Posts Tagged ‘prayer’

After explaining that the ultimate intent of tefillah (prayer) is to cause the Almighty’s divine light to shine upon the earth and thereby repair it in through the establishment of His Kingship (see this post), Nefesh haChayim (Gate II, Ch. 11) goes on to explain what prayer ought not to be:

Though the Talmud (Sandhedrin 8A) teaches that an individual may insert their own words into their prayer concerning their personal needs and troubles, within the blessing related to that particular matter, even in doing so, one’s ultimate intent should not be to address one’s own trouble [rather to increase the glory of the Almighty by removing this evil], and this is not the proper path for those who are upright in their hearts.

About 13 years ago, while a student at Brooklyn College, I was very active at the Hillel House and even held a position on the e-board (basically, a student board — not sure what the “e” stood for, “executive” maybe?) as “Director of Jewish Learning.

Anyway, I attended a Hillel “leadership” weekend retreat (essentially a “shabbaton”) at the Hamptons. Davening, meals and other functions took place at the Hamptons Shul. There were a lot of funny (i.e. unusual) things about that shul, as anyone who has ever been there can tell you, but I remember one in particular that his bothered me for the last 13 years. Until now.

During Shabbos morning services, the assistant rabbi would call out, in the middle of the services, the respective page numbers of whatever section the congregation was meant to be up to. Now, while everyone knows that “talking” during the services is strictly forbidden (an alien from outer space visiting many Orthodox shuls today might not get that impression, but, whatever), certain utterances are permitted in case of pressing need, such as announcing pages in a congregation in which many attendees would otherwise have difficulty following the service. The Hamptons shul certainly qualifies.

But if there is one place where EVERYBODY knows that NO INTERRUPTION is allowed, it is between the blessing of “Gaal Yisrael” and Shemoneh Esreh (a.k.a. the Amidah or “Silent Meditation”).

Therefore was I ever shocked when, whaddaya know, right after “Gaal Yisrael” the assistant rabbi goes ahead and shouts out the page number! Hey, was this shul Orthodox or what? (Now, as I mentioned earlier, the Hamptons Shul is not your typical Orthodox shul, but still, I imagined there had to be some justification in halacha for this practice, and besides, the assistant rabbi — I had shmoozed with him — was a graduate of Yeshiva University, and his mode of dress gave off a pretty frum impression: black suit, white shirt, you know. So I was surprised that he would do this.)

Well, ladies and gents, with patience and diligence comes reward.

So, I should probably be embarrassed by this,  but in this day and age, no one seems to be embarrassed about anything. The things people are not ashamed to post to social media! I won’t recount here some things I saw recently, cuz the people who posted ’em might read this and get mad at me. (Who am I kidding? No one reads my blog!) But my reaction was something like: Really? You would post that for all to see? I think it’s low enough to begin with, but at least share your ambitions over a private message with a few potential candidates who might appreciate such a message. But publicly? Where is the shame? Where is the dignity? *AHEM* Excuse me, but I digress. My point is that in comparison, my shame seems a lot more dignified and justifiable to publish.

And that is my plain ignorance of an open statement in Shulchan Aruch (the Code of Jewish Law). Orach Chayim 110:1 clearly lays out the prohibition to interrupt between Gaal Yisrael and Shemoneh Esreh, but the Rama comments there that according to some opinions this prohibition only exists on weekdays and Yom Tov (Festival Days), but NOT ON SHABBOS! (See there for the reason for this exception.) Rama concludes that one should be stringent except in cases of NEED, and as I mentioned earlier, in this congregation, that need does exist. So this was perfectly acceptable Ashkenazic practice! Shame on me for being so ignorant! Though, in my defense, I did judge favorably in assuming there must have been some halachic justification for this, rather than assuming that these people were just plain sinners. Go me!

And after 13 years of wondering, a little Torah study once again puts my mind at ease.


