The Talmud, tractate Megillah 17b, states that the Shemoneh Esrei (some call it the Amidah or silent prayer) order of blessings and requests is the order this process will occur. We say the Shemoneh Esrei three times a day silently and then twice we have the repetition, totaling five times.
This is perhaps one of the most difficult topics that I have attempted on this blog. The information is extensive (volumes have been written), and is very deep. To try to describe in this physical world the information below when most of it is very spiritual in meaning, is close to impossible. But, I feel it is very important for me to try since it answers many questions that I have received over the years. I tried to answer them on a very basic level but could only do them justice if we were to talk on a much higher level – a spiritual level. I have explained several times that Torah is the most difficult subject in the world. The text at its deepest level is beyond human comprehension considering that it was created by an Infinite Intelligence. Enough said. This is long, but stick with it, it is very informative. Let’s get started.
I’ve organized this in several parts. The first is to briefly (not completely) tell you what the Talmud says. Then I will attempt to explain most of the parts. This also will be a very abridged discussion since, as already stated, there are volumes written on the subject. Then, with Hashem’s help, I will attempt to explain where we are in the process. The last part will be the most difficult part to understand and will probably be the most controversial answer I have ever attempted.
Babylonian Talmud - Megillah 17b
‘To the ‘Amidah prayer.’ Where is this derived? — As it has been taught: ‘Simeon the Pakulite5 formulated eighteen blessings in the presence of Rabban Gamaliel in the proper6 order in Yavneh.7 R. Johanan said (others report, it was stated in a Baraita): A hundred and twenty elders, among whom were many prophets, drew up eighteen blessings in a fixed order.’
Our Rabbis taught: Where do we derive that the blessing of the Patriarchs8 should be said? Because it says, Ascribe unto Hashem, you sons of might.9 And where that we say the blessing of mighty deeds?10 Because it says, Ascribe unto Hashem glory and strength.11 And where that we say sanctifications?12 Because it says, Ascribe unto Hashem the glory due unto His name, worship Hashem in the beauty of holiness.13 What reason had they for mentioning understanding14 after holiness? Because it says, They shall sanctify the Holy One of Yaakov and shall stand in awe of the G-d of Yisrael,15 and next to this, They also that err in spirit shall come to understanding. What reason had they for mentioning repentance16 after understanding? Because it is written, Lest they, understanding with their heart, return and be healed.17 If that is the reason, healing should be mentioned next to repentance?18 — Do not imagine such a thing, since it is written, And let him return unto Hashem and He will have compassion upon him, and to our G-d, for he will abundantly pardon.19 But why should you rely upon this verse? Rely rather on the other! — There is written another verse, Who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit,20 which implies that redemption and healing come after forgiveness. But it is written, ‘Lest they return and be healed’? That refers not to the healing of sickness but to the healing [power] of forgiveness. What was their reason for mentioning redemption in the seventh blessing?21 Raba replied: Because they [Yisra'el] are destined to be redeemed in the seventh year [of the coming of the Mashiach],22 therefore the mention of redemption was placed in the seventh blessing. But a Master has said, ‘In the sixth year will be thunderings, in the seventh wars, at the end of the seventh the son of David will come’? — War is also the beginning of redemption. What was their reason for mentioning healing in the eighth blessing? — R. Aha said: Because circumcision which requires healing is appointed for the eighth day, therefore it was placed in the eighth blessing. What was their reason for placing the [prayer for the] blessing of the years ninth? R. Alexandri said: This was directed against those who raise the market price [of foodstuffs], as it is written, Break You the arm of the wicked; and when David said this, he said it in the ninth Psalm.23 What was their reason for mentioning the gathering of the exiles after the blessing of the years? — Because it is written, But you, O mountains of Yisrael, you shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to your people Yisrael, for they are at hand to come.24 And when the exiles are assembled, judgment will be visited on the wicked, as it says, And I will turn my hand upon you and purge away your dross as with lye,25 and it is written further, And I will restore thy judges as at the first.26 And when judgment is visited on the wicked, transgressors cease,27 and presumptuous sinners28 are included with them, as it is written, But the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake Hashem shall be consumed.29 And when the transgressors have disappeared, the horn of the righteous is exalted,30 as it is written, All the horns of the wicked also will I cut off, but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up.31 And ‘proselytes of righteousness’32 are included with the righteous, as it says, you shall rise up before the hoary head and honor the face of the old man,33 and the text goes on, And if a stranger sojourn with you. And where is the horn of the righteous exalted? In Yerushalayim,34 as it says, Pray for the peace of Yerushalayim, may they prosper that love you.35 And when Yerushalayim is built, David(36) will come, as it says.
