Prayers & Blessings

· Teflah: Prayer
· Need for Prayer
· Mindset for Prayer
· Language for Prayer
· Group Prayer
· Berakhot: Blessings
· Who Blesses Whom?
· ontent of a Berakhah
· !orm of a Berakhah
· Gra"e #fter Meals
· !inding a Prayer Group
$ee also %e&ish Liturgy' ommon Prayers and Blessings(
Prayers and Blessings
Level: Intermediate
Teflah: Prayer
The )e*re& &ord for prayer is teflah( +t is deri,ed from the root Pe-
Lamed-Lamed and the &ord l.hitpalel/ meaning to 0udge oneself( This
surprising &ord origin pro,ides insight into the purpose of %e&ish
prayer( The most important part of any %e&ish prayer/ &hether it *e a
prayer of petition/ of thanksgi,ing/ of praise of G-d/ or of "onfession/
is the introspe"tion it pro,ides/ the moment that &e spend looking
inside oursel,es/ seeing our role in the uni,erse and our relationship
to G-d(
The 1iddish &ord meaning 2pray2 is 2da,en/2 &hi"h ultimately "omes
from the same Latin root as the 3nglish &ord 2di,ine2 and emphasi4es
the 5ne to &hom prayer is dire"ted(
!or an o*ser,ant %e&/ prayer is not simply something that happens in
synagogue on"e a &eek 6or e,en three times a day7( Prayer is an
integral part of e,eryday life( +n fa"t/ one of the most important
prayers in %udaism/ the Birkat )a-Ma4on/ is ne,er re"ited in
5*ser,ant %e&s are "onstantly reminded of G-d.-s presen"e and of our
relationship &ith G-d/ *e"ause &e are "ontinually praying to )im( 5ur
frst thought in the morning/ e,en *efore &e get out of *ed/ is a
prayer thanking G-d for returning our souls to us( There are prayers to
*e re"ited *efore en0oying any material pleasure/ su"h as eating or
&earing ne& "lothes' prayers to re"ite *efore performing any mit4,ah
6"ommandment7/ su"h as &ashing hands or lighting "andles' prayers
to re"ite upon seeing anything unusual/ su"h as a king/ a rain*o&/ or
the site of a great tragedy' prayers to re"ite &hene,er some good or
*ad thing happens' and prayers to re"ite *efore going to *ed at night(
#ll of these prayers are in addition to formal prayer ser,i"es/ &hi"h
are performed three times a day e,ery &eekday and additional times
on sha**at and festi,als( $ee %e&ish Liturgy(
The Need for Prayer
Many people today do not see the need for regular/ formal prayer( 2+
pray &hen + feel inspired to/ &hen it is meaningful to me/2 they say(
This attitude o,erlooks t&o important things: the purpose of prayer/
and the need for pra"ti"e(
5ne purpose of prayer is to in"rease your a&areness of G-d in your
life and the role that G-d plays in your life( +f you only pray &hen you
feel inspired 6that is/ &hen you are already a&are of G-d7/ then you
&ill not in"rease your a&areness of G-d(
+n addition/ if you &ant to do something &ell/ you ha,e to pra"ti"e it
"ontinually/ e,en &hen you don.t feel like doing it( This is as true of
prayer as it is of playing a sport/ playing a musi"al instrument/ or
&riting( The sense of humility and a&e of G-d that is essential to
proper prayer does not "ome easily to modern man/ and &ill not
simply "ome to you &hen you feel the need to pray( +f you &ait until
inspiration strikes/ you &ill not ha,e the skills you need to pray
e9e"ti,ely( Before + started praying regularly/ + found that &hen +
&anted to pray/ + didn.t kno& ho&( + didn.t kno& &hat to say/ or ho&
to say it/ or ho& to esta*lish the proper frame of mind( +f you pray
