What are we doing on Friday nights, when we gather for Shabbat services? That’s the question we explored together this past week.
There is a commandment in the Torah to say the Shema “when we lie down and when we rise up.” (Deut. 6:7) We say the Amidah at the time originally appointed for the sacrifices, a set of commandments we cannot keep because the Temple has been destroyed. The Amidah is structured like an audience with a powerful ruler:
1. Avot – We are the descendants of the patriarchs & matriarchs. It is by their merit [z'chut] that we address God in this prayer.
2. Gevurot – You are God, there is nothing and no one greater.
3. Kedushat HaShem – We praise God’s holiness.
4. Kedushat HaYom – We praise God, who made this holy day, the Sabbath.
5. Avodah – May our prayers be acceptable to God.
6. Hoda’ah –We give thanks to God for our many blessings.
7. Shalom – We pray for peace.
The Amidah goes by other names as well: Tefilah ["Prayer"], and Shemoneh Esreh ["Eighteen," for the original number of prayers in the weekday Amidah]. The word Amidah means “standing,” which is the posture for the prayer. (More about posture and choreography in our class on April 15.)
Other elements in the service lead us up to the Shema, then gently bring us back to earth after the Amidah. For a full breakdown of the parts of the service and the blessings in it, download the Maariv Outline.
Next week, we will look at the Shabbat Morning service, Shabbat Shacharit. See you then!
– Rabbi Adar