"Don't tell God how big your storm is; tell your storm how big your God is."

I believe in God.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Amidah: A Walk-Through

The Amidah, or "Standing Prayer", is one of the central prayers in the everyday service.  (The other is the Shema.)  Sometimes the weekday Amidah is also called the Shemona Esrei, or "Eighteen."  This is because it originally consisted of eighteen blessings.  (A nineteenth got added later.)  In this post, I am going to walk you through the Amidah, explaining each of the blessings to you.

"Avot v'Imahot:" "Fathers and Mothers, God of Our Ancestors:" In this blessing, we praise God as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.  (Traditionally, the Matriarchs are not included, but I always put them in!) We say that God will send a redeemer (this is a reference to the Messiah; some modern Jews, uncomfortable with the notion of the Messiah as a physical person, say "redemption" instead) because of the merits of our ancestors.  This blessing ends with an acknowledgement of God as "Shield of Abraham and Guardian of Sarah."

"G'vurot:" "God's Might:" This blessing acknowledges some of God's miracles, such as the resurrection of the dead.  An excerpt from an English translation of this blessing (from one of my favorite prayer books) is "You sustain the life with kindness, giving life to the dead with great mercy, supporting the fallen, healing the sick, freeing the captive, keeping faith with those who sleep in dust."  This blessing ends: "Praised are You, Eternal, Who brings the dead to life.

"Kedushat Ha-Sheim:" "God's Holiness:" In the private, silent recitation of the Amidah, this is a one-line blessing pointing to, you guessed it, God's holiness.  In the public, out-loud recitation of the Amidah, this section is much more elaborate, with call-and-response and special body language.  This is widely regarded as the holiest part of the service; in fact, if one enters the sanctuary at this point, one is supposed to stand silently at the back until this section is over.

"Binah:" "For Wisdom:" This next blessing is also quick and simple.  We pray for "knowledge, understanding, and discernment."  (The three Hebrew words used here are "De'ah, Binah, v'Haskel.")

"T'shuvah:" "For Repentance:" We ask in this blessing to be drawn closer to God's Torah and God's service.  We acknowledge God as welcoming repentance.  This blessing sets the stage for the next one.

"S'lichah:" "For Forgiveness:" In this blessing--the only section like this in Jewish daily prayer--we tell God that we have sinned, and we know it.  We thump our chest with a closed fist, the way we do during the confessional on the Day of Atonement, twice: once on the word "sinned" and once on the word "transgressed."  We praise God as "gracious and abundantly forgiving."

"G'ulah:" "For Redemption:" We praise God as "a mighty redeemer," Who "redeems Israel," and we ask for that redemption to touch us and affect us in a mighty way.

"R'Fu-Ah:" "For Healing:" In this blessing, we pray to God for healing for everyone who needs it.  In the middle of this blessing is a special passage to say in which one can insert the names of anyone who is sick--mentally or physically--for whom one feels like praying.  I currently pray for both brothers and one very dear friend, but I don't feel comfortable sharing the reasons this publicly.

"Birkat Ha-Shanim:" "For Prosperity:" Here, we ask God for a blessed year and a bountiful harvest.  The middle of the blessing changes based on the seasons: in summer months, we simply say "Grant us a blessing;" in winter months, we say "Grant us dew and rain for a blessing."

"Kibbutz Galuyot:" "For Gathering the Exiles:" We ask God to gather us from the four corners of the Earth, and praise God for the ingathering of the exiles.  This is clearly a messianic blessing, asking for the coming of the Messiah.

"Ha-Shavat Ha-Mishpat:" "For Restoration of Justice:" This one I think can be described best by directly quoting the passage in translation from my favorite prayer book, so here it is: "Restore our judges as in days of old; restore our counselors as in former times.  Remove sorrow and anguish from our lives.  O may You alone reign over us with steadfast love and compassion, and with justice, sustain our cause.  Blessed are You, Eternal, Sovereign Who loves righteousness and justice."

"Birkat Ha-Minim:" "Against Maligners/Wickedness:" We ask for all evil to disappear, for God to "crush the arrogant" (Yes, really!) and for all sinners to return to the proper path.

"Tzaddikim:" "For the Righteous:" In this blessing, we ask for God's mercy and blessing on the following people: the righteous, the pious, the elders of the House of Your People Israel and its remaining scholars, faithful proselytes, and lastly, simply "us".  We place our trust in God and declare that because of this trust, we will never despair.

"Binyan Yerushalayim:" "For the Building of Jerusalem:" We ask God to rebuild Jerusalem and to restore the Davidic line to the throne.  This one is also an expressly messianic belief, for a couple of reasons.  Number one, we are talking about a throne, which means a king, which is not how Israel is run today.  Number two, we are specifically asking for a king from the Davidic line; it is traditionally believed that this line will  produce the Messiah.

"Matzmiach Keren Yeshua:" "The Flourishing of Redemption:" We ask again for the flourishing and strengthening of the messianic figure.  We tell God again of our hopes for redemption, and we thank God "for causing salvation to flourish."

"Shomei-ah T'filah:" "For Hearing Our Prayers:" We ask that God "accept our prayer with mercy and favor."  This is also the time to insert any personal prayers.  I keep a running list of prayers for other people, which I max out at seven, only because if I pray for more I do not feel that I can pray effectively.  At present I am praying for: both brothers, my dear friend "Joey," "Jacob" and "Rheann" from Reece's Rainbow, and the Qualls family as a whole.

"Avodah:" "For Acceptance of Our Prayers:" Here we ask God to restore the sacrifices in the Temple.  I do not want these back, but I pray this prayer anyway for the very valid reason that it is included in my prayer book.  This passage ends with a beautiful blessing, at least I think so: "May the service of Your people Israel always be worthy of Your acceptance.  May our eyes behold Your merciful return to Zion.  Praised are You, Eternal, Who restores His Divine Presence to Zion."

"Hoda-ah:" "In Grateful Acknowledgement:" This blessing contains many names for God.  We talk about God as the "Rock of our lives," the "Shield of our salvation," and we acknowledge God's miracles that are with us each and every day.  During the public recitation, the leader recites one version of this paragraph while the congregation whispers another.

"Birkat Shalom:" "For Peace:" Here we pray for personal peace, peace for the Jewish people, and peace for the world as a whole.  We ask for peace in every season, if it is God's will.

The last paragraph really has to be quoted for you to get the full effect.  Here it is: "My God, guard my tongue from evil, my lips from speaking slander; help me ignore those who would curse me.  Let my soul be humble and forgiving to all.  Open my heart to Your Torah that I may pursue Your mitzvot.  Frustrate speedily the designs of all those who plot evil against me and make nothing of their schemes.  Act for the sake of Your merciful Name, Your power, Your holiness, and Your Torah.  In order that Your loved ones may be rescued, deliver with Your power, and answer me.  May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be pleasing to You, Eternal, my Rock and my Redeemer.  May the One who makes peace in His high places, make peace for us and for all Israel.  And let us say: Amen."

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I am a bipolar, Jewish young adult (had my Hebrew birthday, the one I count, and turned 23 this past January) who also suffers from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. I love life and I live for my best friends: they are my purpose and my reason for trying so hard. I remain passionately devoted to those I love; I will not let my disorders make me totally self-centered. I like to read, write, and sew. My Rabbinical school plans did not work out, and I am now hoping to go into the field of Early Childhood Education. Please note: I am currently maintaining only Carried in His Hands. Enjoy!