6) I.e. one based on Scriptural texts, as explained infra.
7) V. Ber. 28b.
8) The first blessing, containing the words, the El of Avraham, the El of Yitzchak, and the El of Yaakov’. For the ‘Amidah prayer v. P.B. pp. 44ff.
9) Tehillim 29:1. ‘Sons of might’ is taken as a description of the Patriarchs. The Talmud renders: ‘Mention before Hashem the sons of might’, i.e., the Patriarchs.
10) The second blessing, mentioning the ‘mighty deed’ of the resurrection.
11) Tehillim 29:1. (12) The third blessing beginning, ‘You are holy’.
13) Ibid. 2. (14) In the fourth blessing, beginning, ‘You grant to man understanding’.
15) Yeshayahu 29:23f.
16) In the fifth blessing, commencing, ‘Bring us back, O Father’.
17) Ibid. 6:10.
18) Whereas in fact it comes in the next blessing but one, ‘redemption’ being interposed.
19) Ibid. LV, 7.
20) Tehillim 103:3f.
21) Concluding, ‘Blessed are You, O Hashem, who redeems Yisrael’.
22) V. Sanh. 97a.
23) In our books it is the tenth (v. 15), but the Talmud apparently reckoned the first and second Psalms as one.
24) Yechezkel 36:8.
25) Yeshayahu 1:25.
26) Ibid. 26. The next blessing proceeds, ‘Restore our judges’. etc.
27) MS. M. minim (plur. of min v. Glos.).
28) Mentioned in the next blessing. This, however, was not one of the original eighteen, v. Ber. 28b.
29) Ibid. 28.
30) The next blessing concludes, ‘the support and trust of the righteous’.
31) Tehillim 75:2.
32) Mentioned in the same blessing. ‘Proselytes of Righteousness’ are converts who completely accept the Jewish creed and life.
33) VaYikra 19:32.
34) Mentioned in the next blessing.
35) Tehillim 122:6.
36) Mentioned in the next blessing, which commences, ‘Cause to sprout quickly the shoot of David’.
The blessings of the Shemoneh Esrei, in their correct order, are:
1. Patriarchs.That was the easy part. Now to try to explain the parts without writing a book.
2. G-d's Might.
3. G-d's Holiness.
9. Blessing of the Years (prosperity).
10. Ingathering of Exiles.
11. Restoration of Justice.
12. Downfall of the Heretics.
13. Support of the Righteous.
14. Rebuilding Jerusalem.
15. Reinstatement of the Davidic Kingdom.
16. Acceptance of Prayer.
17. Temple Service.
1, 2 & 3 make us realize before we can make our requests in life that we must know to Whom we are talking, and to have complete confidence that He is the Only Source of Salvation. As our forefathers discovered, it is only with the Might and Holiness of Hashem can we succeed. The first three blessings should be said with great feeling – clearly pronouncing the names of Hashem and understanding their meanings.
You graciously endow man with wisdom. [This blessing begins the middle section of the Shemoneh Esrei, in which we make our requests of Hashem. The first plea is for wisdom and insight, because a person’s intelligence is his or her primary characteristic, the one that sets us apart from animals.] We ask for wisdom and for insight, so that we can draw proper conclusions and achieve intellectual discernment (Vilna Gaon). This request is fulfilled by our study of Torah, so we are asking Hashem for all that is needed to strive and succeed in our efforts.
