Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 10 June 2017 / 16 Sivan 5777

Laws of Blessings

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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Rabbi Yitzchak said: Nowadays we no longer have prophet or priest, sacrifice or temple, or any altar to atone for us. From the day that the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed, nothing was left for us other than prayer. Therefore, G-d, hear our prayers and forgive us.

  • Midrash Tehillim 5:7

Prayer was instituted in place of the Temple service. Therefore, just as a sacrifice needed proper kavana (intention), so too one’s prayer should be said with proper kavanah. On this point the Lavush writes that if a person does not comprehend the meaning of what he is reciting, he is likened to a bird that chirps without any comprehension.

One must take care not to skip words or letters from the prayers and blessings he recites. Rather, he should look at each word like a valuable coin that he is counting. (Hagahot Maimoniot, Laws of Prayer, chapter 4)

It is forbidden to do any type of work, even something easy, while reciting a blessing (Chayei Adam). The same rule applies when answering kaddish, which is a great and exalted praise of G-d. One also should not busy himself with folding his tallit or putting away his tefillin during kaddish. (Kaf HaChaim)

What should one do when he is in the middle of a blessing, and kaddish, kedushah, barchu or modim is being recited?

There are long and short blessings. Short blessings are like the ones we say before we eat food or perform a mitzvah. They have a relatively short and standard formula, with a very short, unique ending. It is forbidden to interrupt in the middle of these types of blessings, or before partaking of the food or performance of the mitzvah that the blessing was recited over, even to answer for kaddish or kedushah and the like.

Examples of long blessings are the blessings of kriat shema, baruch she’amar, asher yatzar and me’ein shalosh. It is permitted to interrupt in the middle of these blessings to answer for the above-mentioned praises, such as for kaddish. However, one must not interrupt unless he has already begun to mention part of the idea unique to that blessing. For example, if one only said “Blessed are You” and is before saying “Who forms the luminaries”, he may not interrupt; but if he already said “Who forms the luminaries” he may interrupt.

At the conclusion of the blessing, as well, one may not interrupt. An example: Between “Blessed are You G-d” and “Who forms the luminaries”.

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