Simanim 119-122 Closing of the Amida

  • Rav Asher Meir
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mishna Berura
Yeshivat Har Etzion

SHIUR #64: Simanim 119-122: CLOSING OF THE AMIDA

Pages 289-292


by Rav Asher Meir






The halakha of adding personal requests to standardized berakhot is somewhat neglected.  In an earlier shiur (number 55, on siman 98) we discussed the importance of prayer in general, and we quoted Rav Moshe Feinstein's statement that turning to God with one's needs is an essential part of belief in God.  Although standardized berakhot have great significance, and challenge each Jew to turn his national goals into his or her, these fixed benedictions are certainly not meant to take the place of a personal petition to God.


Although it is appropriate to say personal prayers at any time of day, there are two advantages to making these requests during the Amida.  First, during this time the ideal conditions are present for concentration in prayer.  Second, merging personal prayers with those of the Jewish people as a whole encourages a person to view his own needs within the framework of the needs of Am Yisrael (see MB s.k. 3).


The source for our siman is a passage in Avoda Zara:


It is taught [in a beraita]: R. Eliezer says, One should ask one's needs and then pray, as it is written (Tehillim 102:1), "A prayer of the poor man who is overcome [with sorrows], and [then] pours out his speech before HaShem..."

R. Yehoshua says, He should pray and then ask his needs, as it is written (Tehillim 142), "I will pour out my speech before Him, [and then] my sorrow before Him will I declare ..."

What is the source of their dispute?  As R. Simlai learned: One should array praises of God and afterwards pray.  And this is learned from Moshe Rabeinu, as it is written: "HaShem, God, You have begun to show to Your servant ..." and afterwards it is written, "Let me now continue and see the good land."  R. Yehoshua agrees that we learn from Moshe, [so we must start with praise, namely with the opening blessings of the Amida].  Whereas R. Eliezer thinks we can't learn from Moshe, whose [spiritual] might was so great [that there was no insincerity in starting with praise and putting off his request].

And the Sages say not like either one, rather one should ask his needs in "Shome'a Tefilla."

Rav Yehuda the son of Rav Shmuel bar Shilat said in the name of Rav: Even though [the Sages] said that one would ask his needs in Shome'a Tefilla, even so if he wants to say at the end of any benediction a request in the nature of that benediction, he may do so.

Rav Chiya bar Ashi said in the of Rav: Even though [the Sages] said that one would ask his needs in Shome'a Tefilla, even so if he has a sick person at home he should say [his prayer] in the blessing for the sick, and if he is in need of livelihood he should say [his prayer] in the blessing of the year.

Rav Yehoshua ben Levi said: Even though [the Sages] said that one whould ask his needs in Shome'a Tefilla, even so if he wants to say [his own prayer] after the Amida, even if it is as long as the Yom Kippur prayers, he may do so. (Avoda Zara 7b-8a)


R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua seem to think that Shmoneh Esrei is not relevant to the individual at all.  Otherwise, they would agree to putting personal requests in the middle.  After all, everyone agrees that we should IDEALLY learn from Moshe Rabeinu; the only problem is seeming insincerity.  This problem doesn't arise when we put requests in the Amida, since then we are REQUIRED to begin with praises.  The Sages indicate that although Shmoneh Esrei is the prayer of the community, individual prayers are also relevant.  In fact, each Jew's personal prayer is part and parcel of the corresponding communal prayer!


It automatically follows that a person should say private prayers in Shome'a Tefilla, or in the benediction that corresponds to his individual request.


It makes sense that since we want our own requests to be integrated into the fixed prayers, they shouldn't be too long.  This seems to be implicit in the words of Rav Yehoshua ben Levi, who says that [only] AFTER Shmoneh Esrei can one pray as long as he likes.  This inference is made by Tosafot and brought down in the SA in our siman.  In this way, a person can maintain the solemn atmosphere of the Amida as a whole, and avoid interfering with the individual fixed benedictions.




The gemara states that one adds to the blessing for healing "if he has a sick person at home."  The Shulchan Arukh shortens this statement to "if he had a sick person."  Even this more general wording suggests that it should be a sick person who is "his," or someone with whom he has a relationship.  Indeed, the Tzitz Eliezer infers from this same wording in another context that only household members are included (Tzitz Eliezer Vol. IX, "Kuntres Refu'a Be-Shabbat," chapter 3 siman 4.)


Does the Mishna Berura recognize such a limitation?  See siman 116:3.






The MB at the end of the siman cites in the name of the Tur two ways of punctuating this berakha, and three understandings in all:


1. "Ve-hashev et ha-avoda l-devir beitekha.., ve-ishei Yisrael u-tefilatam tekabel be-ratzon" - "Restore the Temple service, and may the 'ishim' of Israel and their prayers be acceptable" - where "ishim" is the plural of "esh" (a burnt-offering) or of "ish" (a man, in this context a righteous person).

2.  The same as 1, except that ishim is the plural of ish.

3. "Ve-hashev et ha-avoda ... ve-ishei Yisrael, u-tefilatam ... tekabel be-ratzon" - "Restore the service to the Temple, and [also] the sacrifices of Israel, and may their prayers be acceptable."


The Taz favors the second interpretation (ishei = righteous); the Gra favors the third.


