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Notes from Limmud 2010

The Essence of Prayer

Rabbi Michael Hattin

Berachot 26a א כו ברכות

It has been stated: R. Yose son of R. Hanina said: The Tefillos were instituted by the Patriachs. R. Yehoshua b. Levi says: The Tefillos were instituted to replace the daily sacrifices.

It has been taught in accordance with R. Yose ben Hanina, and it has been taught in accordance with R. Yehoshua b. Levi.

It has been taught in accordance with R. Yose ben Hanina: Abraham instituted the morning Tefillah, as it says: Abraham got up early in the morning to the place where he had stood1, and "standing" means only prayer, as it says, Then stood up Phineas and prayed (Psalms).

Isaac instituted the afternoon Tefillah, as it says, Isaac went out to meditate in the field at eventide2, and "meditation" means only prayer, as it says, A prayer of the afflicted when he faints and pours out his meditation before the Lord.

Jacob instituted the evening prayer, as it says, He lighted (ויפגע) upon the place3, and פגיעה means only prayer, as it says, Therefore pray not for this people, neither lift up prayer nor cry for them, neither make intercession to (תפגע) Me.

איתמר רבי יוסי ברבי חנינא אמר תפלות אבות תקנום רבי יהושע בן לוי אמר תפלות כנגד תמידין תקנום׃

תניא כוותיה דרבי יוסי ברבי חנינא ותניא כוותיה דרבי יהושע בן לוי׃

תניא כוותיה דרבי יוסי ברבי חנינא אברהם תקן תפלת שחרית שנאמר (בראשית יט) וישכם אברהם בבקר אל המקום אשר עמד שם ואין עמידה אלא תפלה שנאמר (תהלים קו) ויעמד פינחס ויפלל

יצחק תקן תפלת מנחה שנאמר (בראשית כד) ויצא יצחק לשוח בשדה לפנות ערב ואין שיחה אלא תפלה שנאמר (תהלים קב) תפלה לעני כי יעטף ולפני ה׳ ישפוך שיחו

יעקב תקן תפלת ערבית שנאמר (בראשית כח) ויפגע במקום וילן שם ואין פגיעה אלא תפלה שנאמר (ירמיהו ז) ואתה אל תתפלל בעד העם הזה ואל תשא בעדם רנה ותפלה ואל תפגע בי׃

1. This is from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham has gone up to where he has stood to negotiate with G-d over saving Sodom and Gomorrah, and sees the cities destroyed and smoke rising up from the plain.

What would he have been experiencing? Despair (including over the human condition). Grief (especially because he did not know that Lot had escaped). Awe. The uselessness of his negotiations; failure. Relief. Justice has been done. Not the most positive set of emotions, yet this is the origins of שחרית.

2. The context here is the arrival of Rebekah. He sees camels arriving; is this the shidduch he's been waiting for? [Audience member: could it not also be morning for his mother? Answer: Yes, but it's not the direct trigger.]

What would he have been experiencing? Hope. Peace. (It's a quiet moment of reflection.) A hint of reconciliation with Ishmael. Solitude. Tiredness (after a long day's work in the field—the pshat of לסוח is "to plant", not "to meditate"). Nervous (first-date jitters!). A moment of transition.

3. The context here is Jacob's dream of the angels ascending and descending on the ladder. He's there because he's running away from his brother after seizing his blessing.

Here we don't have to imagine what he's thinking, because the text tells us:

