Three Steps of Prayer Prepared by Rabbi Elliot Kaplowitz for Sefaria
1 א

The Amidah is the central component of all prayer services. The universal practice is to take three steps forward prior to reciting the Amidah, though there is no mention of this practice in any of the earliest sources. The following source sheet will examine the nature of the custom and offer various explanations.

2 ב

(א) יְכַוֵּן רַגְלָיו זֶה אֵצֶל זֶה בְּכִוּוּן, כְּאִלּוּ אֵינָם אֶלָּא א', לְהִדָּמוֹת לְמַלְאָכִים דִּכְתִּיב בָּהֶן: וְרַגְלֵיהֶם רֶגֶל יְשָׁרָה (יְחֶזְקֵאל א, ז) כְּלוֹמַר: רַגְלֵיהֶם נִרְאִים כְּרֶגֶל אֶחָד וְיֵשׁ אוֹמְרִים כְּשֶׁעוֹמֵד לְהִתְפַּלֵּל יֵלֵךְ לְפָנָיו ג' פְּסִיעוֹת, דֶּרֶךְ קֵרוּב וְהַגָּשָׁה לַדָּבָר שֶׁצָּרִיךְ לַעֲשׂוֹת (רוֹקֵחַ).

(1) One should direct their feet next to each other as though they are one, in order to imitate that angels, as it says: “their feet were straight feet” (Ezekiel 1:7), which is to say their feet appeared as one foot. Rema: Some say when a person stands to pray he/she should take three steps forward in the way of coming close and approaching a matter that must be done.

3 ג

Standing Before God

4 ד

The Amidah as the paradigmatic model of prayer is described in the following sources as standing before God. As such, perhaps the steps preceding the Amidah demonstrate that we are approaching God. As you read these sources consider the following:

  • How do we relate to God at this moment? As a King? As a parent? As both?
  • What emotions do you feel as you approach God and prepare to pray?
5 ה

מתני׳ אין עומדין להתפלל אלא מתוך כובד ראש חסידים הראשונים היו שוהין שעה אחת ומתפללין כדי שיכוונו לבם לאביהם שבשמים אפי' המלך שואל בשלומו לא ישיבנו ואפי' נחש כרוך על עקבו לא יפסיק:

MISHNAH One must not stand up to say the Tefillah except in a serious frame of mind. The pious men of old used to wait an hour and then say the Tefillah, in order to direct their heart to their Father in Heaven. Even when a king greets him, he must not respond ; and though a serpent be wound round his heel, he must not interrupt.

6 ו

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Worship of the Heart: Essays on Jewish Prayer. Ed, Shalom Carmy.

Avodah she-ba-lev [worship of the heart] asserts itself in the great experience of Divine presence, the awareness of God, of His proximity and closeness to us. In services of the heart, the finite being encounters his infinite, invisible God, stands before Him and addresses himself to Him. The praying soul is sensitive to the unseen Presence responsive to its word. Tefillah is considered a dialogue, a conversation a colloquy between God and man…
The intellect, the will, the emotional life of the praying person, are occupied, enthralled and dominated by the encounter with God. The whole self stands before, converses with and feels Him. All faculties in the human mobilize their total energy to carry out the greatest of all functions – the revelation of man to God. All faculties enter into, grasp and appreciate this great experience of establishing oneself in the presence of God, of conversing face to face with Him (kata theon)…(95-96)

7 ז

Personal Space

8 ח

Halakhah (Jewish law) stipulates that every individual is entitled to personal space when reciting the Amidah. How might the practice of taking three steps relate to this rule?

9 ט

אני האשה הנצבת עמכה בזה אמר ריב"ל מכאן שאסור לישב בתוך ארבע אמות של תפלה:

"I am the woman that stood by thee here" (I Sam. i. 26). R. Joshua b. Levi said : Hence it is deduced that it is forbidden to sit within four cubits of [one engaged in] prayer.
10 י

מכאן שאסור לישב בד' אמות של תפלה - בין מלפניו (בין מלאחריו) ובין מן הצדדין ופירשו תשובת הגאונים דוקא ביושב ובטל אבל אם היה עוסק בק"ש ובברכותיה וכיוצא בהם אפילו יושב שפיר דמי:

Hence it is deduced that it is forbidden to sit within four cubits of one engaged in prayer – whether in front of them, behind them or on the side of them. The Teshuvat Geonim explain that that this is only if one is sitting idly, but if they are engaged in the recitation of Shema or something similar, even if they are sitting it is okay.

11 יא
  • How does the comment of the Tosafot limit the right of each individual to four cubits while saying the Amidah?
  • How do we honor this rule in our synagogues which often have cramped seating?
12 יב

The following passages discusses what to do if one makes a mistake while reciting the Amidah. There are certain mistakes that require the person to go back to the place of the mistake and continue the Amidah from there. However, if they have finished the Amidah, they must repeat it in its entirety. Note the phrase used to indicate when one has completed the Amidah.

13 יג

אמר רבי תנחום אמר רב אסי אמר ר' יהושע בן לוי טעה ולא הזכיר של ר"ח בעבודה חוזר לעבודה נזכר בהודאה חוזר לעבודה בשים שלום חוזר לעבודה ואם סיים חוזר לראש אמר רב פפא בריה דרב אחא בר אדא הא דאמרן סיים חוזר לראש לא אמרן אלא שעקר רגליו אבל לא עקר רגליו חוזר לעבודה

R. Tanhum said in the name of R. Assi, in the name of R. Joshua b. Levi : If a man erred and omitted the reference to the New Moon in the sixteenth benediction, he must repeat it. If he reminded himself thereof in the seventeenth benediction, he goes back to the sixteenth ; if in the eighteenth, he goes back to the sixteenth. If he had concluded the Tefillah, he must recommence it. Rab Pappa the son of Rab Aha b. Adda said : The statement "If he had concluded the Tefillah, he must recommence it" only applies should he have moved his feet ; but if he has not done so, he returns to the sixteenth benediction.

