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The Amida

(The "Standing Prayer" or Shmoneh Esreh)

By Shlomo Phillips © August 31,2014


In this study I will not be covering all the details of properly reciting the Amida nor its long history. My intention is to offer a brief overview for those who are new to Jewish prayer, and the weekday version of the prayer itself. Volumes have been written on related topics. With this piece I hope to provide a brief overview that will answer basic questions related to the central prayer of the Jewish faith. There are recitations that precede and follow the Amida. See a siddur for these. For my study on the Shabbat and Festival Amida please see Here.

This prayer is the foundation of all formal Jewish prayer. It is recited as an integral part of our prayers Mornings, afternoons, and evenings seven days a week. There are differences in the prayer for Shabbat and festivals, as well as some internal variances based on the time of year etc. We won't be looking at all of these here. This is the basic weekday Amida. If you are looking for more specific details I recommend the The Koren Siddur, although all sidurrim will have this prayer in its various forms.

What is becoming the most popular name for this prayer in its various forms is The Amida. This title reveals one of the prayer's most essential elements. It is "the Standing Prayer" (i.e. amida). Jewish traditions and local minhag (customs) vary in many areas of our daily recitations but we all stand before the King when reciting the Amida (except when this is not possible due to physical heath etc., then one is permitted to recite sitting down, laying in a bed etc.).

The more traditional name is Shmoneh Esreh. This title means simply "eighteen" and speaks to the original form of the prayer (established by the 120 men of the Great Assembly in the fifth century BCE, during the days of the biblical Ezra). That original version consisted of eighteen blessings. Shortly after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. the form of the prayer was codified by Simon Ha-Pakuli in Yavneh at the request of the great Rabbi Gamaliel (as explained at Megillah 17b and Berakhot 28b). A nineteenth blessing was added to the daily recitation, numerically making it Tesha Esrei, however tradition is important to us and so the name Shmoneh Esreh was retained.

The Amida is also recited on Shabbat and holidays. At such times it only contains seven of the blessings rather than the full nineteen. Despite this, the same term, Shmoneh Esreh, is often used. Halachic sources however usually refer to these prayers as Tefilat Sheva (i.e. the Prayer of Seven Blessings). To simplify and correct the terminology, the term Amida or Standing Prayer is now commonly used (although the daily prayers are still referred to as Shmoneh Esreh in many circles).

One more important common name for the Amida is the Silent Prayer. This name reflects how we recite the Amida. The prayer is recited in a whisper so low that one can hear oneself praying but no one else present can. When praying with others it is considered a lack of faith (and rude) to recite the Amida more loudly. When praying alone one is permitted to use more volume if it aids concentration. It is not therefore recited completely silently, but almost.

When reciting the Amida one considers that he/she is standing in the Holy Courtroom of the Most High. Since the Divine Presence resides always at the Temple Mount we turn ourselves to face the Kotel (the Western Wall) even as we pray for the restoration of the Temple. We are therefore visualizing our Hope as Jews; we are looking with emuna or active faith to the Third Temple and HaMashiach who will one day lead us. Where ever in the world one is located, Jews look toward the Sacred Mount as they stand before the King in preparation for the Amida. This courtly sense is included in the simple ritual elements of the prayer.

You begin:

Center yourself with calm breathing and full intention (kavana) on what is to be done. Allow no distractions to disturb you. If someone speaks to you do not respond except in cases of extreme circumstances. Your full attention is to be on the King you are preparing to approach. Implicit in this is that before you begin you have handled mundane matters that are likely to distract you. Your attitude should be in imitation of the angles in Ezekiel's vision (Ezekiel 1:7) and of Hanna praying for a child (I Samuel 1:13).

Although you recognize your personal unworthiness to approach the Sovereign, you do so based on His assurances concerning the offspring of the Patriarchs, such a descendant you are if you are Jewish. In the merit of our fathers you approach boldly. You may also have this confidence to approach the Holy One if you have established a relationship with a tzaddik such as Rebbe Nachman whose instructions are encouraging you to be bold in your spiritual disciplines. Now you stand with your feet together before the Holy Presence who is seated on the Sacred Mount.

Throughout this study we are assuming you are not part of a minyan. If so, refer to your siddur and follow the leader's instructions.

At [BOW] bend first the knees, then bow from the waist, then straighten.

Take three small steps forward, mindful that you are approaching the King.