Genesis 28:12-17 בראשית כח יב-יז
He dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and angels of God ascending and descending on it. The LORD was standing above it, Who said, "I am the LORD God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac: the land you lie on I will give you and your descendants. Your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall spread out west, east, north, and south: and in you and your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. I am with you, and will guard you wherever you go, and will return you again to this land: I will not leave you, until I have done that which I told you about." Jacob, awakening from his sleep, said, "Surely the LORD is in this place; but I did not know it." Afraid, he said, "How awe-inspiring is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." וַיַּחֲלֹם וְהִנֵּה סֻלָּם מֻצָּב אַרְצָה וְרֹאשׁוֹ מַגִּיעַ הַשָּׁמָיְמָה וְהִנֵּה מַלְאֲכֵי אֱלֹהִים עֹלִים וְיֹרְדִים בּוֹ׃ וְהִנֵּה ה׳ נִצָּב עָלָיו וַיֹּאמַר אֲנִי ה׳ אֱלֹהֵי אַבְרָהָם אָבִיךָ וֵאלֹהֵי יִצְחָק הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה שֹׁכֵב עָלֶיהָ לְךָ אֶתְּנֶנָּה וּלְזַרְעֶךָ׃ וְהָיָה זַרְעֲךָ כַּעֲפַר הָאָרֶץ וּפָרַצְתָּ יָמָּה וָקֵדְמָה וְצָפֹנָה וָנֶגְבָּה וְנִבְרְכוּ בְךָ כָּל־מִשְׁפְּחֹת הָאֲדָמָה וּבְזַרְעֶךָ׃ וְהִנֵּה אָנֹכִי עִמָּךְ וּשְׁמַרְתִּיךָ בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר־תֵּלֵךְ וַהֲשִׁבֹתִיךָ אֶל־הָאֲדָמָה הַזֹּאת כִּי לֹא אֶעֱזָבְךָ עַד אֲשֶׁר אִם־עָשִׂיתִי אֵת אֲשֶׁר־דִּבַּרְתִּי לָךְ׃ וַיִּיקַץ יַעֲקֹב מִשְּׁנָתוֹ וַיֹּאמֶר אָכֵן יֵשׁ ה׳ בַּמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה וְאָנֹכִי לֹא יָדָעְתִּי׃ וַיִּירָא וַיֹּאמַר מַה־נּוֹרָא הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה אֵין זֶה כִּי אִם־בֵּית אֱלֹהִים וְזֶה שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָיִם׃

The worries that Jacob has are the ones G-d responds to: G-d says He will bring Jacob back, because he's worried he will not come back to the land. He's also worried about being abandoned, about being attacked, about having no future.

If we took this thesis, that the Patriachs devised the prayers, and compressed it into a liturgy, we'd end up with three different Amidos for the three service. They're spontaneous prayers; they're reactive; they're charged moments. In all of them the Patriarch stands alone before G-d; there are no other people; and they experience something, whether hope or fear or whatever.

Therefore there is no liturgy for this. This is the definition of personal prayer. When we think of prayer in its ideal form, this is what we are thinking of: calling out to G-d when we need G-d: it is intense, it is sincere, it is original. We don't need a liturgy. When R. Yose b. R. Ḥanina says that the Patriarchs instituted prayer, he's not talking about the liturgy we have today; he's talking about the ideal prayer

[Audience member: But that's not what the text says! It says they instituted the three daily services.] Yes, but that's the ideal for what the daily services could be. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the daily services were like this! Encounter, and relationship, and closeness, in the moments when we need it most, as part of the daily services.

If you go in this direction, then liturgy is a crime. Liturgy won't get you there; it will stop you from getting there. That's Patriarchal prayer.


Now what about the other view?

Berachot 26a ברכות כו א

It has also been taught in accordance with R. Yehoshua b. Levi: Why did they say that the morning Tefillah can be said until midday? Because the regular morning sacrifice could be brought up to midday. R. Yehudah, however, says that it may be said up to the fourth hour because the regular morning sacrifice may be brought up to the fourth hour.

And why did they say that the afternoon Tefillah can be brought up to the evening. Because the regular afternoon offering can be brought up to the evening.

And why did they say that for the evening Tefillah there is no limit? Because the limbs and the fat which were not consumed [on the altar] by the evening could be brought for the whole of the night.

And why did they say that the additional Tefillos could be said during the whole of the day? Because the additional offering can be brought up to the seventh hour.

Which is the "greater afternoon"? From six and a half hours onwards. And which is the "lesser afternoon"? From nine hours and onwards.

The question was raised: Did R. Yehudah refer to the middle of the former afternoon-tide or the middle of the latter afternoon-tide? Come and hear: for it has been taught: R. Yehudah said: They referred to the middle of latter afternoon-tide, which is eleven hours less a quarter. Shall we say this is a refutation of R. Yose b. Ḥanina? R. Yose b. Ḥanina can answer: I can still maintain that the Patriarchs instituted the Tefillahs, but the Rabbis found a basis for thme in the offerings. For if you do not assume this, who according to R. Yose b. Ḥanina instituted the additional Tefillah? He must hold therefore that the Patriarchs instituted the Tefillahs and the Rabbis found a basis for them in the offerings.

