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Notes from Limmud 2006

Before I Pray, God, I Want To Say A Few Words. And Afterwards, Too.

Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb

[This talk was at the start of Shabbos, so I was unable to take notes; anything not off the sheets was what I can now remember (plus some unrelated comments of mine).]

Berachot 8a ברכות ח א
Rabbi Ḥisda says: A man should always enter two doors into the Synagogue [MS M: and then pray, for it is written, "Waiting at the posts of My doors" (Prov. 8:34).] What is the meaning of "two doors"? Say: The distance of two doors, and then pray*. אמר רב חסדא לעולם יכנס אדם שני פתחים בבית הכנסת שני פתחים סלקא דעתך אלא אימא שיעור שני פתחים ואחר כך יתפלל׃

* Were he to remain at the entrance, near the door, it would look as if he was anxious to leave.

Berachot 5:1 ברכות ה א
One must not stand up to say the Amida without deep earnestness. The original Ḥassidim* used to wait for one hour and then pray in order to direct their minds to the Omnipresent. אין עומדין להתפלל אלא מתוך כובד ראש׃ חסידים הראשונים היו שוהים שעה אחת ומתפללים כדי שיכונו את לבם למקום׃

* I.e. the Ḥassidim ("pietists") out of whose movement Pharisaism arose, out of which movement rabbinic Judaism arose; not to be confused with the Ḥassidim of mediaeval times or those of modernity.

Indeed, some of the Talmudic rabbis would spend an hour psyching themselves up for their prayer, and then another hour psyching themselves back down afterwards. We do the former to a limited extent today, in the form of פסוקי דזמרא, the "Verses of Song" at the start of the service.

† That almost no one sings. :o)

Berachot 4:3 ברכות ד ג־ד
3. Rabban Gamliel says, One must say every say the Eighteen Benedictions. R. Yehoshua says, An abbreviated form of the Eighteen Benedictions. R. Akiva says, If one can read his Prayer fluently, he must say the Eighteen Benedictions, but if not then the abbreviated form of the Eighteen Benedictions. רבן גמליאל אומר בכל יום מתפלל אדם שמונה עשרה׃ רבי יהושע אומר מעין שמונה עשרה׃ רבי עקיבה אומר אם שגורה תפלתו בפיו יתפלל שמונה עשרה׃ ואם לאו מעין שמונה עשרה׃
R. Eliezer says, He who makes his prayer a mechanical task (keva)—his prayer is not prayer. רבי אליעזר אומר העושה תפלתו קבע אין תפלתו תחנונים׃
Avot 2:13 אבות ב יג
R. Shimon used to say, be scrupulous in reading the Shema and in prayer. When you pray, make not your prayer a fixed form (keva), but make it an entreaty and supplication of love before the Almighty. רבי שמעון אומר הוי זהיר בקרית שמע ובתפלה׃ וכשאתה מתפלל אל תעש תפלתך קבע אלא רחמים ותחנונים לפני המקום ברוך הוא׃

The irony is that the entirety of Jewish prayer today is fixed. Though keva also refers to reading it mechanically, without paying attention to the words, and meaning them. I heard a while ago that the Königsburger Chassidim will rattle through the Friday night service, which most Jews sing at least part of, as fast as they can—because only that way can they get through the service before their attention flags!

Words Before The Amida

What's the first words in the Amida? More than one person in the audience answered, אדני שפתי תפתח ופי יגיד תהלתך "Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim Your praise" (Psalms 51:17). Wrong; this is a meditation before the Amida! This is perpetuated even in the Singer's Prayerbook: Singer, Centenary edition (1998), pp. 75/6:

Fathers O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim Your praise. Blessed are You—the Lord our God and God of our father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob; the great, mighty and revered God, the Most High God who bestows lovingkindnesses, the Creator of all things, who remembers the good deeds of the fathers, and in love will bring a redeemer to their children's children for His name's sake. אדני שפתי תפתח ופי יגיד תהלתך׃
אבות ברוך אתה ה׳ אלהנו ואלהי אבותינו׃ אלהי אברהם אלהי יצחק ואלהי יעקב׃ האל הגדול הגבור והנורא אל עלון׃ גומל חסדים טובים וקונה הכל׃ וזוכר חסדי אבות ומביא גואל לבני בניהם למעו שמו באהבה׃

Look closely at the position of the "Fathers" legend, describing the first blessing, in the Hebrew, where it is correctly placed, and the English, where it is not.