14 יד

The following passage from the Chayei Adam, a 19th Century Halachic guidebook elaborates on the parameters of the restriction against walking into the four cubits of one who is saying the Amidah. It also offers some rationale for this restriction.

15טו

חיי אדם הלכות תפילה כלל כו

א אסור לישב בתוך ד׳ אמות של המתפלל מכל צדדיו ומלפניו טוב ליזהר להרחיק במלא עיניו מפני שנראה כאילו חבירו מקבל עליו מלכות שמים והוא אינו מקבל ואם עוסק בעניני תפלה אפי׳ בפרק איזהו מקומן או אם הוא איש חלש וצער לו לעמוד אפי׳ אינו עוסק אלא בשאר דברי תורה אפי׳ אינו מעניני תפלה מותר לישב כיון שעוסק בדברים קדושים. אבל הרהור לא מהני. ואם ידוע שהיושב. הוא חולה וא״א לעמוד אפי׳ אינו עוסק בתורה מותר (בש״ע סי׳ ק״ב)...

ג אסור לעבור נגד המתפלל מלפניו בתוך ד׳א שלו אבל מן הצדדין מותר בין לעבור בין לעמוד ונ״ל דמלפניו לא מהני במה שעוסק בתורה או בדברי תפלות והטעם כרי שלא יתבלבל מחשבת המתפלל ול׳׳נ דהטעם משוס דהמתפלל השכינה כננדו ואסור להפסיק בינו לשכינה ומטעם זה המתפלל ובני אדם מחפללין אחוריו אסור לפסוע הפסיעות אחר י׳׳ח עד שיגמור האחרון אפי׳ אם האחרון התחיל להתפלל אחריו ...

Rabbi Abraham Danzig, Chayyei Adam, (1748-1820, Vilna) Laws of Prayer 26

א אסור לישב בתוך ד׳ אמות של המתפלל מכל צדדיו ומלפניו טוב ליזהר להרחיק במלא עיניו מפני שנראה כאילו חבירו מקבל עליו מלכות שמים והוא אינו מקבל ואם עוסק בעניני תפלה אפי׳ בפרק איזהו מקומן או אם הוא איש חלש וצער לו לעמוד אפי׳ אינו עוסק אלא בשאר דברי תורה אפי׳ אינו מעניני תפלה מותר לישב כיון שעוסק בדברים קדושים. אבל הרהור לא מהני. ואם ידוע שהיושב. הוא חולה וא״א לעמוד אפי׳ אינו עוסק בתורה מותר (בש״ע סי׳ ק״ב)...
ג אסור לעבור נגד המתפלל מלפניו בתוך ד׳א שלו אבל מן הצדדין מותר בין לעבור בין לעמוד ונ״ל דמלפניו לא מהני במה שעוסק בתורה או בדברי תפלות והטעם כרי שלא יתבלבל מחשבת המתפלל ול׳׳נ דהטעם משוס דהמתפלל השכינה כננדו ואסור להפסיק בינו לשכינה ומטעם זה המתפלל ובני אדם מחפללין אחוריו אסור לפסוע הפסיעות אחר י׳׳ח עד שיגמור האחרון אפי׳ אם האחרון התחיל להתפלל אחריו ...

1— It is forbidden to sit within 4 cubits, in any direction, of one who is praying. In front of [one who is praying] it is best to be cautious and distance oneself as far as they can see because it looks as though one’s friend is accepting upon himself the burden of the yoke of heave while he is not accepting it. But if he is occupied with matters of prayer, even the chapter of “What is the place” (Misnah Zevachim chapter 5, said in the preliminary section of morning prayers); or if he is a weak person for wohm it is difficult to strand – even if he is occupied with other matters of Torah, even if they are not matters of prayer – he is permitted to sit [next to the praying individual] since he is occupied with holy matters. But [merely] thinking [about holy matters] does not suffice. But if it is know that the person sitting is sick and not able to stand, even if he is not occupied with Torah matters, it is permitted. (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 102)…

3 – It is forbidden to pass in front of one who is praying within his four cubits, but on the sides it is permitted, both to pass by and to stand. It seems to me that concerning passing in front of him, it does not matter if he is occupied with Torah or words of prayer. The reason is not to confuse the concentration of the one who is praying. To me it seems that the reason is because when one prays the Divine Presence is in front of him, and it is forbidden to interfere between him and the Divine Presence. For this reason, if one is praying and other people are praying behind him, it is forbidden to take the three steps backward at the conclusion of the Amidah until the last one has finished, even if the last one had started afterwards…

16 טז

(א) אָסוּר לִישֵׁב בְּתוֹךְ ד' אַמּוֹת שֶׁל מִתְפַּלֵּל; בֵּין מִלְּפָנָיו בֵּין מִן הַצְּדָדִין בֵּין מִלְּאַחֲרָיו, (תוס' וּמָרְדְּכַי וַאֲשֵׁרִי פ' אֵין עוֹמְדִין) וְצָרִיךְ לְהַרְחִיק ד' אַמּוֹת; וְאִם עוֹסֵק בִּדְבָרִים שֶׁהֵם מִתִּקּוּנֵי הַתְּפִלּוֹת, וַאֲפִלּוּ בְּפֶרֶק אֵיזֶהוּ מְקוֹמָן, אֵינוֹ צָרִיךְ לְהַרְחִיק; וְיֵשׁ מַתִּיר בְּעוֹסֵק בַּתּוֹרָה, אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁאֵינוֹ מִתִּקּוּנֵי הַתְּפִלּוֹת; וְיֵשׁ מִי שֶׁאוֹמֵר דְּהָנֵי מִלֵּי מִן הַצַּד, אֲבָל כְּנֶגְדּוֹ אֲפִלּוּ כִּמְלֹא עֵינָיו אָסוּר, אֲפִלּוּ עוֹסֵק בִּקְרִיאַת שְׁמַע.