regularly/ you &ill learn ho& to e:press yourself in prayer(
Kavanah: The Mindset for Prayer
When you say the same prayers day after day/ you might e:pe"t that
the prayers &ould *e"ome routine and &ould *egin to lose meaning(
While this may *e true for some people/ this is not the intention of
%e&ish prayer( #s + said at the *eginning of this dis"ussion/ the most
important part of prayer is the introspe"tion it pro,ides( #""ordingly/
the proper frame of mind is ,ital to prayer(
The mindset for prayer is referred to as kavanah, which is
generally translated as concentration or intent! The
minimum le,el of ka,anah is an a&areness that one is speaking to G-
d and an intention to fulfll the o*ligation to pray( +f you do not ha,e
this minimal le,el of ka,anah/ then you are not praying' you are
merely reading( +n addition/ it is preferred that you ha,e a mind free
from other thoughts/ that you kno& and understand &hat you are
praying a*out and that you think a*out the meaning of the prayer(
Liturgi"al melodies are often used as an aid to forming the proper
mindset( Many prayers and prayer ser,i"es ha,e traditional melodies
asso"iated &ith them( These "an in"rease your fo"us on &hat you are
doing and *lo"k out e:traneous thoughts(
+ also fnd it useful to mo,e &hile praying( Traditional %e&s routinely
s&ay *a"k and forth during prayer/ apparently a referen"e to Psalm
;</ &hi"h says 2#ll my lim*s shall de"lare/ .5 L-rd/ &ho is like 1ou?.2
$u"h mo,ement is not re=uired/ and many people fnd it distra"ting/
*ut + personally fnd that it helps me "on"entrate and fo"us(
"e#rew: The $ang%age for Prayer
The Talmud states that it is permissi*le to pray in any language that
you "an understand' ho&e,er/ traditional %udaism has al&ays stressed
the importan"e of praying in )e*re&( # traditional hasidi" story
speaks glo&ingly of the prayer of an unedu"ated %e& &ho &anted to
pray *ut did not speak )e*re&( The man *egan to re"ite the only
)e*re& he kne&: the alpha*et( )e re"ited it o,er and o,er again/ until
a ra**i asked &hat he &as doing( The man told the ra**i/ 2The )oly
5ne/ Blessed is )e/ kno&s &hat is in my heart( + &ill gi,e )im the
letters/ and )e "an put the &ords together(2
3,en the more li*eral mo,ements are in"reasingly re"ogni4ing the
,alue of )e*re& prayer( My grandmother tells me that ffty years ago/
you ne,er heard a &ord of )e*re& in a >eform synagogue( Today/ the
standard >eform prayer *ook "ontains the te:t of many prayers in
)e*re&/ and many of the standard prayers are re"ited in )e*re&/
generally follo&ed *y transliteration and an 3nglish translation( + ha,e
heard se,eral >eform ra**is read from the Torah in )e*re&/ also
generally follo&ed *y an 3nglish translation or e:planation(
There are many good reasons for praying in )e*re&: it gi,es you an
in"enti,e for learning )e*re&/ &hi"h might other&ise *e forgotten' it
pro,ides a link to %e&s all o,er the &orld' it is the language in &hi"h
the "o,enant &ith G-d &as formed/ et"( To me/ ho&e,er/ the most
important reason to pray in )e*re& is that )e*re& is the language of
%e&ish thought(
&ny lang%age other than "e#rew is laden down with the
connotations of that lang%age's c%lt%re and religion! When you
translate a )e*re& &ord/ you lose su*tle shadings of %e&ish ideas and
