During Shemoneh Esrei we stand before the Divine Presence. Through each word and phrase, we elevate ourselves to one of the highest levels of connection that a Jew can achieve with his Creator while still in this world. What could possibly add to such an experience?
After praying seated and standing during Pesukei D’zimra, Shema and Shemoneh Esrei, our Sages described a final level of prayer as “nefilas apayim” – falling before Hashem. In its original form, nefilas apayim involved prostrating oneself on the floor as a sign of complete subjugation to Hashem’s will.
The Zohar compares nefilas apayim to an act of mesirus nefesh, giving up our lives for Hashem’s honor (Bamidbar 120b). For this reason some have the custom to say vidui beforehand, just as a person must do before he gives up his life al kiddush Hashem. In its original form nefilas apayim consisted of saying chapter 25 of Tehillim, which alludes to mesiras nefesh.
Since the Zohar warns that a superficial recital of nefilas apayim is potentially life-threatening, changes were made to how Tachanun is recited. Ashkenazim do not fall on the floor or recite chapter 25 of Tehillim, which mentions mesirus nefesh; rather, they put down their heads on their arms and recite chapter 6 of Tehillim. Sephardim recite the chapter of mesirus nefesh, but do not put down their heads.
Text Copyright © 2010 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org