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What's the appropriate posture and conduct for the Amidah prayer?

by Rabbi Herschel Finman

  

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First and foremost is proper demeanor: “One should only stand to pray amid an attitude of reverence and humility.”1 The Amidah is the one prayer where a person is directly addressing G-d like a servant addresses his master.

Many of the rules of prayer are derived from Chanah, Samuel’s mother. When she came to the Tabernacle asking G-d to grant her wish for a child, the verse says2 that “Chanah, she was speaking in her heart, only her lips were moving, and her voice was not heard, and Eli [the High Priest] thought her to be a drunken woman.”

Rabbi Hamnuna3 says:

How many important laws can be learned from these verses relating to Chanah!

Chanah, she was speaking in her heart – from here we learn that one who prays must direct his heart to heaven [it isn’t sufficient to utter the words].

Only her lips were moving
– from here we derive that one who prays must articulate with his lips [one cannot suffice with unspoken prayers from the heart].4

And her voice was not heard
– from here we learn that it is forbidden to raise one’s voice in prayer.5

And Eli thought her to be a drunken woman – from [the fact that Eli was displeased with her behavior] we learn that a drunkard is not to pray.

The word amidah means "standing." When praying the amidah, one stands as a servant before their king
Here are some other important rules:

•    The bulk of the amidah is requests for needs. It is proper to understand one’s own requests… It is, therefore, important that a person understand the words of the amidah.6  

•    A person is forbidden from engaging in conversation of any kind while praying the amidah. This includes responding amen, barchu, kedushah, etc.

•    The word amidah means “standing.” When praying the amidah, one stands as a servant before their king. It is customary to stand with our feet together—emulating the angels who are described7 as having one “straight leg.” Angels serve G-d perfectly and we would like to aspire to such a level, as well.

•    One’s face should be tilted downwards; a subservient posture.

•    It is important to pray the amidah facing Jerusalem. This is in accordance with the verse:8 “And they direct their prayers to G-d by way of the city that you have chosen.” In the Western Hemisphere, people face east. In Australia and South Africa, people face north. Jerusalem is recognized as the portal through which our prayers ascend to Heaven.

•    When King Hezekiah became ill, the prophet Isaiah informed him that he would not rise from his sickbed. Hezekiah disregarded Isaiah’s prediction9 and instead he “turned his face to the wall, and he prayed to the L-rd”10 – and he survived.

    From this verse it was derived that it is preferable for a person to prayer facing a wall, thus eliminating unnecessary distractions. Obviously this isn’t always practical, especially when praying in the synagogue.

•    For the same reason, one shouldn’t pray in front of a picture, painting or mirror.

•    One shouldn’t pray while standing on an elevated area such as a chair or bench.

•    Many people sway “shukkel” while praying (see What is the significance of swaying back and forth during prayer?). This is not mandatory and is completely up to the feeling of each individual.

Footnotes

  • 1. Mishna Berachot 30b.
  • 2. I Samuel 1:13.
  • 3. Berachot 31a.
  • 4. See “If an ill person is unable to talk, how does he pray?” (http://www.askmoses.com/en/article/230,597/If-an-ill-person-is-unable-to-talk-how-does-he-pray.html).
  • 5. This rule applies to the amidah only. Additionally, this rule only applies when praying in a synagogue amongst other people. One IS supposed to actually speak the words of prayer, but it should be in an undertone.
  • 6. See “Should I pray in Hebrew, even if I don’t understand the language?” (http://www.askmoses.com/en/article/579,300/Should-I-pray-in-Hebrew-even-if-I-dont-understand-the-language.html).
  • 7. Ezekiel 1:7.
  • 8. I Kings 8:44.
  • 9. See "What is the proper attitude for a very ill person?" (http://www.askmoses.com/en/article/547,181904/What-is-the-proper-attitude-for-a-very-ill-person.html).
  • 10. Isaiah 38:2.

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Mitzvot » Prayer » Laws and Customs

Amidah
Highlight of every prayer, recited silently while standing. Weekday Amidah consists of nineteen blessings, Sabbath and holiday Amidah contains seven blessings.
Jerusalem
Established by King David to be the eternal capital of Israel. Both Temples were built there, and the third Temple will be situated there when the Messiah comes.
Samuel
1. A prophet and judge who appointed Saul as the first king of Israel in the 9th century BCE. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, named after the abovementioned Samuel, one of the main characters of the book.
Isaiah
1. One of the greatest prophets, lived in the 7th century BCE. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, containing the prophecies of Isaiah. The book is filled with prophecies concerning the Messianic redemption.
Tabernacle
Mobile sanctuary which traveled with the Jews in the desert, containing the Ark with the Tablets, and the sacrificial altars. When the Jews entered Israel, it was erected in the city of Shiloh where it remained for more than 300 years. It was buried when the permanent Holy Temple was erected in Jerusalem.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.