add ideas that are foreign to %udaism( 5nly in )e*re& "an the pure
essen"e of %e&ish thought *e preser,ed and properly understood( !or
e:ample/ the 3nglish &ord 2"ommandment2 "onnotes an order
imposed upon us *y a stern and punishing G-d/ &hile the )e*re&
&ord 2mit4,ah2 implies an honor and pri,ilege gi,en to us/ a
responsi*ility that &e undertook as part of the "o,enant &e made
&ith G-d/ a good deed that &e are eager to perform(
This is not to suggest that praying in )e*re& is more important than
understanding &hat you are praying a*out( +f you are in synagogue
and you don.t kno& )e*re& &ell enough/ you "an listen to the
)e*re& &hile looking at the translation( +f you are re"iting a prayer or
*lessing alone/ you should get a general idea of its meaning from the
translation *efore attempting to re"ite it in )e*re&( But e,en if you do
not fully understand )e*re& at this time/ you should try to hear the
prayer/ e:perien"e the prayer/ in )e*re&(
(ro%p Prayer
Most of our prayers are e:pressed in the frst person plural/ 2us2
instead of 2me/2 and are re"ited on *ehalf of all of the %e&ish people(
This form of prayer emphasi4es our responsi*ility for one another and
our interlinked fates(
+n %udaism/ prayer is largely a group a"ti,ity rather than an indi,idual
a"ti,ity( #lthough it is permissi*le to pray alone and it fulflls the
o*ligation to pray/ you should generally make e,ery e9ort to pray
&ith a group/ short of ,iolating a "ommandment to do so(
# "omplete formal prayer ser,i"e "annot *e "ondu"ted &ithout a
=uorum of at least ?@ adult %e&ish men' that is/ at least ?@ people
&ho are o*ligated to fulfll the "ommandment to re"ite the prayers(
This prayer =uorum is referred to as a minyan 6from a )e*re& root
meaning to "ount or to num*er7( ertain prayers and religious
a"ti,ities "annot *e performed &ithout a minyan( This need for a
minyan has often helped to keep the %e&ish "ommunity together in
isolated areas(
Berakhot: Blessings
# *erakhah 6*lessing7 is a spe"ial kind of prayer that is ,ery "ommon
in %udaism( Berakhot are re"ited *oth as part of the synagogue
ser,i"es and as a response or prere=uisite to a &ide ,ariety of daily
o""urren"es( Berakhot are easy to re"ogni4e: they all start &ith the
&ord *arukh 6*lessed or praised7(
The &ords *arukh and *erakhah are *oth deri,ed from the )e*re&
root Bet->esh-Aaf/ meaning 2knee/2 and refer to the pra"ti"e of
sho&ing respe"t *y *ending the knee and *o&ing( $ee animation at
right( There are se,eral pla"es in %e&ish liturgy &here this gesture is
performed/ most of them at a time &hen a *erakhah is *eing re"ited(
#""ording to %e&ish tradition/ a person should re"ite ?@@ *erakhot
ea"h day8 This is not as diB"ult as it sounds( >epeating the
$hemoneh 3srei three times a day 6as all o*ser,ant %e&s do7 "o,ers
<C *erakhot all *y itself/ and there are do4ens of e,eryday
o""urren"es that re=uire *erakhot(
)ho Blesses )hom*
Many 3nglish-speaking people fnd the idea of *erakhot ,ery
"onfusing( To them/ the &ord 2*lessing2 seems to imply that the
person saying the *lessing is "onferring some *eneft on the person
he is speaking to( !or e:ample/ in atholi" tradition/ a person making
a "onfession *egins *y asking the priest to *less him( 1et in a
*erakhah/ the person saying the *lessing is speaking to G-d( )o& "an
the "reation "onfer a *eneft upon the reator?