Our Father. Only in this prayer for repentance, and in the next one, for forgiveness, do we refer to Hashem as our Father. A father has the responsibility to teach his son the proper way to live, but even if a son has rebelled and become estranged, the father's compassion will assert itself if his son repents and seeks forgiveness (Eitz Yosef). And influence us to return. Hashem never compels anyone to repent, but if a person makes a sincere beginning, Hashem will make his way easier. The most important aspect of repentance is not admitting to your mistakes, but the action taken as a follow-up to correct the mistake. No trickery, no shortcuts – just good honest effort to make positive changes. Hashem knows our intensions better than we do. If we do what we are supposed to, our repentance isn’t needed. If we make mistakes and repent properly, with actual correction, our repentance will be successful.
Forgive ... pardon, Forgiveness, means not even harboring resentment or ill will, while pardon, means only giving up the right to punish for a wrong, (Abudraham).
See our suffering. Though Israel’s suffering results from its own sins, our enemies cannot rightfully claim that they merely do Hashem’s work, since Israel suffers much more than necessary at their hands. Similarly, many commentators explain that the Egyptians were punished for oppressing and enslaving the Jews, even though Hashem had decreed the suffering and slavery, because the Egyptians, in their wickedness, greatly exceeded Hashem’s decree (Eitz Yosef). And redeem us, from the trials and agonies of everyday life (Rashi; Megillah 17b). For Your Name's sake. Israel’s suffering is a reflection on our G-d, and therefore, a desecration of His Name (Eitz Yosef).
8. Health and Healing
Heal us, HASHEM; then we will be healed. Sometimes human beings or angels are Hashem’s agents to heal illness, but in that case, the cure may only be partial or temporary. [Or the pain or other symptoms may be relieved, while the illness itself remains uncured (Siach Yitzchak). But if Hashem Himself undertakes to cure the patient, we are confident that it will not be a temporary or a partial measure: then we will be healed (Eitz Yoseffrom Zohar).] A very important concept is that this blessing provides spiritual healing. As I have said, the Soul causes physical pain and illness as a way of helping us reach Tikun. If we have spiritual healing, physical healing results as well. This is a prime example of a very deep concept being made simple – it would take much more to truly explain all the details.
9. Year of Prosperity
Bless on our behalf. We request a blessing on our general business activities and then proceed to ask for abundant crops. Even in bad times some people prosper, and even in good times some farms and businesses fail. We ask not only for general prosperity, but that we be allowed to share in it (R'S.R. Hirsch).
Dew and rain. The mention of rain in the second blessing of the Shemoneh Esrei is an expression of praise only. There we praise Hashem the Life-giver, Who controls the elements and provides wind and moisture as needed in the seasons when they generally occur. Here we make the request that He give us rain; therefore it is recited only when rain is actually beneficial for the agricultural cycle. Since rain is needed in early fall in Israel, the recitation begins on 7 Cheshvan, much earlier than elsewhere. From Your bounty. Food acquired in a morally corrupt manner lacks the holiness to nourish the soul. Therefore, we ask that Hashem to satisfy us from His bounty, not from earnings to which we are not entitled (Yaaros D'vash).
10. Ingathering of Exiles
Sound the great shofar: There are three differences between this prayer for redemption and the earlier one of #7 Redemption: (a) The earlier blessing refers to Hashem's daily help in all sorts of crises and suffering, while this one refers to the future Redemption from exile; (b) the earlier blessing refers only to physical salvation, while this one is a plea for spiritual deliverance; (c) this one specifies not only freedom from oppression, but the ingathering of all exiles to Eretz Yisroel. What this means to us is that Geula can come to an individual before the ingathering and the final Geula. Many of us living in Israel already feel the effects of the redemption, and will not see great differences when it occurs worldwide.
