Torah.org Home Subscribe Services Support Us
 
Print Version

Email this article to a friend

Precision In Prayer

By Rabbi Daniel Travis

When Yosef’s brothers arrived they prostrated themselves (vayishtachavu) before him. (Bereshith 42:6)

Yosef’s brothers prostrated themselves fully before him, stretching out their hands and feet, as expressed by the word “vayishtachavu.”1 If so, why do we not prostrate ourselves completely when we recite the words “va’anachnu mishtachavim” (we prostrate ourselves) in the Aleinu prayer? Are we guilty of falsehood if we do not?

Some might dismiss such a question out of hand as based on an excessive concern for detail, for in other matters we are not so punctilious. Yet when it comes to our prayers, such an attitude is indeed warranted. Since God is absolute Truth, all our prayers to Him must be absolutely true, containing not even the minutest element of falsehood.2 Even the smallest untruth when communicating with God has severe repercussions. This is hinted in the Torah verse, “From a word of falsehood, distance yourself,”3 which implies that even “from one word of falsehood” one will “distance himself” from God.4 How then can we say in our prayers that we are prostrating ourselves (mishtachavim), when in fact we are not?

Since the act of bowing is the beginning of total prostration, it is acceptable to bend slightly, as is our custom, when we say that we are mishtachavim in the Aleinu prayer.5 Moreover, there are a number of commentators who explain that the word “mishtachavim” can also refer to bowing without prostrating oneself completely. Thus we are not praying false words when we say that we are “mishtachavim,” while bending over only slightly.6

Because of the importance of absolute truth in prayers, we must be especially careful to ensure that all of the content of our prayers is one hundred percent accurate. If a person is praying for the recovery of a sick person he should make sure that he has the exact name of the sick person as well as his or her mother’s name.7 Likewise, if a person is unsure if he recited a blessing or not, if the blessing contains the phrase “You commanded us” he should not make the blessing, for to say so would be falsehood if it were actually the second time he was saying the blessing.8

Footnotes:

1 Rashi on Bereshith 42:6.
2 Rashi, Yoma 69b.
3 Shemoth 23:7.
4 Midrash Pinchath, p. 28.
5 Ben Ish Chai, Torah L’Shema 48.
6 Rambam, Avodah Zara 6:5; Yad Ramah, Sanhedrin 63, in the name of Rabbeinu Chananel; Ibn Ezra, Bereshith 23:7.
7 Responsa Gevul Yehudah, Orach Chaim 2.
8 S’dei Chemed in the section of Brachoth 2:12. The exceptions to this halachah are the blessings recited before learning Torah and after eating bread.


Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org


 






ARTICLES ON YOM KIPPUR:

View Complete List

Guilt is Good!
Rabbi Label Lam - 5767

Admission
Rabbi Chaim Flom - 5768

Sair HaMishtaleach: The Scapegoat
Rabbi Osher Chaim Levene - 5767

Looking for a Chavrusah?

Are We A Role Model for the World?
Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky - 5764

Yom Kippur Melodies
Rabbi Yehudah Prero - 5757

Yom Kippur - Getting In Touch With Ourselves
Rabbi Berel Wein - 5774

> A Yom Kippur to Remember
Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann - 5760

Your Personal Inner Sanctum
Rabbi Berel Wein - 5764

Did You Hear?
Rabbi Yehudah Prero - 5763

Frumster - Orthodox Jewish Dating

Perfect Mitzvos
Rabbi Yaakov Menken - 5764

Jonah's Dilemma
Rabbi Naftali Reich - 5771

Yom Kippur
Rabbi Berel Wein - 5772

ArtScroll

Complete Teshuvah
Shlomo Katz - 5772

Saying Is Believing
Rabbi Yochanan Zweig - 5772

I Was Wrong
Rabbi Label Lam - 5769

It's a Fast One
Rabbi Pinchas Winston - 5757



Project Genesis

Torah.org Home


Torah Portion

Jewish Law

Ethics

Texts

Learn the Basics

Seasons

Features

TORAHAUDIO

Ask The Rabbi

Knowledge Base




Help

About Us

Contact Us



Free Book on Geulah!




Torah.org Home
Torah.org HomeCapalon.com Copyright Information