The origins of reciting this verse derive from here:

Berachot 4b (?) ברכות דף ד עמוד ב
R. Yoḥanan says: In the beginning [of the Tefillah] one has to say: O Lord, open my lips [etc, Psalms 51:17], and at the end one has to say: Let the words of my mouth by acceptable [etc, ibid. 19:15]. אמר רבן יוחנן אומר בתחלה אומר ה׳ שפתי תגפח ולבסוף הוא אומר יהיו לרצון אמרי פי׃

Words After The Amida

The Talmud gives various different sages meditations after reciting the Amida. The one that has made it into the Siddur today is that of Mar son of Rabina:

Berachot 17a ברכות יז א
Mar the son of Rabina on concluding his prayer added the following: My God, keep my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking guile. May my soul be silent to them that curse me and may my soul be as the dust to all. Open my heart in Your law, and may my soul pursue Your commandments (and deliver me from evil hap, from the evil impulse and from an evil woman and from all evils that threaten to come upon the world.) As for all that design evil against me, speedily annul their counsel and frustrate their designs. "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable before You, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer!" מר בריה דרבינא כי הוה מסיים צלותיה אמר הכי אלהי נצור לשוני מרע ושפתותי מדבר מרמה ולמקללי נפשי תדום ונפשי כעפר לכל תהיה פתח לבי בתורתך ובמצותיך תרדוף נפשי ותצילני מפגע רע מיצר הרע ומאשה רעה ומכל רעות המתרגשות לבא בעולם וכל החושבים עלי רעה מהרה הפר עצתם וקלקל מחשבותם יהיו לרצון אמרי פי והגיון לבי לפניך ה׳ צורי וגואלי׃

(The bracketed section is not used for the meditation at the end of the Amida today; some of it make it instead into ברכת השחר.

The Sages recommended everyone should recite a meditation of some kind after the Amida. If you were a scholar, you could make their own one up, drawing on Biblical references; if you were not a scholar, you had best recite the meditation of a scholar!

The problem with this is that one generation's meditation becomes the next generation's fixed prayer, and nowadays the meditation is completely fixed. What we recite today is as follows:

My G-d, keep my tongue from evil, my lips from guile. Help me ignore those who would slander me. Let my soul be truly humble before all. Open my heart open to your Torah and my soul will pursue your commandments. Frustrate the designs of those who plot evil against me; speedily make naught of their schemes. אלהי נצר לשוני מרע ושפתי מרמה ולמקללי נפשי תדום ונפשי כעפר לכל תהיה׃ פתח לבי בתורתך ובמצותיך תרדוף נפשי׃ וכל החושבים עלי רעה מהרה הפר עצתם וקלקל מחשבתם׃ Who is the man that desires life and loves days, to see good therein? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking guile. מי־האיש החפץ חיים אהב ימים לראות טוב׃ נצר לשונך מרע ושפתיך מדבר מרמה׃
Do it for the sake of Your name, do it for the sake of Your power, do it for the sake of Your holiness, do it for the sake of Your Torah. עשה למען שמך עשה למען ימינך עשה למען קדשתך עשה למען תורתך׃
"That Your beloved be delivered, send Your power and answer me." למען יחלצון ידידיך הושיעה ימינך וענני׃ Psalms 60:7 / 108:7
"May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart Find favour before You, my Rock and my Redeemer." יהיו לרצון אמרי־פי והגיון לבי לפניך ה׳ צורי וגואלי׃ Psalms 19:15
He who makes peace in His high places, He will bring peace to us and all Israel. Let us say, amen. עשה שלים במרומיו הוא יעשה שלום עלינו ועל כל־ישראל ואמרו אמן׃
Job 25:2: Dominion and fear are with him, he maketh peace in his high places. איוב כה ב: המשל ופחד עמו עשה שלום במרומיו׃
Psalms 91:11: For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. תהילים צא יא: כי מלאכיו יצוה־לך לשמרך בכל־דרכיך׃
Isaiah 26:12: LORD, thou wilt ordain peace for us: for thou also hast wrought all our works in us. ה׳ תשפת שלום לנו כי גם כל מעשינו פעלת לנו׃

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