ותניא כוותיה דרבי יהושע בן לוי מפני מה אמרו תפלת השחר עד חצות שהרי תמיד של שחר קרב והולך עד חצות ורבי יהודה אומר עד ארבע שעות שהרי תמיד של שחר קרב והולך עד ארבע שעות׃

ומפני מה אמרו תפלת המנחה עד הערב שהרי תמיד של בין הערבים קרב והולך עד הערב רבי יהודה אומר עד פלג המנחה שהרי תמיד של בין הערבים קרב והולך עד פלג המנחה׃

ומפני מה אמרו תפלת הערב אין לה קבע שהרי אברים ופדרים שלא נתעכלו מבערב קרבים והולכים כל הלילה

ומפני מה אמרו של מוספין כל היום שהרי קרבן של מוספין קרב כל היום רבי יהודה אומר עד שבע שעות שהרי קרבן מוסף קרב והולך עד שבע שעות׃

ואיזו היא מנחה גדולה משש שעות ומחצה ולמעלה ואיזו היא מנחה קטנה מתשע שעות ומחצה ולמעלה׃

איבעיא להו רבי יהודה פלג מנחה קמא קאמר או פלג מנחה אחרונה קאמר תא שמע דתניא רבי יהודה אומר פלג המנחה אחרונה אמרו והיא אחת עשרה שעות חסר רביע׃ נימא תיהוי תיובתיה דרבי יוסי ברבי חנינא אמר לך רבי יוסי ברבי חנינא לעולם אימא לך תפלות אבות תקנום ואסמכינהו רבנן אקרבנות׃ דאי לא תימא הכי תפלת מוסף לרבי יוסי ברבי חנינא מאן תקנה אלא תפלות אבות תקנום איבעיא:

R. Yehoshua is talking about the תמיד, continual, sacrifices, which were offered every day, morning and afternoon. Which leaves the Evening service to be explained.

Both offerings were of one-year-old unblemished male lambs; they both have a flour offering and wine offering associated with them.

These are always the same, morning and afternoon, day after day, weekday and Sabbath and Festival. This the only sacrifice offered every day of the year without exception. Normally individual sacrifices are weekday and communal sacrifices on Shabbos and Festivals.

One of the things we commemorate on the י׳ז בתמוז is the cessation of the daily sacrifice. The Tamid offering told people that all was well; everything is organised and working and dependable. When it ceased, it would have been shocking.

It was paid for by the half-shekel tax. It's communal, national, not individual. It's offered on everyone's behalf. And there was a rotating complement of people present as representatives of the people on whose behalf it was offered.

This prayer, then, is formulaic—it would have to be. It would be communal. Liturgy would then be perfect for this prayer. It would not be about the needs of the individual; it would be about communal needs, things everyone needs. We all need health, sustenance, forgiveness, wisdom.

The prayers of the Patriarchs are in the singular. The communal liturgy, however, would have to be written in the plural. And what is this liturgy? The עמידה. The עמידה is the essence of the קרבן תמיד turned into liturgy. It is highly structured.

Six of the central blessings pertain to the needs of the individual that all individuals share with everyone else. The other six (original) blessings pertain to national needs.

People say the Amidah is boring; it doesn't speak to me, it's rote. The speaker wants to suggest that's how you should be reacting; it's all about routine. Most of our life is routine, not highly charged emotive moments which requires the first type of prayer. And if that's not reflected in our prayer, then something is missing!

Some people wait their whole lives waiting for personal prayer, and it never happens. But if you work with the second model, there is an ongoing encounter programmed into the individual's life. Work with it, and try and inject it with something of the personal prayer model

How do we do this? Consider the opening lines of the Amidah. It's all about the Patriarchs: אלהי אברהם, אלהי יצחק, אלהי יעקב. It's saying don't forget about the other aspect of prayer.

If we need to pray for a sick person, we can insert a personal prayer into the Amida during רופא חולי עמו ישראל; if we need to pray for sustenance [lacuna; I can't see anything in my siddur that matches this]. For a singular moment that doesn't fit the mould, we can insert a personal prayer into שומע תפילה. This is a framework that allow us to be cognisant of [our needs] as well as [the community's].

Which is why it bothers the speaker about siddurim saying "If you want to pray for a sick person, add their name into the following formula". It's not about formula!

If you have to think about a book of the Bible that's more about the individual model than any other, it's the Book of Psalms. That's why people turn to Tehillim when they need to pray for the sick, or other needs.

Which is why it's not either/or, it's both. We need both, as it says in the Gemara.

The Patriarchs instituted the Tefillos, and the Rabbis found a basis for them in the offerings.

Prayer, BTW, does not replace sacrifice. The two exist side by side. Prayer took on more once the Temple was destroyed; but how could the need for individual prayer not exist from the beginning of human consciousness!

We can find the structure of prayer in the Torah, in the prayer of Jacob when meeting Esau. The beginnings of the liturgy are embedded in the Patriarchal narratives. The rabbis were not working in a vacuum.


There's a third opinion, which is in Midrash Bereshis Rabbah 68:9.

