Shema Yisrael! These sacred words echo through the corridors of Jewish history, reminding us of our unwavering commitment to the oneness of God and the observance of His commandments. However, another essential prayer stands alongside the Shema, known as the Amida, often referred to as the “Standing Prayer.” In this blog, we will explore the significance, structure, and historical roots of the Amida, delving into its profound connection to the Jewish soul and our relationship with the Divine.
The Amida prayer, also Shemona Esrei, is a central element of Jewish liturgy, so much so it is sometimes just referred to as tefillah (prayer). Comprising 19 blessings, it is recited silently while standing, representing our direct and personal communication with God. In fact the reason Jews keep their feet together is to mimic angels, who only have one leg. The many brachas are divided into three sections with an overarching theme: praise, petition, and thanksgiving in order to set the tone of humility before the Almighty.
Praise: The first section comprising the first 3 blessings sets the tone for the Amida by praising God’s attributes, power, and holiness. These blessings channel awe and gratitude for the qualities that encompass the universe and our lives. As we recite these words, we recognize that our relationship with God extends beyond our individual needs, embracing the grandeur of His creation.
Petition: The second part focuses on personal supplication, where we present our individual requests and needs before the Divine Presence. It is a moment of vulnerability, as we pour out our hearts, seeking solace, healing, guidance, and redemption, while acknowledging the areas that we have room to grow. These prayers acknowledge our reliance on God’s mercy and beseech Him to answer our prayers in accordance with His will. Unlike the other two sections, this is changed on Shabbat and Holidays, where instead of asking for forgiveness or for anything beneficial, Jews are encouraged to be at rest and take comfort in what we already have.
Thanksgiving: The final portion of the Amida is dedicated to expressions of gratitude and praise for the countless blessings bestowed upon us. We acknowledge God’s continual presence in our lives and offer thanks for His boundless love, protection, and support. It is a moment to reflect on the goodness that surrounds us and express our appreciation for the many miracles, both big and small.
Historical Roots and Evolution of the Amida
The Amida prayer has evolved over centuries, with its origins traced back to the time of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. The structure and blessings of the Amida were codified during the era of the Great Assembly, a council of Jewish sages led by Ezra the Scribe. Through their wisdom and spiritual insight, they crafted a prayer that encapsulated the essence of Jewish faith and devotion.
The most notable change to the Shemona Esrei, which literally just mean 18, is that it now contains 19 blessings. This is because one was added thousands of years ago due to a problem that heretics known as the Tziddukim in Hebrew were at risk of gaining influence. The blessing asking for the end of heresy was added in part as a test.
The Spiritual Significance and Personal Connection
The Amida holds deep spiritual significance and is the core of the thrice daily prayer cycle. It is an opportunity for introspection, self-reflection, and surrendering ourselves before God. As we stand in prayer, we become aware of our own vulnerabilities and seek comfort and guidance from the ultimate source of wisdom and compassion. It is not meant as a replacement to speaking from the heart, which is also highly encouraged, but acts as a guide both individually and for the good of the Jewish People.
Moreover, the Amida fosters a personal connection with God, allowing each individual to express their deepest yearnings and aspirations. It serves as a catalyst for heartfelt conversation, enabling us to build a profound relationship with the Creator. Through the Amida, we bring our joys, sorrows, and longings before God, confident that our words are heard and cherished.