(ב) יֵשׁ מִי שֶׁאוֹמֵר שֶׁאִם הַיּוֹשֵׁב בְּצַד הַמִּתְפַּלֵּל חָלוּשׁ, מֻתָּר.

(ג) אִם הַיּוֹשֵׁב יָשַׁב כְּבַר, וְעָמַד זֶה בְּצִדּוֹ, אֵינוֹ צָרִיךְ לָקוּם, שֶׁהֲרֵי זֶה בָּא בִּגְבוּלוֹ. מִכָּל מָקוֹם מִדַּת חֲסִידוּת הוּא לָקוּם אֲפִלּוּ בִּכְהַאי גַּוְנָא (בֵּית יוֹסֵף בְּשֵׁם מהרי''א).

(ד) אָסוּר לַעֲבֹר כְּנֶגֶד הַמִּתְפַּלְּלִים בְּתוֹךְ ד' אַמּוֹת, וְדַוְקָא לִפְנֵיהֶם, אֲבָל בְּצִדֵּיהֶם מֻתָּר לַעֲבֹר וְלַעֲמֹד.

(1) ...It is forbidden to be within four cubits of one who is praying, in front of him or to the side of him (or behind him) (Tosfos Mordechai and Ashrei Chapter Ein Omdin) you need to stay four cubits away. If he is dealing with things that have to do with prayer, and in the chapter of Eizehu Mekuman [it says that in the previous case] he doesn't need to further himself [from the person praying]. There are those that permit [being within four cubits of someone praying] when he is learning Torah, and even though it is not related with prayer, and there are those that say that these words are only talking about when you [are within four cubits] to the side, but if you are in front [of the one praying] even if [the person who is praying's] eyes are accustomed to [the person learning in front of him], it is forbidden, even if he is learning Shema.

(2) ...There are those who say that one is permitted to sit on the side of a person that is praying, if he is quiet.

(3) ...If one [is praying] and sitting next to another person, and [the one who is praying] stands up next to the other person, [the one who isn't praying] does not need to stand up, because [the one who was praying] came inside his borders. (and nevertheless it is a kind thing to even in this case)(Beit Yosef in the name of Mehariyah).

(4) ...It is forbidden to work within four cubits of one who is praying. And specifically in front of them; but next to them is permitted to pass by and stand up.

17 יז

Imitating Biblical Figures

18 יח

The next set of sources are inspired by the comment of Rabbi Eleazer of Worms in his book Sefer haRokeach. He notes that there are three stories of prayer in the Bible that are introduced by the verb “to approach.” As you learn the sources ask how each story might provide insight and inspiration for our prayers.

19 יט

הרב אליעזר בן יהודה. ספר הרוקח

בפרק מצות חליצה (דף קה) המתפלל צריך שיתן עיניו למטה ולבו למעלה וכשיחפוץ להתפלל ילך לפניו פסיעות שכתוב ג׳ הגשות לתפלה. ויגש אברהם. ויגש יהודה. ויגש אל

Rabbi Eleazar of Worms (1176-1238). Sefer haRokeach.

In the chapter “The Mitzvah of Chalitzah” (Yevamot 105b): One who prays must direct his eyes downward and his heart upward. When he desires to pray, he should take three steps forward, for there are three “approaches” to prayer written in the Bible. “Abraham approached” (Genesis 18:23). “Judah approached” (Genesis 44:18). “Elijah approached” (I Kings 18:36).

20 כ

The next three sources show the verses cited by R. Eleazar of Worms.

21 כא
(כג) וַיִּגַּ֥שׁ אַבְרָהָ֖ם וַיֹּאמַ֑ר הַאַ֣ף תִּסְפֶּ֔ה צַדִּ֖יק עִם־רָשָֽׁע׃
(23) And Abraham drew near, and said: ‘Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?
22 כב
(יח) וַיִּגַּ֨שׁ אֵלָ֜יו יְהוּדָ֗ה וַיֹּאמֶר֮ בִּ֣י אֲדֹנִי֒ יְדַבֶּר־נָ֨א עַבְדְּךָ֤ דָבָר֙ בְּאָזְנֵ֣י אֲדֹנִ֔י וְאַל־יִ֥חַר אַפְּךָ֖ בְּעַבְדֶּ֑ךָ כִּ֥י כָמ֖וֹךָ כְּפַרְעֹֽה׃
(18) Then Judah came near unto him, and said: ‘Oh my lord, let thy servant, I pray thee, speak a word in my lord’s ears, and let not thine anger burn against thy servant; for thou art even as Pharaoh.
23 כג
(לו) וַיְהִ֣י ׀ בַּעֲל֣וֹת הַמִּנְחָ֗ה וַיִּגַּ֞שׁ אֵלִיָּ֣הוּ הַנָּבִיא֮ וַיֹּאמַר֒ יְהוָ֗ה אֱלֹהֵי֙ אַבְרָהָם֙ יִצְחָ֣ק וְיִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל הַיּ֣וֹם יִוָּדַ֗ע כִּֽי־אַתָּ֧ה אֱלֹהִ֛ים בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל וַאֲנִ֣י עַבְדֶּ֑ךָ ובדבריך [וּבִדְבָרְךָ֣] עָשִׂ֔יתִי אֵ֥ת כָּל־הַדְּבָרִ֖ים הָאֵֽלֶּה׃
(36) And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening offering, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said: ‘O LORD, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that Thou art God in Israel, and that I am Thy servant, and that I have done all these things at Thy word.
24 כד

Rabbi Saul Berman. “An Overview/The “Approach” In Prayer.