R. Samuel bar Nahman said: [The three services] correspond to the three changes in the day. In the evening prayer one should pray "May it be Your will, O Lord, to bring me forth from darkness into light"; in the morning prayer one should say, "I give thanks to You, Lord my G-d, for bringing me forth from darkness into light"; in the afternoon pfrayer one should pray, "May it be Your will, LORD my G-d, that as You have suffered me to see the rising of the sun, so will You suffer me to see its setting." א״ר שמואל בר נחמן כנגד ג׳ פעמים שהיום משתנה בערבית צריך אדם לומר יה״ר מלפניך ה׳ אלהי שתוציאני מאפילה לאורה בשחרית צ״ל מודה אני לפניך ה׳ אלהי שהוצאתני מאפילה לאורה במנחה צריך אדם לומר יהי רצון מלפניך ה׳ אלהי שכשם שזכיתני לראות חמה בזריחתה כך תזכני לראותה בשקיעתה׃

What calls the individual to pray here? Not individual needs nor communal, but the changing of the day.

The Talmud says ideally the Amidah should be recited at the moment of sunrise. The ideal afternoon prayer (which did not become normative halacha, because what if you wait for it and miss it?), should be דמדומי חמה: just before sunset, when the sun turns blood red.

Note that this is very much a universal prayer. The sun doesn't just rise for the Jewish people; it rises for everyone! It's not about me, it's not even about my people; it's about everyone and everything. It's a prayer about creation. As Chassidim say, when the sun rises it prays to G-d because all Creation wants to be associated with G-d.

When I stand before G-d with the sun, everything else melts away: all of the hopes, all of the fears, because I realise I am part of something bigger.


[This was as far as the session reached; however, the handout also contained a further quotation, which we did not reach:] Maimonides, Laws of Prayer (משנה תורה, ספר אהבה, הלכות תפילה), ch. 1:

1. It is a positive Torah commandment to pray every day, as [Exodus 23:25] states: "You shall serve the LORD your God." Tradition teaches us that this service is prayer, as [Deut. 11:13] states: "And serve G-d with all your heart", and our Sages said: Which is the service of the heart? This is prayer.

The number of prayers is not prescribed in the Torah, nor does it prescribe a specific formula for prayer. Also, according to Torah law, there are no fixed times for prayers.

2. Therefore women and slaves are obligated to pray, since it it not a time-oriented commandment.

Rather, this commandment obligates each person to offer supplication and prayer every day and utter praises of the Holy Blessed One; then petition for all his needs with requests and supplications; and finally, give praise and thanks to G-d for the goodness that G-d has bestowed upon him; each one according to his ability.

3. A person who was eloquent would offer many prayers and requests. [Conversely,] a person who was slow of speech would speak as well as he could and whenever he desired.

Similarly, the number of prayers was dependent on each person's ability. Some would pray once daily; others, several times.

Everyone would pray facing the Holy Temple, wherever he might be. This was the uniform practice from [the time of] Moshe Rabbeinu until Ezra.

4. When Israel was exiled in the time of the wicked Nebuchnezzar, they became interspersed in Persia and Greece and other nations. Children were born to them in these foreign countries and those children's language was confused.

The speech of each and every one was a concoction of many tongues. No one was able to express himself coherently in any one language, but rather in a mixture [of languages], as [Nehemiah 13:24] states: "And their children sopke half in Ashdodish and did not know how to speak the Jewish language. Rather, [they would speak] according to the language of various other peoples."

Consequently, when someone would pray, he would be limited in his ability to request his needs or praise the Holy Blessed One, in Hebrew, unless other languages were mixed in with it. When Ezra and his court saw this, they established eighteen blessings in sequence.

The first three [blessings] are praises of G-d and the last three are thanksgiving. The intermediate [blessings] contain requests for all those things that servce as general categories for the desires of each and every person and the needs of the whole community.

Thus, the prayers could be set in the mouths of everyone. They could learn them quickly and the prayers of those unable to express themselves would be as complete as the prayers of the most eloquent. It was because of this matter that they established all the blessings and prayers so that they would be ordered in the mouths of all Israel, so that each blessing would be set in the mouth of each person unable to express himself.

5. They also decreed that the number of prayers correspond to the number of sacrifices—i.e. two prayers every day, corresponding to the two daily sacrifices. On any day that an additional sacrifice [was offered], they instituted a third prayer, corresponding to the additional offering.

The prayer that corresponds to the daily morning sacrifice is called the Shaḥarit Prayer. The prayer that corresponds to the daily sacrifice offered in the afternoon is called the Minḥah prayer and the prayer corresponding to the additional offering is called the Mussaf Prayer.

6. They also instituted a prayer to be recited at night, since the limbs of the daily afternoon offering could be burnt the whole night, as [Lev. 6:2] states: "The burnt offering shall remain on the altar hearth all night until morning." In this vein, [Psalms 55:18] states: "In the evening, morning and afternoon I will speak and cry aloud, and G-d will hear my voice."

