The Amidah

Moving from praise to petition to thanksgiving, the Amidah inculcates a sense of connection to God.

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The second blessing of praise is called Gevurah (might), which describes those powers which are only within the purview of the Divine: "Your lovingkindness sustains the living, your great mercies give life to the dead." Articulating a fundamental Rabbinic belief in resurrection, this blessing is a reminder of God's absolute power of life and death.

The final blessing of this opening section of praise is called the Kedushah, or holiness. There are two versions of this prayer, one when recited silently by individuals, the other, much longer, is a series of prayers and responses by the leader and congregation when the Amidah is repeated on behalf of the community.

Both of these prayers emphasize the holiness and sacred nature of God. The individually-recited version simply states, "Holy are You and holy is Your name. Holy are they who praise you daily." The core of the communally repeated blessing is derived from the biblical prophet Isaiah's vision of God in the heavenly Temple surrounded by the angels singing praises (Isaiah chapter 6). 

Isaiah described the angels calling one to another, echoing the phrase, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts, the whole world is filled with His glory." This verse is introduced by claiming that the human chorus of voices imitates the heavenly chorus, and thus, in a choreography designed to reflect angels, individuals rock up upon the balls of their feet three times, for each word "holy" that is said, symbolizing the fluttering of the angels who recited this line of praise. Several more biblical verses are also recited, ending in the blessing, "Praised are You, Adonai, the holy God." 

The Middle Section

On weekdays, the middle section of the Amidah consists of 13 blessings that are individual and communal requests to God. Originally consisting of only 12 petitions, the total number of blessings recited was 18, hence, an early synonym for the Amidah was the Shemonah Esrei, or the Eighteen.  However, in Rabbinic times another blessing was added resulting in a total of 19, yet the original name of the Shemonah Esrei was retained. 

Of these 13 requests recited during the weekday Amidah, the first five are essentially personal, or individual requests to God to improve the situation of each person. The individual prays to God to grant us intelligence and understanding, give us the ability to repent of our transgressions, for God to be gracious and forgiving, to send a redeemer, or messiah, to the Jewish people to end our affliction, and finally, to grant healing to those who are sick and ailing. Despite the individual nature of these requests, the language of the prayers are all in the plural emphasizing the corporate nature of even singular Jewish identity.

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Rabbi Daniel Kohn

Rabbi Daniel Kohn, a native of St. Louis, Missouri, was ordained from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1991. He is the author of several books on Jewish education and spirituality who currently writes and teaches throughout the San Francisco Bay area.