The Rabbincial Council of America Edition of the ArtScroll Siddur. Xvi.

Let us return now to the remarkable insight of Rabbi Eleazar ben Judah, author of the Sefer Rokeach, who sees a special connection between the minhag of taking three steps frowad at the outset of the Amida, and the three petitional prayers where we find the words ויגש “and he approached.” That simple suggestion may hold infinite riches. For the three prayers of Abraham, Judah and Eliyahu are paradigms for us. Throughout our prayers, and particularly in our quintessential prayer, the Amidah Lifnei Hahem, our “standing before God”…

25 כה
  • How are the prayers of Abraham, Judah and Elijah paradigms for us?
  • In the sources below we find the full description of each of these individual’s prayers. For each episode consider the significance and intention of the prayer that is uttered. For whom is the prayer said? What is the emotional state of the supplicant? How does seeing the story in its broader context enhance our understanding of prayer and how each of these stories serves as a paradigm?
26 כו

Abraham

27 כז

(יז) וַֽיהֹוָ֖ה אָמָ֑ר הַֽמְכַסֶּ֤ה אֲנִי֙ מֵֽאַבְרָהָ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֖ר אֲנִ֥י עֹשֶֽׂה׃ (יח) וְאַ֨בְרָהָ֔ם הָי֧וֹ יִֽהְיֶ֛ה לְג֥וֹי גָּד֖וֹל וְעָצ֑וּם וְנִ֨בְרְכוּ ב֔וֹ כֹּ֖ל גּוֹיֵ֥י הָאָֽרֶץ׃ (יט) כִּ֣י יְדַעְתִּ֗יו לְמַעַן֩ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יְצַוֶּ֜ה אֶת־בָּנָ֤יו וְאֶת־בֵּיתוֹ֙ אַחֲרָ֔יו וְשָֽׁמְרוּ֙ דֶּ֣רֶךְ יְהוָ֔ה לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת צְדָקָ֖ה וּמִשְׁפָּ֑ט לְמַ֗עַן הָבִ֤יא יְהוָה֙ עַל־אַבְרָהָ֔ם אֵ֥ת אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֖ר עָלָֽיו׃ (כ) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהוָ֔ה זַעֲקַ֛ת סְדֹ֥ם וַעֲמֹרָ֖ה כִּי־רָ֑בָּה וְחַ֨טָּאתָ֔ם כִּ֥י כָבְדָ֖ה מְאֹֽד׃ (כא) אֵֽרֲדָה־נָּ֣א וְאֶרְאֶ֔ה הַכְּצַעֲקָתָ֛הּ הַבָּ֥אָה אֵלַ֖י עָשׂ֣וּ ׀ כָּלָ֑ה וְאִם־לֹ֖א אֵדָֽעָה׃ (כב) וַיִּפְנ֤וּ מִשָּׁם֙ הָֽאֲנָשִׁ֔ים וַיֵּלְכ֖וּ סְדֹ֑מָה וְאַ֨בְרָהָ֔ם עוֹדֶ֥נּוּ עֹמֵ֖ד לִפְנֵ֥י יְהוָֽה׃ (כג) וַיִּגַּ֥שׁ אַבְרָהָ֖ם וַיֹּאמַ֑ר הַאַ֣ף תִּסְפֶּ֔ה צַדִּ֖יק עִם־רָשָֽׁע׃ (כד) אוּלַ֥י יֵ֛שׁ חֲמִשִּׁ֥ים צַדִּיקִ֖ם בְּת֣וֹךְ הָעִ֑יר הַאַ֤ף תִּסְפֶּה֙ וְלֹא־תִשָּׂ֣א לַמָּק֔וֹם לְמַ֛עַן חֲמִשִּׁ֥ים הַצַּדִּיקִ֖ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר בְּקִרְבָּֽהּ׃ (כה) חָלִ֨לָה לְּךָ֜ מֵעֲשֹׂ֣ת ׀ כַּדָּבָ֣ר הַזֶּ֗ה לְהָמִ֤ית צַדִּיק֙ עִם־רָשָׁ֔ע וְהָיָ֥ה כַצַּדִּ֖יק כָּרָשָׁ֑ע חָלִ֣לָה לָּ֔ךְ הֲשֹׁפֵט֙ כָּל־הָאָ֔רֶץ לֹ֥א יַעֲשֶׂ֖ה מִשְׁפָּֽט׃

(17) And the LORD said: ‘Shall I hide from Abraham that which I am doing; (18) seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? (19) For I have known him, to the end that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice; to the end that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him.’ (20) And the LORD said: ‘Verily, the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and, verily, their sin is exceeding grievous. (21) I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto Me; and if not, I will know.’ (22) And the men turned from thence, and went toward Sodom; but Abraham stood yet before the LORD. (23) And Abraham drew near, and said: ‘Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? (24) Peradventure there are fifty righteous within the city; wilt Thou indeed sweep away and not forgive the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? (25) That be far from Thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked, that so the righteous should be as the wicked; that be far from Thee; shall not the judge of all the earth do justly?’