11. Restoration of Justice
Restore our judges. When Elijah heralds Moshiach's coming, he will first re-establish the Sanhedrin (the ancient Jewish court system), and then the Redemption will begin. A secondary theme of this prayer is the wish that Hashem help all Jewish judges rule wisely and justly (Yaaros D'vash). - And our advisers, i.e., the prophets who gave wise advice in both spiritual and temporal affairs (Olas Tamid). Sorrow and groan: sorrow, results from actual want or pain, such as hunger or destruction; groan, refers to inner turmoil, such as worry, depression, or fear (Vilna Gaon)
12. Against Heretics
And for slanderers. This blessing was not part of the original eighteen blessings; it was instituted in Yavneh, during the tenure of Rabban Gamliel ll as Nasi of Israel, sometime after the destruction of the Second Temple. The blessing was composed in response to the threats of heretical Jewish sects such as the Sadducees, Boethusians, Essenes, and the early Xtians, who tried to lead Jews astray through example and persuasion, and used their political power to oppress observant Jews and to slander them to the Jew-hating Roman government.
13. The Righteous
The remnant of their scholars. The term Sofer refers to those who transmit the Oral Torah from generation to generation (Auodas Yisrael). These four categories of people - righteous, devout, elders, scholars are the leaders of the nation. Because the nation needs them, the Sages instituted a special prayer for their welfare (R' Yehudah ben Yakar), And we will not feel ashamed. One who puts his faith in people feels ashamed, for he has been shown to be helpless on his own. But he is not ashamed to have trusted in Hashem as no one can succeed without His help (Dover Shalom).
14. Rebuilding Jerusalem
And to Jerusalem. Having sought Hashem's blessing on Israel's leaders and the righteous; we seek His blessing for the Holy City. No blessing is complete until the seat of holiness, Jerusalem, is rebuilt in all its grandeur (Iyun Tefillah). The throne of David. Jerusalem cannot be considered rebuilt unless a worthy descendant of David is seated on the throne (R' Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik).
15. Davidic Reign
The offspring of ... David. Zechariah (6:12) teaches that Moshiach's name will be Tzemach, literally, the sprouting or flourishing of a plant. This indicates that the normal process of redemption is like the barely perceptible daily growth of a plant (Iyun Tefillah).
In the previous blessing the mention of David indicates that the realization of Jerusalem depends on the Davidic heir. Here we are taught that the ultimate salvation of the Jewish people is possible only through the Davidic Moshiach.
16. Acceptance of Prayer
[In the middle section of Shemoneh Esrei we have asked Hashem to grant our specific needs. We now close the section with a general plea that He take note of our call and grant our requests. Pity and be compassionate. Pity refers to an artisan's special regard for the product of his hands; while compassion is the emotion aroused upon seeing a totally helpless person. 0 Hashem, pity us because we are Your handiwork, and be compassionate because we are nothing without You! (Vilna Gaon).
Prayers and entreaties. Rashi (Deut. 3:23) explains that an entreaty is a request for an unearned gift. This expression is used by the most righteous people, because they are aware that no human being can claim that Hashem "owes" him something. Gur Aryeh explains that the righteous use the term entreaty only when praying for themselves, but when praying for the community they use Prayer, because Israel as a community deserves Hashem's help,
17. Temple Service
Be favorable. This begins the final section of Shemoneh Esrei. Like a servant who is grateful for having had the opportunity to express himself before his master, we thank Hashem for having been attentive to our prayers.
The service. As we conclude Shemoneh Esrei, our substitute for the Temple's sacrificial service, we ask that the true service be restored to the Temple (Eitz Yosef).
The fire-offerings of Israel. Since the Temple is not standing, this phrase is allegorical. It refers to: the souls and deeds of the righteous, which are as pleasing as sacrifices; Jewish prayers that are like offerings; or the altar fires and sacrifices of the Messianic era. Some punctuate the blessing to read: ... restore the service...and the fire offerings of Israel. Their prayer with love accept favorably.