The Evening Prayer is not obligatory, as are the Morning and Minḥah Prayers. Nevertheless, the Jewish people, in all the places that they have settled, are accustomed to recite the Evening Prayer and have accepted it upon themselves as an obligatory prayer.

א מצות עשה להתפלל בכל יום, שנאמר "ועבדתם את ה׳ אלוהיכם" (שמות כג,כה): מפי השמועה למדו שעבודה זו—היא תפילה, ונאמר "ולעובדו בכל לבבכם" (דברים יא,יג); אמרו חכמים, איזו היא עבודה שבלב, זו היא תפילה׃

ואין מניין התפילות מן התורה, ולא משנה התפילה הזאת מן התורה׃ ואין לתפילה זמן קבוע מן התורה׃

ב ולפיכך נשים ועבדים חייבין בתפילה, לפי שהיא מצות עשה שלא הזמן גרמה׃

אלא חיוב מצוה זו, כך הוא—שיהא אדם מתפלל ומתחנן בכל יום, ומגיד שבחו של הקדוש ברוך הוא, ואחר כך שואל צרכיו שהוא צריך להן בבקשה ובתחינה, ואחר כך נותן שבח והודיה לה׳ על הטובה שהשפיע לו: כל אחד כפי כוחו׃

ג אם היה רגיל, מרבה בתחינה ובקשה; ואם היה ערל שפתיים, מדבר כפי יוכלו ובכל עת שירצה׃

וכן מניין התפילות, כל אחד ואחד כפי יכולתו—יש שמתפלל פעם אחת ביום, ויש שמתפלל פעמים הרבה׃

והכול היו מתפללים נוכח המקדש, בכל מקום שיהיה׃ וכן היה הדבר תמיד ממשה רבנו, עד עזרא׃

ד כיון שגלו ישראל בימי נבוכדנאצר הרשע, נתערבו בפרס ויוון ושאר האומות, ונולדו להם בנים בארצות הגויים;

ואותן הבנים נתבלבלה שפתם, והייתה שפת כל אחד ואחד מעורבת מלשונות הרבה׃ וכיון שהיה מדבר, אינו יכול לדבר כל צרכיו בלשון אחת אלא בשיבוש, שנאמר "ובניהם חצי מדבר אשדודית, ואינם מכירים לדבר יהודית—וכלשון עם ועם" (נחמיה יג,כד)׃

ומפני זה, כשהיה אחד מהן מתפלל, תקצר לשונו לשאול חפציו או להגיד שבח הקדוש ברוך הוא בלשון הקודש, עד שיערב עימה לשונות אחרות׃ וכיון שראה עזרא ובית דינו כך, עמדו ותיקנו להם שמונה עשרה ברכות על הסדר׃

שלוש ראשונות, שבח לה׳; ושלוש אחרונות, הודיה; ואמצעייות, יש בהן שאילת כל הדברים שהן כמו אבות לכל חפצי איש ואיש, ולצורכי הציבור, כולם

כדי שיהיו ערוכות בפי הכול, וילמדו אותם במהרה, ותהיה תפילת אלו העילגים תפילה שלמה, כתפילת בעל הלשון הצחה׃ ומפני עניין זה, תיקנו כל הברכות והתפילות הסדורות בפי כל ישראל—כדי שיהא כל עניין ברכה, ערוך בפי העילג׃

ה וכן תיקנו שיהא מניין התפילות, כמניין הקרבנות—שתי תפילות בכל יום, כנגד שני תמידין׃ וכל יום שיש בו קרבן מוסף, תיקנו בו תפילה שלישית כנגד קרבן מוסף׃

ותפילה שכנגד תמיד של בוקר, היא הנקראת תפילת השחר; ותפילה שכנגד תמיד של בין הערביים, היא הנקראת תפילת מנחה; ותפילה שכנגד המוספין, היא הנקראת תפילת המוספין׃

ו וכן התקינו שיהא אדם מתפלל תפילה אחת בלילה, שהרי אברי תמיד של בין הערביים מתאכלין והולכין כל הלילה, שנאמר "היא העולה..." (ויקרא ו,ב), כעניין שנאמר "ערב ובוקר וצוהריים, אשיחה ואהמה; וישמע קולי" (תהילים נה,יח)׃

ואין תפילת ערבית חובה, כתפילת שחרית ומנחה; ואף על פי כן נהגו כל ישראל בכל מקומות מושבותיהם להתפלל ערבית, וקיבלוה עליהם כתפילת חובה׃

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