28 כח

(יח) וַיִּגַּ֨שׁ אֵלָ֜יו יְהוּדָ֗ה וַיֹּאמֶר֮ בִּ֣י אֲדֹנִי֒ יְדַבֶּר־נָ֨א עַבְדְּךָ֤ דָבָר֙ בְּאָזְנֵ֣י אֲדֹנִ֔י וְאַל־יִ֥חַר אַפְּךָ֖ בְּעַבְדֶּ֑ךָ כִּ֥י כָמ֖וֹךָ כְּפַרְעֹֽה׃ (יט) אֲדֹנִ֣י שָׁאַ֔ל אֶת־עֲבָדָ֖יו לֵאמֹ֑ר הֲיֵשׁ־לָכֶ֥ם אָ֖ב אוֹ־אָֽח׃ (כ) וַנֹּ֙אמֶר֙ אֶל־אֲדֹנִ֔י יֶשׁ־לָ֙נוּ֙ אָ֣ב זָקֵ֔ן וְיֶ֥לֶד זְקֻנִ֖ים קָטָ֑ן וְאָחִ֨יו מֵ֜ת וַיִּוָּתֵ֨ר ה֧וּא לְבַדּ֛וֹ לְאִמּ֖וֹ וְאָבִ֥יו אֲהֵבֽוֹ׃ (כא) וַתֹּ֙אמֶר֙ אֶל־עֲבָדֶ֔יךָ הוֹרִדֻ֖הוּ אֵלָ֑י וְאָשִׂ֥ימָה עֵינִ֖י עָלָֽיו׃ (כב) וַנֹּ֙אמֶר֙ אֶל־אֲדֹנִ֔י לֹא־יוּכַ֥ל הַנַּ֖עַר לַעֲזֹ֣ב אֶת־אָבִ֑יו וְעָזַ֥ב אֶת־אָבִ֖יו וָמֵֽת׃ (כג) וַתֹּ֙אמֶר֙ אֶל־עֲבָדֶ֔יךָ אִם־לֹ֥א יֵרֵ֛ד אֲחִיכֶ֥ם הַקָּטֹ֖ן אִתְּכֶ֑ם לֹ֥א תֹסִפ֖וּן לִרְא֥וֹת פָּנָֽי׃ (כד) וַיְהִי֙ כִּ֣י עָלִ֔ינוּ אֶֽל־עַבְדְּךָ֖ אָבִ֑י וַנַּ֨גֶּד־ל֔וֹ אֵ֖ת דִּבְרֵ֥י אֲדֹנִֽי׃ (כה) וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אָבִ֑ינוּ שֻׁ֖בוּ שִׁבְרוּ־לָ֥נוּ מְעַט־אֹֽכֶל׃ (כו) וַנֹּ֕אמֶר לֹ֥א נוּכַ֖ל לָרֶ֑דֶת אִם־יֵשׁ֩ אָחִ֨ינוּ הַקָּטֹ֤ן אִתָּ֙נוּ֙ וְיָרַ֔דְנוּ כִּי־לֹ֣א נוּכַ֗ל לִרְאוֹת֙ פְּנֵ֣י הָאִ֔ישׁ וְאָחִ֥ינוּ הַקָּטֹ֖ן אֵינֶ֥נּוּ אִתָּֽנוּ׃ (כז) וַיֹּ֛אמֶר עַבְדְּךָ֥ אָבִ֖י אֵלֵ֑ינוּ אַתֶּ֣ם יְדַעְתֶּ֔ם כִּ֥י שְׁנַ֖יִם יָֽלְדָה־לִּ֥י אִשְׁתִּֽי׃ (כח) וַיֵּצֵ֤א הָֽאֶחָד֙ מֵֽאִתִּ֔י וָאֹמַ֕ר אַ֖ךְ טָרֹ֣ף טֹרָ֑ף וְלֹ֥א רְאִיתִ֖יו עַד־הֵֽנָּה׃ (כט) וּלְקַחְתֶּ֧ם גַּם־אֶת־זֶ֛ה מֵעִ֥ם פָּנַ֖י וְקָרָ֣הוּ אָס֑וֹן וְהֽוֹרַדְתֶּ֧ם אֶת־שֵׂיבָתִ֛י בְּרָעָ֖ה שְׁאֹֽלָה׃ (ל) וְעַתָּ֗ה כְּבֹאִי֙ אֶל־עַבְדְּךָ֣ אָבִ֔י וְהַנַּ֖עַר אֵינֶ֣נּוּ אִתָּ֑נוּ וְנַפְשׁ֖וֹ קְשׁוּרָ֥ה בְנַפְשֽׁוֹ׃ (לא) וְהָיָ֗ה כִּרְאוֹת֛וֹ כִּי־אֵ֥ין הַנַּ֖עַר וָמֵ֑ת וְהוֹרִ֨ידוּ עֲבָדֶ֜יךָ אֶת־שֵׂיבַ֨ת עַבְדְּךָ֥ אָבִ֛ינוּ בְּיָג֖וֹן שְׁאֹֽלָה׃ (לב) כִּ֤י עַבְדְּךָ֙ עָרַ֣ב אֶת־הַנַּ֔עַר מֵעִ֥ם אָבִ֖י לֵאמֹ֑ר אִם־לֹ֤א אֲבִיאֶ֙נּוּ֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ וְחָטָ֥אתִי לְאָבִ֖י כָּל־הַיָּמִֽים׃ (לג) וְעַתָּ֗ה יֵֽשֶׁב־נָ֤א עַבְדְּךָ֙ תַּ֣חַת הַנַּ֔עַר עֶ֖בֶד לַֽאדֹנִ֑י וְהַנַּ֖עַר יַ֥עַל עִם־אֶחָֽיו׃ (לד) כִּי־אֵיךְ֙ אֶֽעֱלֶ֣ה אֶל־אָבִ֔י וְהַנַּ֖עַר אֵינֶ֣נּוּ אִתִּ֑י פֶּ֚ן אֶרְאֶ֣ה בָרָ֔ע אֲשֶׁ֥ר יִמְצָ֖א אֶת־אָבִֽי׃