18. Thanksgiving [Modim]
Rock of our lives. Our parents are the "rocks" from whom our bodies are hewn, but from You we receive life itself (Eitz Yosef). We shall thank You. Having begun the blessing by describing Hashem's greatness and our relationship to Him, we now specify those things for which we thank Him. For our lives. Lest anyone think that he is master over his own life, we acknowledge that every breath and heartbeat is a direct result of Hashem's mercy (Olas Tamid). Our souls that are entrusted to You. The word neshamah refers to the higher soul that provides man his holiness, as opposed to the lower soul that merely sustains him. During slumber, the neshamah leaves the body and is, so to speak, entrusted to Hashem's safekeeping, to be returned to man in the morning (Derech Hashem).
Your miracles ... Your wonders. Miracles are the extraordinary events acknowledged by everyone to be the results of Hashem's intervention. Wonders are the familiar things that we do not regard as miracles because we have grown accustomed to them, such as breathing, raining, and growing. We thank Hashem for both miracles and wonders, because we recognize that He is their Creator (Eitz Yosef).
Establish peace, is recited only times when the Priestly Blessing is given (O.C. 127 :2). At other times, Abundant peace is recited instead. The six forms of good listed here - peace, goodness, blessing, graciousness, kindness, and compassion - allude to the six blessings of Bircas Kohanim, the priestly blessings (Eitz Yoseg).
Graciousness, kindness and compassion. Man goes through stages of development in life. When he is growing and improving, he is the recipient of Hashem’s graciousness. In his period of maturity, when an individual may not improve, but continues the accomplishments of his more fruitful period, then Hashem grants him kindness. Sometimes he declines or does not deserve Hashem’s help, but even then Hashem shows compassion (lkkarim),
The above description of the 19 prayers of the Shemonah Esrei came from the commentary of the Artscroll daily player book, Ashkenaz. Although the order of the prayers are as described in the Talmud, there was much information in the Artscroll commentary that would enhance the statements that I am about to make concerning the process of the Geula and the time within which it will happen. First of all, you can see that the process is not instantaneously accomplished. From start to finish the goal of the process is very involved and could take time. What determines the amount of time is you the individual. It is obvious that not every one of us is at the same stage of the redemption process. For example the most prominent Rabbis of today are not waiting for insight, looking to start their repentance, waiting for forgiveness and, for that matter, waiting for redemption. As you saw above number 7 and number 10 both talk of redemption. Number seven was more of an individual redemption, while number 10 after the in gathering of the exile is alluding to the final redemption. Yet, one might ask if an individual has received all the stages of redemption up to number 10 and has already made Aliyah in Israel, has he or she already completed the in-gathering of the exile on an individual basis? If an individual is up to step 14 the rebuilding of Jerusalem, one might argue that the Jews have returned to Jerusalem and the city is very much built up. I personally have gone to Jerusalem hundreds of times, and am in awe at how beautiful and built-up the city Jerusalem is.
Then we get to the coming of Moshiach ben Dovid. Rabbi Kaduri, and many other sources, said that the Moshiach is already here. The problem with most of us is we don't understand this statement. Rabbi Kaduri never said that he would be announced on the international news including a videotape showing him coming in on a donkey.
He never said that he was coming to my house to knock on my door and shake my hand. All he said was he met and interviewed the man that would be crowned Moshiach, we know the individual that is to be anointed Moshiach lives in Jerusalem; he is, nevertheless, here.
I even question what does it mean that the Geula will be upon us? By the RAMBAM’s definition, redemption will be “business as usual, but there will be no enemies or evil around us.” I have mentioned that I personally live in the city that doesn't even have a police force. In 12 years that I have been here, I have not seen any evil around me. Nobody in this city has television. Very few people listen to radio since we are in a mountainous area; there are very few stations available to make it even worthwhile to have a radio. Very few people have computers other than those who need them for business purposes. The schools in the city frown upon children being around computers, and even have been known to turn down children who come from homes with computers. What does all this mean? Most of the people in this city don't have a clue as to what is going on in the world. They are not aware of the evil, suffering and, in many cases, even the financial hardships. If there were such a thing as the redemption being announced to the world, most people around me including myself would see no daily change in our activities. In other words, I, and most of my neighbors have already received our personal redemption (bli ayin harah).
