Shabbat Parashat Vayeira | 5763
Ask the Rabbi
Question: Is it permitted and advisable to add individual requests to one’s tefilla?
Answer: There is tension between the importance of making tefilla responsive to the individual’s needs and circumstances (see Berachot 29b) and the importance of preserving the framework, which was composed by Anshei K’nesset Hagedola. The gemara (Avoda Zara 8a) and poskim (Orach Chayim 119) arrived at the following balanced approach.
During the first three and last three berachot of Shmoneh Esrei, where one praises and thanks Hashem, we make no requests (Shulchan Aruch, OC 112:1). During the middle berachot of set requests, one can add requests to any beracha on condition that they are related to the beracha and that the need is in the present (not, “that I shouldn’t get sick”) (ibid. 119:1). Some say that requests that apply to an individual should be said in the singular, as using the plural, which is the format of the set tefilla, makes it look like he is adding on to the set tefilla (ibid.).The last of the middle berachot, Shomeia Tefilla, is the most general and lends itself more easily to personal requests. Therefore, any request can be added at that point, even if relates to potential, future needs, and it can be made in the plural (ibid.). However, even here, some poskim place limitations. 1) They shouldn’t be too long (ibid.): 2) Some object to turning a set text of a request into a permanent part of the Shmoneh Esrei text, particularly if the text was formally published in a siddur (Aruch Hashulchan 119:2). Others are not troubled by the possible insult to Anshei K’nesset Hagedola, if the text comes from a recognized source such as the Zohar (Kaf Hachayim 119:5). Certainly, if an acute need persists for a long time, one should not feel pressured to stop praying for it on a regular basis. The proper place to insert the addition is within the middle of the beracha (Shulchan Aruch 119:1). It is preferable to do so before the last phrase preceding the beracha’s ending (see Aruch Hashulchan 119:1) like the addition for fast days.The simplest place to insert requests is after the set tefilla is complete (before “Elokai netzor …”), before or after “Yehiyu l’ratzon …” (Shulchan Aruch, ibid.). None of the above reservations apply there. There are a variety of opinions as to whether it is best to make use of this safer system or whether it is best, when permitted, to insert the request at the earlier, more central part of tefilla.Some complain that halacha is so structured that it leaves no room for individualism. We are not required to make any additions and can think about our specific needs when we get up to the appropriate parts of the tefilla. However, those who can benefit from the ability to express what is on their mind can feel free to take advantage of the halachic opportunity.
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