Many of us say most of our prayers (“yoshev la-ares”) sitting on our knees upon the ground. It is relatively easy to make “kiddah al apayyim” (bowing onto one’s face) from that position. But the Amidah, which means “The Standing Prayer”, has great significance in our tradition (minhag). The Amidah, is known as The Eighteen Benedictions (Shemeh Esereh) but is called The Birkhath Sheva (The Seven Benedictions) on the Shabbath, because the supplicatory prayers are omitted. *BT Mas. Berakhoth 28b & 29a.
The Shabbath Evening Amidah has only the first three blessings, a blessing called the Kedushath HaYom (Sanctification of the Day) and the final three blessings following it. This format, was formulated by our forefathers, and as the RaMBaM stated, “The first three [benedictions] are praises of G-D and the last three are of thanksgiving. The intermediate [benediction] contains requests for all those things that serve as general categories for the desires of each and every person and the needs of the whole community”, *MT Hilkhoth Tefillah 1,4.
What do Jews do now that there is no temple offering?
The Amidah is also known as the centralized prayer for Jews/Israelites everywhere, because it is this prayer that serves as the replacement for the offerings that were commanded in the Torah during the time of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and practiced during the existence of the Beth HaMikdash (Temple). It is the Amidah that was mandated by our sages to be the offering of our lips, fulfilling the words of the prophet Hoshea saying, “Take words with you and return to YHWH (Adonai) and say unto Him; Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer our lips as a bull offering”. Hoshea/Hosea 14,2.
It is while we await the coming of Mashiah Ben Dawid, (may it be The Most High’s will that he come speedily in our days, and rebuild the HaMikdash), that we continue to observe our Torah decreed, daily, Shabbath, and Yom Tov (Holydays) with their additional offerings in this manner.
The Amidah, contains blessings, which originated during the Second Temple period and serves as a form of continuation of the temple service within the Diaspora * BT Mas. Berakhoth 29a. Being divided into three phases of worship, called Shevah (praises), Gevuroth (G-d’s strength/power) and Kedusha HaShem (The Sanctification of The Name), the Amidah is replete with many scriptures, ancient prayers and references the many examples of our biblical patriarchs and prophets.
We have to be mindful to prepare ourselves to meet our Creator, for prayer is the act of coming closer or bonding with our Maker, and within the Torah, we are commanded by G-d to ‘be holy, for I AM HOLY’ *Wayikra/Leviticus 19,1-2.
The steps of preparation according to our forefathers are that we must first make Thikun Haguf (תיקון הגוף preparation of the body). “The purification of one’s hands… One must wash his hands in water until the joint. [Only] afterwards, he may pray”, *MT Hilkhoth Tefillah 4,2. If one has the urge to relieve him or her self, one should do this first before praying, *MT Hilkhoth Tefillah 4,10.
We are taught to that we must be sure to cover ourselves, so we check our clothing Thikun HaMalbush (תיקון המלבוש preparation of one’s clothing) *MT Hilkhoth 4,1&8.
Thikun HaMakom (תיקון המקום finding a suitable location), make sure there are no trash, horrid smells, animal droppings, or environments that are adverse to concentrating, that might prevent a sincere heart.*MT Hilkhoth Tefillah 4,8-9.
We must face the Aron Kodesh, which is normally in the direction of Jerusalem, in this way we fulfill the obligation of Nokah HaMikdash (נוכח המקדש facing the Temple). It is written, “When there is famine in the land, pestilence or blight or mildew, locusts or grasshoppers; when their enemy besieges them in the land of their cities; whatever plague or whatever sickness there is; whatever prayer, whatever supplication is made by anyone, or by all Your people Israel, when each one knows the plague of his own heart, and spreads out his hands toward this temple: then hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and forgive, and act, and give to everyone according to all his ways, whose heart You know (for You alone know the hearts of all the sons of men).”
*Melakhim aleph/1 Kings 8,37-39.
Lower Your Voice
We must lower our voices, (השווית הקול) Because the our sages teach that when we pray, it must be a prayer spoken from the heart as with Hannah, Shemuel aleph/1 Sam 1,13 & BT Mas. Berakhoth 24b, 31a. Typically, we have the tradition when in public prayer (at the beth kenesseth) to be sure take care of our bodily functions and to wash our hands before the *Shema, so that when its time for the Amidah, the flow of service is not disrupted or ones concentration is not lost during the reciting of one blessing to another. More on the Shema:https://www.facebook.com/notes/west-african-jews-of-the-diaspora/a-morsel-on-the-shema-the-affirmation-of-our-love-faith-in-the-most-high/535312893175709
In the evening prayer, the washing of feet aren’t necessary, but we still remove our shoes (not bare footed) before going into the sanctuary as it is our custom. More about this is attached on the following link: https://www.facebook.com/notes/west-african-jews-of-the-diaspora/the-west-african-jews-of-the-diaspora-tradition-taking-off-ones-shoes-before-ent/520512344655764
There are five places where we must make Hakriah (הכריעה=bending onto one’s knees) and kiddah al appayim (קידה, על אפיים=bowing on to one’s face) during the Amidah, MT Hilkhoth Tefillah 5,10.
We must also consider that whenever one prays the Amidah, we are taught to take three steps forward, representing the approaching of Eres Israel (the land of Israel), Jerusalem and the Beth HaMikdash (Holy Temple/G-d’s presence) for those in the galuth, where shoes are off limits. This is why our sages also teach that we take three steps backwards when we are done…
For those of us who are in the galuth (places of Exile) we take three steps forward, before we begin reading or reciting the Amidah. The three steps forward represent the approaching of Eres Israel (the land of Israel), Jerusalem and the Beth HaMikdash (Holy Temple/HaShem’s presence)
“אמר רבי אלכסנדרי אמר רבי יהושע בן לוי המתפלל צריך שיפסיע שלש פסיעות לאחוריו ואחר כך יתן שלום אמר ליה רב מרדכי כיון שפסע שלש פסיעות לאחוריו התם איבעיא ליה למיקם משל לתלמיד הנפטר”
(R. Alexandri said in the name of R. Yehoshua b. Lewi: One who prays [the ‘Amidah] should go three steps backwards, and then recite ‘peace’. R. Mordecai said to him: Having taken the three steps backwards, he ought to remain standing, as should a disciple who takes leave of his master…”) BT Mas. Yoma 53b
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