(18) Then Judah came near unto him, and said: ‘Oh my lord, let thy servant, I pray thee, speak a word in my lord’s ears, and let not thine anger burn against thy servant; for thou art even as Pharaoh. (19) My lord asked his servants, saying: Have ye a father, or a brother? (20) And we said unto my lord: We have a father, an old man, and a child of his old age, a little one; and his brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother, and his father loveth him. (21) And thou saidst unto thy servants: Bring him down unto me, that I may set mine eyes upon him. (22) And we said unto my lord: The lad cannot leave his father; for if he should leave his father, his father would die. (23) And thou saidst unto thy servants: Except your youngest brother come down with you, ye shall see my face no more. (24) And it came to pass when we came up unto thy servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. (25) And our father said: Go again, buy us a little food. (26) And we said: We cannot go down; if our youngest brother be with us, then will we go down; for we may not see the man’s face, except our youngest brother be with us. (27) And thy servant my father said unto us: Ye know that my wife bore me two sons; (28) and the one went out from me, and I said: Surely he is torn in pieces; and I have not seen him since; (29) and if ye take this one also from me, and harm befall him, ye will bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave. (30) Now therefore when I come to thy servant my father, and the lad is not with us; seeing that his soul is bound up with the lad’s soul; (31) it will come to pass, when he seeth that the lad is not with us, that he will die; and thy servants will bring down the gray hairs of thy servant our father with sorrow to the grave. (32) For thy servant became surety for the lad unto my father, saying: If I bring him not unto thee, then shall I bear the blame to my father for ever. (33) Now therefore, let thy servant, I pray thee, abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren. (34) For how shall I go up to my father, if the lad be not with me? lest I look upon the evil that shall come on my father.’

29 כט

Though not one of the instances cited by the Rockeakh, Judah’s petition on behalf of his brother Benjamin concludes with Joseph revealing his true identity to his brothers. Here too, the verb “approach” is used. How does the use of the verb here help us to understand its significance in the context of Judah’s prayer? Note the comment of Rashi.

30 ל
(ד) וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יוֹסֵ֧ף אֶל־אֶחָ֛יו גְּשׁוּ־נָ֥א אֵלַ֖י וַיִּגָּ֑שׁוּ וַיֹּ֗אמֶר אֲנִי֙ יוֹסֵ֣ף אֲחִיכֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁר־מְכַרְתֶּ֥ם אֹתִ֖י מִצְרָֽיְמָה׃
(4) And Joseph said unto his brethren: ‘Come near to me, I pray you.’ And they came near. And he said: ‘I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt.
31 לא

(ד) גשו נא אלי רָאָה אוֹתָם נְסוֹגִים לְאָחוֹר, אָמַר עַכְשָׁיו אַחַי נִכְלָמִים, קָרָא לָהֶם בְּלָשׁוֹן רַכָּה וְתַחֲנוּנִים, וְהֶרְאָה לָהֶם שֶׁהוּא מָהוּל (בראשית רבה):

(4) "Come to me" - He saw them backing away and told himself, "Now my brothers are embarrassed." He called to them in soothing language and showed them that he was circumcised.

