• April 19, 2024
  • 11 5784, Nisan
  • פרשת מצרע

The Shemona Esrei: Its Structure and Meaning

The Shemona Esrei: Its Structure and Meaning

Join Rabbi Yitzhak Zuriel and closely examine the way our Tefila, the Shemona Esrei, is constructed. What exactly are we praying for and wishing for in each segment? What messages are embedded in its juxtapositions of themes, and in its language and structure?

Our main text will be the Tefila text itself, but we will also be studying some of the halachic (e.g. Rambam) and earlier Talmudic literature and commentaries. In addition, we will look at the sources for tefila in the Torah accounts of the Avot in Sefer Beresheet, as understood in various passages in the gemara.

October 31, 2022 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
The Shemona Esrei: Its Structure and Meaning: Introduction
Class description

Shalom students!

Welcome to this new course, which will be a journey of discovery regarding our central prayer, the Shemoneh Esreh, or Amidah for weekdays.

In this introductory session, we will cover a few basic questions before we will subsequently (in the following sessions) dive in to the structure and text of the tefila itself:

(1) What constitutes a tefila from the standpoint of halacha, according to the Rambam (who alone among the major rishonim attempted to do this in a systematic way)?

(2) Is the Tefilat haAmidah our only tefila…?

(3) Why do we need a formal, written tefila at all?

(4) What is the acknowledged source of our Tefilat Shemoneh Esreh as we have it? And of its required timeframes?

The source material provided here contains the full text of the Rambam Hilchot Tefila Chapter 1.  You are welcome to study it in full, hence it is here.  For the purposes of this first class, we will actually only discuss a few of the paragraphs of the chapter.

November 7, 2022 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
The Shemona Esrei: Its Structure and Meaning: The Origin and Order of the Shmoneh Esreh
Class description

In this session, the second of the series, we will take a few minutes to complete the introduction of the first shiur, in particular to clarify the position of the Talmud regarding the origin of our daily cycle of prayers: Shacharit, Minha, and Arvit.

Then we will take a first high-level look at the full list of the blessings of the Shemoneh Esreh and look for the basic structure found within them.

November 14, 2022 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
The Shemona Esrei: Its Structure and Meaning: The Importance of the Order; How to Personalize our Tefila
Class description

In the last part of the previous shiur of this series, we took a long look at the list of intermediate blessings of the Shemoneh Esreh, and we saw within this list a basic pattern and structure.

In this shiur, we will look at Talmudic sources to see how the amoraim understood the source of this particular list of blessings that we have, and how important they considered the order of these blessings.

In the latter part of this shiur, we will discuss how in practice we can personalize our prayer, given the well-defined and permanent texts of the blessings that we have. What guidelines are brought by the halachic authorities through the generations for this personalization?

November 21, 2022 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
The Shemona Esrei: Its Structure and Meaning: Limits to Personalization; Finding Deeper Structure and Meaning in the Bakashot
Class description

In the previous shiur, we learned the source in the gemara (Masechet Avodah Zarah 8a) from which we learn the halachot of personalization of the Shemoneh Esreh prayer. We also studied the position of Rabbeinu Yonah, who elaborated in detail on these halachot.

In this shiur, we will first discuss how the Aruch HaShulchan (late 19th cent.) argues for caution regarding adding personalized segments to the Shemoneh Esreh intermediate section, and suggests how to limit personalization while still ensuring that we have the freedom to express ourselves in prayer as we may need to do.

Then we will switch back to the topic of the order and organization of the Shemoneh Esreh, specifically with regard to the intermediate blessings of request. We will suggest a deeper structure than we have previously discussed, and ponder its meaning.

November 28, 2022 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
The Shemona Esrei: Its Structure and Meaning: The Blessings of Praise (שבח)
Class description

After sessions in which we saw high-level views of the structure and composition of the Shemoneh Esreh, we will begin in this session to examine the text of the Shemoneh Esreh more closely, and study aspects of the individual blessings that comprise it.

In this session, we will examine the three blessings of praise that begin the Amidah/Shemoneh Esreh.