This "onfusion stems largely from diB"ulties in the translation( The
)e*re& &ord 2*arukh2 is not a ,er* des"ri*ing &hat &e do to G-d' it is
an ad0e"ti,e des"ri*ing G-d as the sour"e of all *lessings( When &e
re"ite a *erakhah/ &e are not *lessing G-d' &e are e:pressing &onder
at ho& *lessed G-d is(
+ontent of a Berakhah
There are *asi"ally three types of *erakhot: ones re"ited *efore
en0oying a material pleasure 6*irkhot ha-na.ah7/ ones re"ited *efore
performing a mit4,ah 6"ommandment7 6*irkhot ha-mit4,ot7 and ones
re"ited at spe"ial times and e,ents 6*irkhot hoda.ah7(
Berakhot re"ited *efore en0oying a material pleasure/ su"h as eating/
drinking or &earing ne& "lothes/ a"kno&ledge G-d as the "reator of
the thing that &e are a*out to use( The *erakhah for *read praises G-
d as the one 2&ho *rings forth *read from the earth(2 The *erakhah
for &earing ne& "lothing praises G-d as the one 2&ho "lothes the
naked(2 By re"iting these *erakhot/ &e re"ogni4e that G-d is the
reator of all things/ and that &e ha,e no right to use things &ithout
frst asking )is permission( The *erakhah essentially asks permission
to use the thing(
Berakhot re"ited *efore performing a mit4,ah6"ommandment7/ su"h
as &ashing hands or lighting "andles/ praise G-d as the one 2&ho
san"tifed us &ith his "ommandments and "ommanded us(((2 to do
&hate,er it is &e are a*out to do( >e"iting su"h a *lessing is an
essential element of the performan"e of a mit4,ah( +n %e&ish tradition/
a person &ho performs a mit4,ah &ith a sense of o*ligation is
"onsidered more meritorious than a person &ho performs the same
mit4,ah *e"ause he feels like it( >e"itation of the *erakhah fo"uses
our attention on the fa"t that &e are performing a religious duty &ith
a sense of o*ligation( +t is &orth noting that &e re"ite su"h *erakhot
o,er *oth *i*li"al "ommandments and ra**ini"al "ommandments( +n
the latter "ase/ the *erakhah "an *e understood as 2&ho san"tifed us
&ith his "ommandments and "ommanded us to o*ey the ra**is/ &ho
"ommanded us to(((2 do &hate,er it is &e are a*out to do( $ee
)alakhah: %e&ish La& for an e:planation of the distin"tion *et&een
*i*li"al and ra**ini"al "ommandments(
Berakhot re"ited at spe"ial times and e,ents/ su"h as &hen seeing a
rain*o& or a king or hearing good or *ad ne&s/ acknowledge (,d as
the %ltimate so%rce of all good and evil in the %niverse! +t is
important to note that su"h *erakhot are re"ited for *oth good things
and things that appear to us to *e *ad( When &e see or hear
something *ad/ &e praise G-d as 2the true %udge/2 unders"oring the
fa"t that things that appear to *e *ad happen for a reason that is
ultimately 0ust/ e,en if &e in our limited understanding "annot al&ays
see the reason(
-orm of a Berakhah
Many of the *erakhot that &e re"ite today &ere "omposed *y 34ra
and the Men of the Great #ssem*ly nearly D<@@ years ago/ and they
"ontinue to *e re"ited in the same form(
#ll *erakhot use the phrase 2Barukh atah )a-shem/ 3lokaynu/ melekh
ha-olam/2 Blessed art thou L-rd/ our G-d/ Aing of the Eni,erse( This is
sometimes referred to as shem u.malkut 6the name and the
so,ereignty7/ the aBrmation of G-d as king(
The use of the &ord 2thou2 is &orth dis"ussing: in modern 3nglish/
many people think of the &ord 2thou2 as *eing formal and respe"tful/
*ut in fa"t the opposite is true( Thou 6like the )e*re& atah7 is the
informal/ familiar se"ond person pronoun/ used for friends and
relati,es( This &ord e:presses our "lose and intimate relationship &ith
