Berakhot 17

Personal prayer.

The core of daily prayer for the rabbis was twofold, the Shema (said twice daily) and the Amidah (said three times daily). As we have already seen, while many of the fundamental components of these prayers were already standardized by the time of the Talmud, other aspects remained in flux.

Case in point: We learned toward the bottom of page 16 that it was customary for each rabbi to end the Amidah with their own personal prayer. The Gemara provides us with several examples, and they are highly varied.

Rabbi Elazar would end his Amidah on a high note:

May it be Your will, Lord our God,

To cause love and harmony, peace and friendship to dwell among us.

And may You make our borders rich in disciples…

And may we rise early and find the aspiration of our hearts to fear Your name,

And may the satisfaction of our souls come before You for the best.

Rabbi Elazar’s beautiful prayer expresses hope for a complete and peaceful world. (Incidentally, the line “love and harmony, peace and friendship” is today part of the seven Jewish wedding blessings.)

By contrast, Rabbi Yohanan’s prayer asks God to look directly at the hardships of the world and ameliorate them:

May it be Your will, Lord our God,

that You look upon our shame and behold our plight…

Rabbi Zeira’s focus is more inward, asking God for the strength to become a better person:

May it be Your will, Lord our God,

that we not sin or shame ourselves,

and that we not disgrace ourselves before our forefathers…

And Rava offers a particularly austere prayer that serves as a humbling reminder of his own insignificance:

My God, before I was created I was worthless,

and now that I have been created I am no more significant.

I am dust in life, all the more so in my death.

I am before You as a vessel filled with shame and humiliation…

Rava’s prayer is so severe that Rav Hamnuna Zuti adopted it as his Yom Kippur confessional, and today it is also a part of ours.

There are several more prayers on today’s page worth exploring. The very last, a prayer attributed to Mar the son of Ravina, is known today as Elohai Netzor and is often printed as a postscript to the Amidah in contemporary prayer books. Here is an excerpt:

My God, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceit…

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart find favor before You,

Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

This list of prayers is a reminder that as much as the rabbis were concerned with standardized prayer, they also encouraged personal communication with God. And it is interesting to note that some of their individual prayers eventually became standardized.

 

Read all of Berakhot 17 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on January 20, 2020. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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