July 18, 2024
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July 18, 2024
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Megillah 17b.

If you need a salary raise, you will have to find the opportune moment to approach your boss and the right thing to say. If you need an appointment with the doctor, you will have to fit in with his or her schedule, wait in the doctor’s office and pay.

But, through prayer, we can talk to the Real Boss three times a day, no appointment needed.

When our sages talk of tefillah, prayer, they are referring to the Shemoneh Esrei, so called because it originally contained 18 blessings, even though today, it contains 19.

The prayer is also referred to in the Zohar as the Amidah, the standing prayer, because Abraham, the founder of prayer, stood when he prayed to God. The term Amidah also conveys the oneonone audience with God in which we address Him directly with the word Atah, You, rather than in the third person.

Our forefathers were the first to address God in prayer: Abraham in the morning, Isaac in the afternoon, and Jacob in the evening. But their prayers were voluntary and impromptu. During the time of the Second Temple, the text of the Amidah was formulated by a group of 120 Sages known as the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah, Men of the Great Assembly. After the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 69 of the Common Era, Rabbi Gamliel II put the Amidah into the form we know today, and the recital of the Amidah three times a day became obligatory.

Prayers today are a substitute for the Korbanot, the Temple Service. In legislating the laws and times of prayer, our Sages drew heavily from the laws of Korbanot. Thus the earliest time for reciting the Amidah in the morning is just after dawn (and preferably just after sunrise), which is equivalent to the earliest time that the Korban Tamid, the daily morning sacrifice was brought in the Temple.

The latest time that the Amidah may be recited in the morning is the latest time that the Korban Tamid could be brought, namely up to the first third of the day. Depending on the length of time between sunrise and sunset, the latest time could be up to the sixth Halachic hour of the day in summer and the third Halachic hour of the day in winter. The “Halachic hour” is the unit of time derived by dividing the period of time between sunrise and sunset by 12.

Similarly, the earliest time for reciting the Amidah in the afternoon is one half an hour past midday, which was the earliest time that the afternoon Tamid was brought in the Temple and is called Mincha Gedola. The latest time for reciting the afternoon Amidah is equivalent to the latest time that the afternoon Tamid could be brought which, according to one opinion in the Talmud, was one and a quarter hours before night, a time known as Plug Haminchah, and according to another opinion, until night.

The Amidah of Maariv can be recited any time after night (or Plug Haminchah when praying with a minyan) until midnight and in extenuating circumstances, until dawn, because those parts of the sacrifice that were consumed by the fires of the altar, remained burning throughout the night until dawn.

There are other laws pertaining to Korbanot that govern the Amidah. Like the Korbanot, which required total concentration on the part of the Kohen in charge of the sacrificial ceremony, to the point that any foreign thought could disqualify the Korban, the Amidah must be recited with total concentration. At a minimum one must concentrate when reciting the first blessing of the Amidah, which recounts the special relationship between God and our forefathers.

Like the Korbanot that were offered up in certain designated areas of the Temple, we should recite the Amidah in a designated place, a makom kavua in the synagogue. Like the Kohen who stood during the sacrificial ceremony, the Amidah must be recited in the standing position. And like the Kohen, who clothed himself with priestly vestments of glory, we too should be dressed in an appropriate and dignified manner when reciting the Amidah.

When Moses beseeched God to allow him to enter Israel, he began by praising God and His qualities. We take our cue from Moses, and before submitting our wish list in the Amidah, we recite three blessings in praise of God. Accordingly, in the first blessing, known as Avot, we extol the relationship between God and our forefathers. We know from history that God will never turn away our prayers if we remind Him of that relationship. Only when Moses reminded God of that relationship with our forefathers did God forgive the sin of the golden calf.

The next blessing, known as Gevurot, extols the strength of God as demonstrated by His mercy. Eize Hu Gibor Hakovesh et Yitzro, real strength lies in restraint. God’s strength is demonstrated by the fact that he resists the urge to apply the full force of law and sustains the world and renews life on the basis of mercy. The third blessing is known as Kedushat Hashem, in which we acknowledge the holiness of God which we strive to emulate.

In the next three blessings we ask God for spiritual health in the form of wisdom, forgiveness and repentance. Following those we ask Him for our physical needs in the form of redemption, good health and economic prosperity. In the next seven blessings we ask God for the needs of the nation of Israel. In the 16th blessing known as Shema Koleinu, we ask God to hearken to all our requests, both individual and national.

In the 17th blessing, known as the Retzeh or Avodah, we ask God to accept our prayers in the same way as the priests asked God to accept their Korban. In the 18th blessing, known as Hoda’ah, thanksgiving, we thank God for the daily miracles that keep us alive. In the 19th blessing, known as Sim Shalom, or Birchat Kohanim, we ask God to bless the people of Israel with prosperity and with God’s continued presence, just as the priests did each morning at the end of the Tamid ceremony.

After all, the most treasured asset that a human being can aspire to is peace. Without it, one cannot enjoy prosperity. Accordingly, the Amidah closes with a request for peace.

Raphael Grunfeld, a partner at the Wall Street law firm of Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP, received semichah in Yoreh Yoreh from Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem of America and in Yadin Yadin from Harav Haga’on Dovid Feinstein, Zt”l. This article is an extract from Raphael’s book “Ner Eyal: A Guide to Seder Nashim, Nezikin, Kodashim, Taharot and Zerai’m” available for purchase at www.amazon.com/dp/057816731X or by emailing Raphael at [email protected].

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