+mmediately after this phrase/ the *erakhah a*ruptly shifts into the
third person' for e:ample/ in the *irkhot ha-mit4,ot/ the frst t&o
phrases are *lessed art thou/ L-rd our G-d/ Aing of the Eni,erse/ &ho
san"tifes us &ith his "ommandments and "ommands us((( This
grammati"al fau: pas is intentional( The use of the third person
pronoun &hile speaking to a person in )e*re& is a &ay of e:pressing
e:treme respe"t and deferen"e( This shift in perspe"ti,e is a
deli*erately 0arring &ay of e:pressing the fa"t that G-d is
simultaneously "lose to us and yet far a*o,e us/ intimately related to
us and yet trans"endent( This parado: is at the heart of the %e&ish
relationship &ith G-d(
Birkat "a,Ma.on: (race &fter Meals
5ne of the most important prayers in %udaism/ one of the ,ery fe&
that the Bi*le "ommands us to re"ite/ is ne,er re"ited in synagogue(
That prayer is *irkat ha-ma4on/ gra"e after meals(
+n Feuteronomy G:?@/ &e are "ommanded that &hen &e eat and are
satisfed/ &e must *less the L-rd/ our G-d( This "ommandment is
fulflled *y re"iting the *irkat ha-ma4on 6*lessing of the food7 after
ea"h meal( >e"iting *irkat ha-ma4on is "ommonly referred to as
*ents"hing/ from the 1iddish &ord meaning 2to *less(2 #lthough the
&ord 2*ents"h2 "an refer to the re"itation of any *erakhah/ it is
almost al&ays used to refer to re"iting *irkat ha-ma4on(
The gra"e after meals is re"ited in addition to the ,arious *erakhot
o,er food re"ited *efore meals(
Birkat ha-ma4on a"tually "onsists of four *lessings/ three of &hi"h
&ere "omposed around the time of 34ra and the Great #ssem*ly and
a fourth &hi"h &as added after the destru"tion of the Temple( These
*lessings are:
?( Birkat )a4an 6the *lessing for pro,iding food7/ &hi"h thanks G-d
for gi,ing food to the &orld/
D( Birkat )a-#ret4 6the *lessing for the land7/ &hi"h thanks G-d for
*ringing us forth from the land of 3gypt/ for making )is "o,enant &ith
us/ and for gi,ing us the land of +srael as an inheritan"e/
;( Birkat 1erushalayim 6the *lessing for %erusalem7/ &hi"h prays for
the re*uilding of %erusalem and the "oming of the moshia"h' and
H( Birkat )a-To, ,.)a-Mayti, 6the *lessing for *eing good and doing
good7/ &as added after the destru"tion of the Temple/ although it
e:isted *efore that time( +t emphasi4es the goodness of G-d.s &ork/
that G-d is good and does good(
+n addition to these four *lessings/ the full *irkat ha-ma4on
in"orporates some psalms and additional *lessings for ,arious spe"ial
o""asions 6holidays/ guests/ et"(7
+f you &ould like to hear the Birkat )a-Ma4on/ "he"k out this
>ealPlayer re"ording of antor Pin"has >a*ino,i"4 "hanting Birkat )a-
Ma4on from I?;(org/ the *est sour"e of %e&ish Torah #udio on the
net8 6Please note: This re"ording uses #shkena4i" pronun"iation7
-inding a Minyan /Prayer (ro%p0
#s + said a*o,e/ %e&ish prayer is ordinarily a group a"ti,ity done &ith
a =uorum of ?@ people "alled a minyan( +f you are interested in
fnding an 5rthodo: minyan in your area to pray &ith/ "he"k out Go
Fa,en/ a sear"ha*le &orld&ide data*ase of 5rthodo: minyans( %ust
tell them &here you &ant to da,en 6pray7/ and they.ll fnd you an
5rthodo: minyan/ "omplete &ith ser,i"e times and e,en a link to a
+f you &ould prefer a onser,ati,e synagogue/ try the E$%.s !ind a
$ynagogue page( +f you prefer >eform/ try the E#).s Fire"tory of
ongregations( !or >e"onstru"tionist synagogues/ try the %>!.s
dire"tory of >e"onstru"tionist ongregations and )a,urot(
© Copyright 5757-5762 (1996-2001), Tracey R Rich

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