All three understandings are mentioned in Tosafot.  (The midrash mentioned in the MB is on Menachot 110a.)  Tosafot write: "Some say [Michael's sacrifice] is the souls of the righteous; and some say fiery lambs.  And this is what we say in Avoda, "May the 'ishim' of Israel and their prayers be acceptable."

But some say that [ishim] belongs in the first half of the sentence - "Restore the Temple service and the 'ishim' of Israel."


As I have translated, the first version is the most grammatically correct.  The second version seems to put half of the object before the preposition and half after, and also leaves "THEIR prayers" without an obvious referent.  But perhaps "ishei yisrael" is meant to be part of the prepositional phrase: "Restore the service TO the sanctuary of Your house and TO the fires of Israel."  Or perhaps it is a new object, unrelated to the preposition: "Restore the service to the sanctuary of Your house, and [restore also] the fires of Israel."


Those congregations referred to by the Shulchan Arukh who (erroneously) used to start the benediction with the words "ve-ishei Yisrael" obviously connected these words with the second half of the berakha, since the first half was omitted entirely.  They clearly understood according to the first version.


I have several translations, all of which punctuate the first way.






The subject of bowing was dealt with at length in the shiur on siman 113.




The mishna (Berakhot 33b) rules that one who repeats "modim" must be silenced.  The gemara explains that repeating "modim" indicates recognition of two "rulers."  This resembles dualist heresy, which recognizes the domain of evil as an independent authority, not under the control of God.


It may be that the problem is not merely one of appearances: in the time of the Mishna when dualist religions were popular, the sages may very well have been worried that someone who prayed in this way was ACTUALLY a heretic.  But even today the halakha is unchanged, as this insistence on proper appearance helps to underscore our uncompromising belief in God's unity and supremacy.






The rules regarding proper responses during "Elokai netzor" - the petition customarily recited after the last benediction of the Shmoneh Esrei as part of the Amida - are very important.  Anyone who prays more slowly than the shaliach tzibur will need to know what responses are permissible and when.


Based upon the SA, the Rema, and the MB we can distinguish several segments of this prayer, listed here from the most strict downward:


1. Between "Ha-mevarekh et amo Yisrael be-shalom" and "yihyu le-ratzon," in a community where yihyu le-ratzon is said right after the nineteen benedictions and where a short prayer after this berakha is said only occasionally.  Permitted responses: see SA beginning of se'if 1.


2a. Between "Ha-mevarekh et amo Yisrael be-shalom" and "yihyu le-ratzon," in a congregation where yiyhu le-ratzon is said only after the short prayer, again if such a short prayer is said only occasionally.  Permitted responses: see Rema in se'if 1.


2b. AFTER yihyu le-ratzon in a community where a short prayer ("Elokai netzor") is ALWAYS said.  (All contemporary congregations.)  Permitted responses: SA end of se'if 1.


3. After all customary petitions are finished.  This may refer either to a person saying petitions in a community where such petitions are said only occasionally (MB s.k. 1) or where they are always said but the individual has finished saying them (MB s.k. 4).  Yihyu le-ratzon must also be finished (BH).


The end of s.k. 4 seems to suggest that the last case - an individual who always says "Elokai netzor" but has finished doing so - is actually a fourth case, more lenient than the case of one who doesn't usually say so but is doing so in this prayer.


There is a slight discrepancy between this siman and 119.  In 119, we learned that individual prayers at the end of the Amida may be of unlimited length.  In this siman (end of se'if 1), we learn that one should abbreviate them in order to say ALL of kedusha with the shaliach tzibur  - even though one may reply to kedusha while in the middle of these prayers.


A story about a related question can help us resolve this discrepancy.  We have already learned that one may skip certain parts of the service in order to say the Amida with the congregation; logically, one may also skip in order to pray "vatikin" at sunrise, since this is at least as important as prayer with a minyan.  What about RUSHING in order to daven "vatikin?"  When the Chazon Ish was asked this question, he replied: "Tefilla is important too - not just the time of tefilla!" (Dinim ve-Hanhagot p. 45, cited in Tefilla Ke-Hilkheta ch. 3 note 39.).


There are many areas of halakha where tension arises between the detailed rules of a mitzva and the spirit of the mitzva.  The resolution can differ depending on even minor details.  For instance, there is a mitzva to eat on Shabbat because of Oneg Shabbat, but someone who doesn't like to eat will be fulfilling the DETAILS of the mitzva at the expense of the purpose of the mitzva.  Accordingly, the SA (OC 288:2) permits such a person to fast.  The same tension exists on Yom Tov, but some authorities rule that on Yom Tov the ruling is different because of the special rule of "chatzi lakhem" - half of the day is specially designated for bodily enjoyment. (Darkhe Moshe on OC 288, citing the Mordekhai.)


When the rules of prayer are concerned, there is even more reason to resolve these discrepancies in favor of the spirit of prayer, as opposed to the technicalities of prayer, (given that the fundamental rules governing the structure of prayer are followed).  As we pointed out in a previous shiur (siman 98), tefilla which lacks the basic consciousness of standing before God is not tefilla at all.  For this reason, some Chasidic leaders used to pray without a minyan when they felt this would strengthen their intention.


If we apply this principle to our case, we might resolve the discrepancy as follows: If one's lengthy petition is an essential part of one's prayer - this is an inherent part of the case we want to make before the Almighty - then one can go on at length as one does on Yom Kippur.  But if these petitions are a kind of addition or appendix to one's prayer, then it is more important to participate in Kedusha.