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Friday Night's Sermon: Why no Torah readings on Friday Night?

The issue came up recently about changing the Friday night service to include a mini-Torah service. This was postulated since we typically do not get a minyan Saturday morning for the Shabbat Shachrit service and therefore do not typically take out the Torah. There are reasons why, with a few exceptions, Torah services are typically conducted in the morning.

When the Second Temple was destroyed, and our people scattered in exile, the rabbis developed our services based on the sacrifices that were conducted. There were prayers and psalms that were recited, but the main focus were the sacrifices. The rabbis wanted Judaism to continue until such time as we rebuilt the Temple and either resumed the sacrifices or enacted another appropriate program based on whatever divine inspiration or prophecy was given by HaShem.

The morning service was the main service of the day. The animals were prepared, the altar was cleaned, ashes from the previous day were removed, the incense was set up, the menorah was checked to make sure there was enough oil. Later on in the day, typically towards dusk, there was another, lesser sacrifice. Many rabbis, in fact, will wait until about half an hour before sundown to daven Minchah. No sacrifices were conducted at night because typically there was enough food left over.

Consequently, when we were left without a Temple, the morning service was designed to replicate that process. Many Orthodox Jews when davening the Shachrit service will typically include portions from Torah that discussed the process of sacrifice, incense and setting up the menorah. This is the vicarious way of complying with those particular Torah commandments.

We remember the three prayer services as originating from the Patriarchs. Abraham originated the Shachrit service, Isaac the Minchah and Jacob the Ma’ariv. This was the pattern of the Temple services and the Ma’ariv was typically short and of course included the Shema and its blessings.

The sages disagreed about designing and even including the Ma’ariv service. Some suggested it either not be done or optional since there was no corresponding sacrifice. Others felt that since it was implied by Torah it should be included. They compromised, ultimately and said, yes, it should be done, but there would be no repetition of Amidah and thus there is no Kedushah as part of it.

Since the Shachrit service was the main service of the day, this is when we do the Torah service and when we wear a tallit with the tzitzit. There are two exceptions to this. The Shabbat Minchah (Afternoon) service is a shortened Torah service with three aliyot. This was enacted by the prophet Ezra to make sure that people observing Shabbat had something to do and wouldn’t have free time and be tempted to break Shabbat. Some people will wear a tallit for that service especially if they’re being called up to the Torah. The second exception is Yom Kippur afternoon; this is a very holy day, similar in holiness to Shabbat, and therefore we have an afternoon Torah service for the sanctity of the day.

We do not wear a tallit for other Minchah services not any Ma’ariv services. The one exception is Erev Yom Kippur, again due to the holiness of the day. In fact, most Jews do not wear tzitzit at night either with a tallit or the small tzitzit. This is because the third paragraph of the “V’Ahavta” states, “when you look at them”, and at night it’s dark and we typically cannot see.

This may bring up the question, why do we say the V’Ahavta at night if we don’t carry out that particular commandment? This is because we’re commanded to say, but given the circumstances, again according to our sages, only wear them during the time of the day when we are able to see them.

Of course, we can study Torah any time of the day. The formal readings, however, is only done as per the aforementioned times.

It is important, then, that we devote that time during Shabbat to join with other Jews in forming a minyan and participate in a Torah service. Consider that it is by divine design that we need at least ten. Yes, it may be an inconvenience, but it compels us to come together as a community. People often quote, in appropriate context, that it takes a village. So too with Torah.

In coming together during that special time, we are a community. We support each and be with each other. This is how we’ve survived for so long and under the most challenging times.

Many references to that are found in Torah. We are commanded to help someone who is destitute by offering them interest-free loans; we allow the vulnerable and underprivileged to help themselves to our gleanings; we see someone on the side of the road struggling with their beast of burden, we assist them.

So too do we assist each other in our spiritual journey as we evolve spiritually.

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