Am I personally waiting for the Moshiach with the changes that the Moshiach will bring about? Even that is a misnomer since everything that will happened as a result of the Moshiach and the Geula will come from Hashem, not a person. So it is not Moshiach that I'm waiting for, but Hashem's changes. Did Moses cause plagues, split the sea, bring Manna from heaven and water to come from rocks? There are many other changes that are expected that I am already living on a daily basis – all from Hashem. I experience miracles all the time that wouldn’t have been known to me in New Jersey, my former residence.
Yes, I am waiting for Moshiach to be introduced. Why, when I have everything that I want? A very important commandment in the Torah, which I take very seriously, is to love my fellow Jew. It is worded several different ways, but the most famous is in Leviticus 19:18 “Love your fellow as yourself.” This has become known at the golden rule (mostly by the non-Jewish world, which means they also believe it) and is worded “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.” The point is that I am commanded to do so; however, I personally feel the pain of my fellow Jew and every righteous non-Jew. I was never a person to say: I am in good shape why should I worry about others?” When I feel the pain of others, I am acting as a Torah Jew and living Hashem’s will. So yes, I am waiting for Moshiach; yes, I am waiting for the redemption and yes, I want every good person on this planet to have the best Tikun possible! Enough said.
It says in Scriptures that Hashem created many worlds. One of the connotations of that statement is that each one of us is a separate world. No two individuals in this world experience the same thing. The design that Hashem provides for each of us is for the good and merciful treatment that each of us needs. I have been asked why certain things that the Rabbis have been predicting have not come to fruition. I believe that all is happening as they had said, but it is being experienced on an individual basis according to where you stand with Hashem. If you are skeptical about things, then in essence you must be lacking faith and trust in Hashem.
I believe you may be waiting much longer for redemption or not experiencing it at all. What are my statements based on? Prophecy from the Torah. We are told that the events of the first redemption would repeat themselves in the end of days. Interestingly enough only 20% of the Israelites had enough faith in Hashem to follow Moses into the desert. 80% of the Israelites perished in the plague of darkness. There seems to be similar numbers and percentages of Jews today that may fall into the same categories of having faith or not having faith. In other words, one might ask are most of the Jews of today not going to experience redemption? Even the 20% that went into the desert were still measure for measure happy or unhappy depending upon how much they were serving Hashem and having faith in Him.
It all comes down to measure for measure (how many times have I said that) when we ask what each of us individually should be experiencing in the end of days. If we are following the ways of Hashem, I believe we are either already there, or soon to be. If you are a skeptic, a complainer or, even worse, a heretic, don't expect Hashem to shower you with blessings. We really need to do the best repentance we have ever done, especially this month of Elul. Whatever you do measure for measure you will receive in return. We are individuals and are treated as individuals. There is no such thing as blending into the crowd or assimilating into society. Throughout history the Jews have painfully experienced that lesson. Hashem keeps tabs on each one of us – what we think, what we say and what we do. If it is a positive act according to His ways, we receive measure for measure a positive response. It is an exact science. Hashem is consistent and totally to be trusted. He doesn’t play practical jokes and He doesn’t change His mind. The design of this world and the life we live are constant. Hashem makes the world look random just to facilitate our free will; but, it is not random, it is, by design, for each of us. Your deeds, good or bad, will repay you in kind.
What is coming up for each of us is totally designed for each of us. Make it the best for you and your loved ones who depend on you.
Note: The above was taken from my book (with the author’s permission). There is much more detail in the book on how to succeed and reach a personal level of happiness. Go to the right column and click on the “Buy Now” button at the top for an Electronic Copy (directly to your Email) – it is still only $5, but could be worth a fortune to you and your family.