Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 27 February 2016 / 18 Adar I 5776

The Amida - The "Silent" Standing Prayer

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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“For which is a great nation that has a G-d Who is close to it, as the L-rd our G-d, whenever we call to Him (in prayer)?” (Devarim 4:7)

“G-d appears to us as if He is far beyond our reach, yet in truth there is none as close to us as He is. For Rabbi Levy taught, “From the earth to heaven is a distance of five hundred years; and from the first heaven to the next one is also a distance of five hundred years… so to with each of the (seven) heavens. …See how far away G-d is from us, yet a person merely enters into the beit ha’knesset (house of prayer) praying in a mere whisper, and G-d hears the words of his prayer” (Jerusalem Talmud Berachot 9:1).

Shulchan Aruch 101:2

“When one prays he must say the words quietly so that only he can hear what he says. However, if he is not able to concentrate while praying in a whisper, he may raise his voice. This rule applies when one is praying alone, but when one is praying together with the congregation he may not raise his voice since this will disturb the other worshipers.” Rema: “It is also permissible for one to raise his voice when praying at home in order for his family to learn from him.”

Many poskim (halacha authorities) raise issue with this ruling of the Shulchan Aruch, as it contradicts what he himself wrote in Bedek HaBayit. It states there that according to the Zohar (Vayakhel 202) one should pray silently, moving his lips, without even hearing his own words. The Beit Yosef concludes by saying that one should be careful to comply with the Zohar.

The Mishnah Berurah explains that although the Beit Yosef writes to follow the Zohar, others argue with his understanding of the Zohar. They explain that the Zohar could be understood as meaning that one should not let others hear him, but one can, and should, hear his own voice (Magen Avraham; Vilna Gaon). This is also the conclusion of the later Ashkenazic poskim, who state that it is better to pronounce the words of prayer loud enough for one to hear himself (Chayei Adam; Shulchan Aruch Harav). All agree that if one did not make his prayer audible he still fulfills his obligation, as long as he moves his lips.

According to the Sefardic poskim, who follow the Arizal in all matters of prayer, it is preferable, for one who is able, to follow the Zohar as understood by the Beit Yosef, especially since this is how it is explained by Rabbi Chaim Vital, the main student of the Arizal (Chida; Kaf HaChaim; Ben Ish Chai). He explains, based on kabbalah, that “impure forces” can attach to one’s prayers when they are not said silently (Olat Tamid).

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