Section One: Praise God

1. Patriarchs (Avot)

[BOW} Blessed are You, Lord our God and God of our fathers,
God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob;
the great, mighty, and awesome God, God Most High,
who bestows acts of loving-kindness, who creates all,
who remembers the loving-kindness of the fathers
and will bring a Redeemer to their children's children
for the sake of His name, in love.

King, Helper, Savior, Shield:
[BOW] Blessed are You, Shield of Abraham.

2. Divine Might (Gevurot)
You are eternally mighty, Lord.
You give life to the dead and have great power to save.

He causes the dew to fall.

He sustains the living with loving-kindness,
and with great compassion revives the dead.
He supports the fallen, heals the sick,
sets the captives free,
and keeps His faith with those who sleep in the dust.
Who is like You, Master of might,
and to whom can You be compared,
O King who brings death and gives life,
and makes salvation grow?

Faithful are You to revive the dead.
Blessed are You, Lord, who revives the dead.
3. Holiness (Kedushat HaShem)
You are holy and Your name is holy,
and holy ones praise You daily, Selah!
Blessed are You, Lord,
the holy God.

Section Two: Request of Needs

A. Personal Needs

Spiritual:

4. Knowledge (Binah)

You grace humanity with knowledge
and teach mortals understanding.
Grace us with the wisdom, understanding
and knowledge that come from You.
Blessed are You, Lord, who graciously grants knowledge.

5. Repentance (Teshuvah)

Bring us back, our Father
to Your Torah.
Draw us near, our King,
to Your service.
lead us back to You in perfect repentance.
Blessed are You, Lord, who desires repentance

6. Forgiveness (Selihah)
At [STRIKE] strike the left side of your chest
Forgive us, our Father, for we have [STRIKE]sinned ,
Pardon us, our King, for we have [STRIKE] transgressed;
for You are the good and forgiving God.
Blessed are You, Lord,
the gracious One who repeatedly forgives.

Physical, Material, and Emotional

7. Redemption -- Security (Geulah)

Look, please, on our affliction, plead our cause,
and redeem us with a complete redemption,
soon, for Your name's sake,
for You are a powerful God and Redeemer.
Blessed are You, Lord, the redeemer of Israel.

8. Healing (Refuah)

Heal us, Lord, and we shall be healed.
Save us and we shall be saved, for You are our praise.
Bring remedy and healing to all our illnesses and pains,
complete recovery for all our ailments,
for You, God, King, are a faithful and compassionate Healer.
Blessed are You, Lord, Healer of the sick of His people Israel.

9. Prosperity (Birkat Hashanim)

Bless this year for us, Lord our God,
and all its types or produce for good

    (Winter) Grant dew and rain as a blessing
    (Other seasons) Grant blessings
on the face of the earth, and from its goodness satisfy us,
and grace our year as the best of years, as a blessing,
for You are the good and beneficent God,
who gives the years their blessing.
Blessed are You, Lord, who blesses the years.

B. Needs of the Jewish People and Society

10. Ingathering of Exiles (Kibbutz Galuyot)
Sound the great shofar [i.e. ram's horn trumpet] for our freedom,
raise high the banner to gather our exiles,
and gather us together speedily,
from the four quarters of the earth back to our Land.
Blessed are You, Lord,
who gathers the dispersed of His people Israel.
11. Restoration of Justice (Birkat Hamishpat)

Restore our judges as at the first,
and our counselors as at the beginning,
and remove from us sorrow and sighing.
May You alone, Lord,
reign over us soon with loving kindness and compassion,
with righteousness and justice.
Blessed are You, Lord,
the King who loves righteousness and justice.

12. Against Informers -- Destruction of Israel's Enemies (Birkat Haminim)
For the slanderers let there be no hope,
and may all heretics perish in an instant.
May all Your people's enemies swiftly be cut down.
may You swiftly uproot, crush, cast down the arrogant,
and obliterate and bring them low
and humble them swiftly in our days.
Blessed are You, Lord,
who destroys enemies and humbles the arrogant.
13. The Righteous (Birkat HaTzadikim)
To the righteous, the pious,
the elders of the remnant of Your people the house of Israel,
the survivors among their scholars,
the righteous converts, and to us,
may Your compassion be aroused, please,
Lord our God.
Grant a good reward to all who sincerely trust in Your name.
Set our lot with them,
so that we may never be ashamed, for in You we trust,
and upon Your great loving-kindness we truly depend.
Blessed are You, Lord,
who is the support and trust of the righteous.
14. Rebuilding Jerusalem (Birkat Yerushalayim)

To Jerusalem, Your city,
may You return in compassion,
and may You dwell in it as You promised.
May You rebuild it rapidly in our days
as an everlasting structure,
and install within it soon the throne of David, Your servant.
Blessed are You, Lord, who builds Jerusalem.

