Others maintain that Yizkor should be recited during the first year the same as in all subsequent years.

One very familiar practice is for those not reciting Yizkor to leave the room while the mourners are saying it. Some will tell you that it is a sign of respect for one’s living parents not to remain inside while Yizkor is being recited for the deceased. Others will say that it is from fear of the ayin hara (“evil eye”) and that those with living parents go out so as not to tempt fate. Opponents of the practice say that going out is based on superstition and not recommended, or perhaps it’s just insensitive to those reciting it. Plus, there are prayers at the end that are recited for victims of the Holocaust and other martyrs; these apply to all members of the congregation, not just to those who have lost close family members. Some would advise staying inside in order to recite those prayers, or to go out and return for them.

In both of these matters, one should follow one’s own family custom or the practice of one’s community. If in doubt, ask your local rabbi.

Why is Shul So Crowded? Can Yizkor be Recited at Home?

It’s ironic that shuls become extra crowded because of a prayer that doesn’t need to be said with a minyan!

It is not uncommon that people who are not regular synagogue attendees will appear on days when Yizkor is recited. Of course there’s nothing wrong with this; it’s actually a wonderful thing that those who are not regular worshipers are willing to go the extra mile (sometimes literally) on behalf of relatives who are no longer with us. If anything, serving as the catalyst for their heirs to attend shul is a merit for the deceased. But if one cannot make it to shul, Yizkor can (and should) still be recited.

While it’s always preferable to pray in shul with a minyan, there are many legitimate reasons that prevent people from attending, such as infirmity or advanced age. If one cannot attend shul, there’s absolutely no reason not to say Yizkor in the privacy of one’s own home. And it is still appropriate to commit to donate to the synagogue or another worthy charity in merit of the departed.

Reprinted with permission from ou.org

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