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by Rabbi Benarroch, Sept 5, 2019

If there is one thing that defines the High Holidays it is prayer. We do a lot of it during Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur it reaches a feverish pitch when we spend most of the day in shul., As the holidays approach it would do us all well to delve into the question of what exactly is prayer supposed to do for us? There are many things prayer should accomplish but I would like to focus on one aspect of prayer, namely humility.


Prayer is a very humbling experience. In fact one of the most important aspects of prayer is the recognition of need. Maimonides explains that prayer consists of three main points. During prayer we turn to G-d with praise, request, and thanksgiving. In the daily Amidah thirteen of the nineteen blessings are requests. These requests are based on our needs. When we pray we recognize what we lack, we identify what it is that we need in our lives and turn to G-d with our requests. What a humbling experience this is to admit that we are not perfect, that we are lacking, that we have needs. When we pray and make requests of G-d we admit that we cannot go at it alone. Need based on humility then is a major part of prayer.


Let me give just one more example of how humility is at work when we pray. In the Amidah prayer we are all familiar with bowing. We bow during the first two blessings (Avot) and second to last two blessings (Modim). In total we bow four times in the Amidah. What is the basis for bowing? It is interesting to note that the Talmud (Berachot 34a) has a different set of rules for bowing depending on the individual. A regular person bows four times at the intervals we mentioned. But the High Priest bows at every blessing and the King bows at the beginning of the Amidah and remains bowed for the entire duration of the Amidah. Why would the King be different? Why did the King have to bow for the entire Amidah? Rashi, the super commentary on the Talmud, explains that the more power a person has the more they must lower themselves in humility. That is why a King had to bow the entire time. Bowing then is another way that prayer tries to teach us to be humble. I suggest that in shul this Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we all try to keep this in mind.


What a better world we would all live in if after the High Holidays we all came out of Shul a little more humble. Think about what a more humble world would look like. There would be less strife, people would be kinder, we would be more at peace with each other in spite of our different views. We would tolerate more and get angry less. We would have more time for others and maybe even let G-d peek in every once in a while. We would be more forgiving of others and ask forgiveness more often. We would gossip less and praise more. We would fight less and our relationships would improve exponentially. In fact I cannot think of anything negative that would result from a more humble world. So this year when we go to Shul for the holidays lets come out of the experience with just a little bit more humility.


Wishing you all

A Gmar Chatimah Tova

Rabbi Yosef Benarroch

Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Synagogue


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