15. Kingdom of David -- Coming of HaMashiach (Birkat David)
May the offshoot of Your servant David soon flower,
and may his pride be raised high by Your salvation,
for we wait for Your salvation all day.
Blessed are You, Lord, who makes the glory of salvation flourish.
C. Summary Blessing

16. Response to Prayer -- Hear Our Prayer (Tefilah)

Compassionate Father, listen to our voice, Lord our God.
Spare us and have compassion on us,
and in compassion and favor accept our prayer,
for You, God, listen to prayers and pleas.
Do not turn us away, O our King,
empty-handed from Your presence,
be gracious to us, answer us and listen to our prayer.
For You listen
to the prayer of every mouth.
Blessed are You, Lord, who listens to prayer.

Section Three: Thanking God

17. Worship (Avodah)
Find favor, Lord our God,
in Your people Israel, and heed their prayer.
Restore the service to Your most holy House,
and accept soon in love and in favor,
the fire-offerings of Israel and their prayer.
May the service o`f Your people Israel, always find favor with You.

And may our eyes witness
Your return to Zion in compassion.
Blessed are You, Lord,
who restores His Presence to Zion.

18. Thanksgiving (Birkat Hodaah)
Bow at the first nine words
(Bow while saying the first nine words)

We give thanks to You,
for You are the Lord our God

and God of our ancestors
for ever and all time.
You are the Rock of our lives,
Shield of our salvation.
from generation to generation.
We will thank You and
declare Your praise for our lives,
which are entrusted into Your hand;
for our souls,
which are placed in Your charge;
for Your miracles
which are with us everyday;
and for Your wonders and favors
at all times, evening,
morning and midday.
You are good --
for Your compassion never fails.
Your are compassionate --
for Your loving
kindnesses never cease;
for we have always
placed our hope in You.

For all these things may Your name be blessed and exalted
and raised up, our King, continually, for ever and all time.

Let all that live thank You, Selah! and praise and bless
Your great name in truth, always, because it is good,
God, our Savior and Help, Selah! the beneficent God.
[BOW] Blessed are You, Lord, whose name is "the Good"
and to whom thanks are due.

19. Peace (Birkat Shalom)
Grant peace, goodness and blessing,
life, grace, loving-kindness and compassion
to us and all Israel Your people.
Bless us, our Father, all as one, with the light of Your face,
for by the light of Your face You have given us, Lord our God,
the Torah of life and love and kindness,
righteousness, blessing, compassion, life and peace.
May it be good in Your eyes to bless us and all Your people Israel
at every time, in every hour, with Your peace.

Blessed are You, Lord, who blesses His people Israel with peace.

My God
Guard my tongue from evil and my lips from deceitful speech.
To those who curse me, let my soul be silent;
may my soul be to all like the dust.
Open my heart to Your Torah and let my soul
pursue Your commandments.
As for all who rise up or plan evil against me,
swiftly thwart their counsel and frustrate their plans.
    [Some add: May it be Your will, Lord my God, God of my ancestors, that envy of no man rise
    may rise up in me, nor envy of me in any other; that I will not be angry today, nor
    make You angry; and save me from my evil impulse [i.e. the yetzer hara], placing humility and modesty into my heart. Our King and God, make Your name One in Your world; build up Your City, establish Your House and complete Your Sanctuary, gather in the exiles, redeem Your flock, and have Your congregations rejoice]

Act for the same of Your name;
act for the sake of Your right hand;
act for the sake of Your holiness.
That Your beloved ones may be delivered,
save with Your hand and answer me.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
find favor before You, Lord, my Rock and redeemer.

Bow. Take three small steps back, bow again: first to the left, then center, then right while reciting:

May He who makes peace in His High high places .
make peace for us and all Israel -- and say Amen.

May it be Your will, Lord our God and God of our ancestors,
that the temple be rebuilt speedily in our days,
and grant us a share in Your Torah. And there we will serve You
with reverence, as in the days of old and as in former years.
then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord.
as in the days of old and as in former years.

Here ends the Amida.

May HaShem accept the prayers of all good intentioned people.


Notes for this study:

Be the Blessing you were created to be
And
Don't let the perfect defeat the good


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