32 לב
(יז) וַיְהִ֛י כִּרְא֥וֹת אַחְאָ֖ב אֶת־אֵלִיָּ֑הוּ וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אַחְאָב֙ אֵלָ֔יו הַאַתָּ֥ה זֶ֖ה עֹכֵ֥ר יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ (יח) וַיֹּ֗אמֶר לֹ֤א עָכַ֙רְתִּי֙ אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל כִּ֥י אִם־אַתָּ֖ה וּבֵ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ בַּֽעֲזָבְכֶם֙ אֶת־מִצְוֺ֣ת יְהוָ֔ה וַתֵּ֖לֶךְ אַחֲרֵ֥י הַבְּעָלִֽים׃ (יט) וְעַתָּ֗ה שְׁלַ֨ח קְבֹ֥ץ אֵלַ֛י אֶת־כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל אֶל־הַ֣ר הַכַּרְמֶ֑ל וְאֶת־נְבִיאֵ֨י הַבַּ֜עַל אַרְבַּ֧ע מֵא֣וֹת וַחֲמִשִּׁ֗ים וּנְבִיאֵ֤י הָֽאֲשֵׁרָה֙ אַרְבַּ֣ע מֵא֔וֹת אֹכְלֵ֖י שֻׁלְחַ֥ן אִיזָֽבֶל׃ (כ) וַיִּשְׁלַ֥ח אַחְאָ֖ב בְּכָל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וַיִּקְבֹּ֥ץ אֶת־הַנְּבִיאִ֖ים אֶל־הַ֥ר הַכַּרְמֶֽל׃ (כא) וַיִּגַּ֨שׁ אֵלִיָּ֜הוּ אֶל־כָּל־הָעָ֗ם וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ עַד־מָתַ֞י אַתֶּ֣ם פֹּסְחִים֮ עַל־שְׁתֵּ֣י הַסְּעִפִּים֒ אִם־יְהוָ֤ה הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙ לְכ֣וּ אַחֲרָ֔יו וְאִם־הַבַּ֖עַל לְכ֣וּ אַחֲרָ֑יו וְלֹֽא־עָנ֥וּ הָעָ֛ם אֹת֖וֹ דָּבָֽר׃ (כב) וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֵלִיָּ֙הוּ֙ אֶל־הָעָ֔ם אֲנִ֞י נוֹתַ֧רְתִּי נָבִ֛יא לַיהוָ֖ה לְבַדִּ֑י וּנְבִיאֵ֣י הַבַּ֔עַל אַרְבַּע־מֵא֥וֹת וַחֲמִשִּׁ֖ים אִֽישׁ׃ (כג) וְיִתְּנוּ־לָ֜נוּ שְׁנַ֣יִם פָּרִ֗ים וְיִבְחֲר֣וּ לָהֶם֩ הַפָּ֨ר הָאֶחָ֜ד וִֽינַתְּחֻ֗הוּ וְיָשִׂ֙ימוּ֙ עַל־הָ֣עֵצִ֔ים וְאֵ֖שׁ לֹ֣א יָשִׂ֑ימוּ וַאֲנִ֞י אֶעֱשֶׂ֣ה ׀ אֶת־הַפָּ֣ר הָאֶחָ֗ד וְנָֽתַתִּי֙ עַל־הָ֣עֵצִ֔ים וְאֵ֖שׁ לֹ֥א אָשִֽׂים׃ (כד) וּקְרָאתֶ֞ם בְּשֵׁ֣ם אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֗ם וַֽאֲנִי֙ אֶקְרָ֣א בְשֵׁם־יְהוָ֔ה וְהָיָ֧ה הָאֱלֹהִ֛ים אֲשֶׁר־יַעֲנֶ֥ה בָאֵ֖שׁ ה֣וּא הָאֱלֹהִ֑ים וַיַּ֧עַן כָּל־הָעָ֛ם וַיֹּאמְר֖וּ ט֥וֹב הַדָּבָֽר׃ (כה) וַיֹּ֨אמֶר אֵלִיָּ֜הוּ לִנְבִיאֵ֣י הַבַּ֗עַל בַּחֲר֨וּ לָכֶ֜ם הַפָּ֤ר הָֽאֶחָד֙ וַעֲשׂ֣וּ רִאשֹׁנָ֔ה כִּ֥י אַתֶּ֖ם הָרַבִּ֑ים וְקִרְאוּ֙ בְּשֵׁ֣ם אֱלֹהֵיכֶ֔ם וְאֵ֖שׁ לֹ֥א תָשִֽׂימוּ׃ (כו) וַ֠יִּקְחוּ אֶת־הַפָּ֨ר אֲשֶׁר־נָתַ֣ן לָהֶם֮ וַֽיַּעֲשׂוּ֒ וַיִּקְרְא֣וּ בְשֵׁם־הַ֠בַּעַל מֵהַבֹּ֨קֶר וְעַד־הַצָּהֳרַ֤יִם לֵאמֹר֙ הַבַּ֣עַל עֲנֵ֔נוּ וְאֵ֥ין ק֖וֹל וְאֵ֣ין עֹנֶ֑ה וַֽיְפַסְּח֔וּ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֖חַ אֲשֶׁ֥ר עָשָֽׂה׃ (כז) וַיְהִ֨י בַֽצָּהֳרַ֜יִם וַיְהַתֵּ֧ל בָּהֶ֣ם אֵלִיָּ֗הוּ וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ קִרְא֤וּ בְקוֹל־גָּדוֹל֙ כִּֽי־אֱלֹהִ֣ים ה֔וּא כִּ֣י שִׂ֧יחַ וְכִֽי־שִׂ֛יג ל֖וֹ וְכִֽי־דֶ֣רֶךְ ל֑וֹ אוּלַ֛י יָשֵׁ֥ן ה֖וּא וְיִקָֽץ׃ (כח) וַֽיִּקְרְאוּ֙ בְּק֣וֹל גָּד֔וֹל וַיִּתְגֹּֽדְדוּ֙ כְּמִשְׁפָּטָ֔ם בַּחֲרָב֖וֹת וּבָֽרְמָחִ֑ים עַד־שְׁפָךְ־דָּ֖ם עֲלֵיהֶֽם׃ (כט) וַֽיְהִי֙ כַּעֲבֹ֣ר הַֽצָּהֳרַ֔יִם וַיִּֽתְנַבְּא֔וּ עַ֖ד לַעֲל֣וֹת הַמִּנְחָ֑ה וְאֵֽין־ק֥וֹל וְאֵין־עֹנֶ֖ה וְאֵ֥ין קָֽשֶׁב׃ (ל) וַיֹּ֨אמֶר אֵלִיָּ֤הוּ לְכָל־הָעָם֙ גְּשׁ֣וּ אֵלַ֔י וַיִּגְּשׁ֥וּ כָל־הָעָ֖ם אֵלָ֑יו וַיְרַפֵּ֛א אֶת־מִזְבַּ֥ח יְהוָ֖ה הֶהָרֽוּס׃ (לא) וַיִּקַּ֣ח אֵלִיָּ֗הוּ שְׁתֵּ֤ים עֶשְׂרֵה֙ אֲבָנִ֔ים כְּמִסְפַּ֖ר שִׁבְטֵ֣י בְנֵֽי־יַעֲקֹ֑ב אֲשֶׁר֩ הָיָ֨ה דְבַר־יְהוָ֤ה אֵלָיו֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל יִהְיֶ֥ה שְׁמֶֽךָ׃ (לב) וַיִּבְנֶ֧ה אֶת־הָאֲבָנִ֛ים מִזְבֵּ֖חַ בְּשֵׁ֣ם יְהוָ֑ה וַיַּ֣עַשׂ תְּעָלָ֗ה כְּבֵית֙ סָאתַ֣יִם זֶ֔רַע סָבִ֖יב לַמִּזְבֵּֽחַ׃ (לג) וַֽיַּעֲרֹ֖ךְ אֶת־הָֽעֵצִ֑ים וַיְנַתַּח֙ אֶת־הַפָּ֔ר וַיָּ֖שֶׂם עַל־הָעֵצִֽים׃ (לד) וַיֹּ֗אמֶר מִלְא֨וּ אַרְבָּעָ֤ה כַדִּים֙ מַ֔יִם וְיִֽצְק֥וּ עַל־הָעֹלָ֖ה וְעַל־הָעֵצִ֑ים וַיֹּ֤אמֶר שְׁנוּ֙ וַיִּשְׁנ֔וּ וַיֹּ֥אמֶר שַׁלֵּ֖שׁוּ וַיְשַׁלֵּֽשׁוּ׃ (לה) וַיֵּלְכ֣וּ הַמַּ֔יִם סָבִ֖יב לַמִּזְבֵּ֑חַ וְגַ֥ם אֶת־הַתְּעָלָ֖ה מִלֵּא־מָֽיִם׃ (לו) וַיְהִ֣י ׀ בַּעֲל֣וֹת הַמִּנְחָ֗ה וַיִּגַּ֞שׁ אֵלִיָּ֣הוּ הַנָּבִיא֮ וַיֹּאמַר֒ יְהוָ֗ה אֱלֹהֵי֙ אַבְרָהָם֙ יִצְחָ֣ק וְיִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל הַיּ֣וֹם יִוָּדַ֗ע כִּֽי־אַתָּ֧ה אֱלֹהִ֛ים בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל וַאֲנִ֣י עַבְדֶּ֑ךָ ובדבריך [וּבִדְבָרְךָ֣] עָשִׂ֔יתִי אֵ֥ת כָּל־הַדְּבָרִ֖ים הָאֵֽלֶּה׃ (לז) עֲנֵ֤נִי יְהוָה֙ עֲנֵ֔נִי וְיֵֽדְעוּ֙ הָעָ֣ם הַזֶּ֔ה כִּֽי־אַתָּ֥ה יְהוָ֖ה הָאֱלֹהִ֑ים וְאַתָּ֛ה הֲסִבֹּ֥תָ אֶת־לִבָּ֖ם אֲחֹרַנִּֽית׃ (לח) וַתִּפֹּ֣ל אֵשׁ־יְהוָ֗ה וַתֹּ֤אכַל אֶת־הָֽעֹלָה֙ וְאֶת־הָ֣עֵצִ֔ים וְאֶת־הָאֲבָנִ֖ים וְאֶת־הֶעָפָ֑ר וְאֶת־הַמַּ֥יִם אֲשֶׁר־בַּתְּעָלָ֖ה לִחֵֽכָה׃ (לט) וַיַּרְא֙ כָּל־הָעָ֔ם וַֽיִּפְּל֖וּ עַל־פְּנֵיהֶ֑ם וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ יְהוָה֙ ה֣וּא הָאֱלֹהִ֔ים יְהוָ֖ה ה֥וּא הָאֱלֹהִֽים׃