I have posted a small number of sources relevant to what we will cover in this session.

December 5, 2022 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
The Shemona Esrei: Its Structure and Meaning: The Blessings of Praise (II)
Class description

In this session we will show textual support for basing the structure of the three blessings of praise with which the Shemoneh Esreh opens on the three “descriptions” of Hashem which we discussed in the previous session. We will continue by suggesting explanations of some of the key phrases in these three blessings, as we show how different is the praise offered in each blessing from the praise in the other two blessings.

Following this, and time allowing, we will begin examining the first group of the intermediate blessings of request (בקשות), namely, those related to individual spiritual aspirations: Da’at, Teshuva, and Selicha.

December 12, 2022 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
The Shemona Esrei: Its Structure and Meaning: The Bakashot (I) – Individual Spiritual Aspirations
Class description

In this session, we will make a few concluding remarks regarding the three blessings of praise which were the subject of the previous two sessions.

Then we will move into the middle section of the Shemoneh Esreh, and focus on the blessings that constitute requests regarding individual spiritual needs and aspirations.  We will see if we can find a literary or stylistic characteristic that unites these three blessings (#4, 5, and 6 — Da’at, Teshuva, and Selicha) into a distinct group, and discuss the meanings of the requests of Hashem that derive from this common thread.

(Please note that we have extended this course for three more sessions, to be held at the beginning of the winter zman, in the first three weeks of January, after the winter break.)

January 2, 2023 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
The Shemona Esrei: Its Structure and Meaning: The Bakashot (II): Aspirations of the Individual
Class description

We are returning after the winter break for three additional meetings, to take place in January. In the first two of these meetings (Jan. 2 and Jan. 9) our intention is to cover the intermediate section of the Shemoneh Esreh, first the bakashot regarding individual needs and aspirations, and then the bakashot regarding communal/national needs and aspirations. The final meeting will be focused on the third and last section of the Shemoneh Esreh, where the centerpiece is the blessing of thanks (מודים אנחנו לך).

In this session, we will complete and wrap up the discussion we began previously, concerning the three bakashot of individual spiritual needs and aspirations (blessings #4, 5, and 6). Then we will move forward to discuss the three blessings of bakashot for individual material needs/wants (#7, 8, and 9). For both of these triplets we will pay close attention to the plain meaning of the text in order to suggest the basic direction intended by the authors of the Tefila.

I have posted a few sources that we will examine during the session. They are mostly verses from Tanach.

January 9, 2023 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
The Shemona Esrei: Its Structure and Meaning: The Bakashot (III): Communal/National Aspirations
Class description

In this, the 9th session of the course, we move on to study the six blessings of requests that are connected to communal, national aspirations that we have as Jews.

As in the previous sessions, the focus will be on the texts of each blessing, and we will attempt to clarify what it seems we are truly asking for in each instance. For a couple of the more obscure phrases, we will study the explanations given by some of the Biblical commentators on the verses from which the phrases were taken.

I have posted these sources so you can look them over before the class.

January 16, 2023 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
The Shemona Esrei: Its Structure and Meaning: The Final Blessings of the Shemoneh Esreh
Class description

In this session, the last one of our short course, we will first look at the last of the intermediate blessings, שמע קולנו.

Following this we will study the last group of blessings in the Shemoneh Esreh/Amidah to try to understand how they belong together and to make suggestions as to what they are really about.

I am not posting any new sources for this class. As I indicated last time, in the first minutes of the class we will finish the discussion of the meaning of one of the phrases of the blessing (bakasha) for the Mashiach. You can find the source slides for that discussion in last week’s posting, at the end of the slides.

Rabbi Yitzhak Zuriel has been enjoying guiding students in how to learn and understand Talmud at WebYeshiva.org since its founding. He began his teaching career as a teacher and educational director at Michlelet Bruria in the 1980s. For over 20 years, he has been working as a software engineer in Jerusalem, and during that time has been an editor and contributor to the company NDS's Torah journal, Chiddushei Torah@NDS, that was published annually from 1996-2014 . He and his wife reside in Ma'ale Adumim and are parents to five children and have many grandchildren.