Another source that the son of the widow of Tzorphath was Yonah (Jonah):

Pirkey d’Rabi Eliezer 33:

Rabbi Shimon said: It is through the power of charity that the dead are destined to be resurrected. From where do we learn this? From Eliyahu (Elijah) the Tishbite who would go from mountain to mountain and from cave to cave. He went to Tzorphat and a widow received him with great honor. She was the mother of Yonah (Jonah), and from her bread and from her oil he, she and her son ate and drank… After some days, her son became sick and died… The woman said to him, ‘Did you come to me to cause my iniquity to be remembered [i.e. because I am so deficient in merit compared to you, your presence causes me to appear wicked in G-d’s eyes (based on Rashi’s comments to Kings 17:18)] so that my son should die? Rather, take what you have brought me and bring me my son!’ Eliyahu stood up and prayed before the Holy One Blessed is He and said: ‘Master of the Universe, all the evils that have passed over me and over my head are not enough, but even this woman, whom I know has spoken against me harshly out of anguish over her son. Now the generations will learn that there is resurrection of the dead! Return the life of the boy!’ [G-d] accepted his [prayer].

Women and Tefillah

[NOTE: The word “tefilah” here connotes the silent meditative prayer, also called “Shemoneh Esreh” or “Amidah,” that forms the core of all Jewish prayer services.]

Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), Orach Chayim 106:1:

“Women… even though they are exempt from reciting the Sh’ma, are obligated in tefillah, because it is a positive commandment that is not time-bound.”

Mishnah Berurah, ad loc, 4:

“All this is according to the Rambam (Maimonides), that only the times for tefillah are from the Sages, but the principle commandment of tefillah is from the Torah, as it says, ”and to serve Him with all your heart’ — What is the service that is with the heart? This is tefillah,’ but that there is no known formula (i.e. wording) from the Torah, and one may pray with any wording that one desires and at any time that one desires. And once one prays, either by day or by night, one has fulfilled one’s obligation from the Torah. And Magen Avraham wrote that according to this reasoning it is the practice of the majority of women that they do not pray Shemoneh Esreh consistently by day or night, since they say in the morning, immediately after washing, some request (‘bakashah’), and they fulfill their obligation from the Torah with this, and it is possible that even the Sages did not obligate more. But the opinion of the Ramban (Nachmanides) is that the principle obligation of tefillah is from the Sages, that is, the Men of the Great Assembly, who established the eighteen blessings in their order, as obligatory to pray them morning (‘Shacharith’) and afternoon (‘Minchah’), and as optional in the evening (‘Arvith’). And even though this is a positive commandment from the Sages that is time-bound, and women are exempt from all positive time-bound commandments, even those from the Sages… even so [the Sages] obligated them to pray Shacharith and Minchah like men, since tefillah is a request for mercy, and this is the principle opinion, for this is the opinion of the majority of authorities… therefore it is correct to instruct the women to pray Shemoneh Esreh… All this is as regards Shacharith and Minchah, but the tefillah of Arvith which is optional, even though now all Israel has accepted it upon themselves as obligatory, nevertheless, the women did not accept it upon themselves, and the majority of them do not pray Arvith.”

Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 101:4:

Some say that [one one must pray only in the Holy Tongue (Hebrew)] when one is asking for one’s needs, such as praying for a sick person…

Mishnhah Berurah, ad loc:

That is, when [the one praying] is not in the presence of the sick person, but in the presence of the sick person it is permitted [to pray] in any language one desires, for the Holy One Blessed is He is present [in the place of a sick person].

See this post and this post for more on this topic.

Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 101:4:

When praying alone (i.e. not with a quorum of ten men), one should only pray in the Holy Tongue (i.e. Hebrew)… There are those that opine that even an one praying alone, when asking [G-d] for one’s needs, may ask in any language that one desires, except for the Aramaic language.

Mishnah Berurah, ad loc:

“one should only pray in the Holy Tongue” — because the Ministering Angels are not familiar with the Aramaic language, and so is the case for any language other than the Holy Tongue. However, [when praying] with the congregation, [the congregation] does not require an intermediary, for the Holy One Blessed is He himself accepts their prayers.

“even when praying alone… one may ask in any language… except for the Aramaic language” — [These opinions] maintain that the angels are familiar with all languages, but merely do not submit themselves to the Aramaic language because it is lowly in their eyes.

NOTE: These halachoth (laws) are based on the traditional idea that when not praying in a congregation of ten or more men, the Almighty only accepts one’s prayers through an angelic proxy that is created by the purity of intent of the individual that is praying. This is considered a much less efficacious form of prayer since the power of the angels to carry out this task may vary according to the intent of the one who is praying, as well as many other metaphysical factors and circumstances, while prayer with the congregation supersedes any of these external barriers to which angels may be vulnerable.