(17) And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him: ‘Is it thou, thou troubler of Israel?’ (18) And be answered: ‘I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the LORD, and thou hast followed the Baalim. (19) Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the Asherah four hundred, that eat at Jezebel’s table.’ (20) And Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel. (21) And Elijah came near unto all the people, and said: ‘How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.’ And the people answered him not a word. (22) Then said Elijah unto the people: ‘I, even I only, am left a prophet of the LORD; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. (23) Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, and put no fire under; and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on the wood, and put no fire under. (24) And call ye on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD; and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God.’ And all the people answered and said: ‘It is well spoken.’ (25) And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal: ‘Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many; and call on the name of your god, but put no fire under.’ (26) And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying: ‘O Baal, answer us.’ But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they danced in halting wise about the altar which was made. (27) And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said: ‘Cry aloud; for he is a god; either he is musing, or he is gone aside, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.’ (28) And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with swords and lances, till the blood gushed out upon them. (29) And it was so, when midday was past, that they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening offering; but their was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded. (30) And Elijah said unto all the people: ‘Come near unto me’; and all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that was thrown down. (31) And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the LORD came, saying: ‘Israel shall be thy name.’ (32) And with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD; and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed. (33) And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid it on the wood. (34) And he said: ‘Fill four jars with water, and pour it on the burnt-offering, and on the wood.’ And he said: ‘Do it the second time’; and they did it the second time. And he said: ‘Do it the third time’; and they did it the third time. (35) And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water. (36) And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening offering, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said: ‘O LORD, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that Thou art God in Israel, and that I am Thy servant, and that I have done all these things at Thy word. (37) Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that Thou, LORD, art God, for Thou didst turn their heart backward.’ (38) Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt-offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. (39) And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said: ‘The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God.’

33 לג

Each of the Biblical figures has a very different motivation and focus for approaching God in prayer. Abraham prays on behalf of the people of Sodom – his prayer is universalistic in nature. Judah, on the other hand pleas on behalf of his brother. As echoed in Joseph’s “approach” to the brothers, the prayer is more intimate and internally focused. Finally, Elijah’s prayer is as a prophet representing God and convincing the nation to follow God and not idolatry. These three approaches correspond to many of the emotions and concerns that we bring with us when we pray. With each step that we take we are reminded of the approaches to prayer taken by our ancestors as a way of helping us to focus our own efforts.

34 לד

Conclusion

The three steps which precede the Amidah are rich with meaning and symbolism. On the one hand they help prepare us for the awesomeness of the task at hand – communicating our thoughts and needs directly to God. We approach with a sense of humility and trepidation but also with confidence knowing that God welcomes our prayers.

The three steps establish our own private prayer space which allows us to better concentrate while praying.

Finally the three steps remind us of the prayers offered by Biblical figures who also approach God before praying. By imitating their physical actions we channel the emotions and nature of the prayers that they uttered in the hope that this will add significance to our own prayer experience.