By Rabbi Dr. Meir Tamari
"Vaetchanan-- I beseeched."
"Halakhically, by what right may a person pray aloud, since we have
learned from the sages that it is questionable whether a person may do so.
Such loud prayer is considered presumptuous and arrogant, keeping in mind
the greatness of HaShem and the insignificance of human beings. Hannah
already taught us that one may pray in silence, ' and she spoke to her
heart' (Samuel 1, 1:13)"(Devarim Rabbah Parshah 2). Yet Eli the High
Priest, who was the bearer of the tradition handed down from Moses,
considered her to be drunk; since she did not pray loudly as was customary
(Rashi). Should we not then rule that one should not be allowed to pray
In order to resolve this question of silent or loud prayer, it is
necessary to consider the roots from which the impetus to pray comes. We
see that prayer flows from two sources. On the one hand, prayer may come
from the outpouring of the heart that calls to God, because of an
individual’s sorrow, or distress, or pain. Alternatively, prayer may be
the result of knowledge, introspection and analysis. Here, the prayer
pours out even though at the outset there was no intention to pray. While
it is true that one requires both mind and heart to pray, nevertheless, in
one case the source is the distress of the heart that awakens the mind to
think the thoughts necessary for prayer, while in the other case it is the
wisdom of the mind that awakens the heart to pour itself out before G-d.
The difference between silent prayer and those prayers that are said aloud
may be explained by these sources from which the prayer flowed. The heart
is warm, emotional and is full of religious feeling, so that the
outpouring of spirituality cannot be contained within it. Moreover, the
heart is extremely sensitive to human needs - material, physical and
social- so that such prayer needs to be voiced aloud, even as it is
written, “ let your hearts cry out to God”. This leads to expression
through sound, voice and bodily movements in prayer. The mind, however,
is cool and collected, rational and unemotional. Here there is constant
intellectual analysis, unrelenting inquiry and sophisticated research, so
that such prayer is hidden and not easily visible. That is why Holy
People and the Righteous Ones always pray silently, without emotion and
without movement. "I have heard that the Admor Simcha Bunem of Pyscha
never moved his hands, his body or his eyes in prayer, nor ever raised his
voice. My father told me that when he was ill on Rosh HaShanah and Yom
Kippur, my grandfather, the great Admor Menachem Mendel of Kotsk, took him
to pray together with him in his private study. He watched the Master
pray without motion, movement or sound. He was like a pillar of fire and
his face shone like torches; a veritable awesome angel of the Lord. This
is the outpouring of the ecstasy of the mind, which is the highest form of
In this way we may understand the difference between the formal and set
prayers of the Amidah ordained by the Men of the Great Assembly [Anshei
Knesset Hagedolah] and those intermittent or personal prayers offered by
each individual according to their needs. The set prayer in the Shmoneh
Esrai requires the concentration of the mind and the introspection of the
intelligence, so that each brachah and brachah may be considered and may
be examined, so as to consider its importance and the great loss that
would occur if one had to exist without it. Such intellectual depth and
serious search brings the mind to the stage where it is unable to be
separated from the ideas in the each of the eighteen brachot and thereby
one comes to pray. The sages taught (Talmud, Berachot, 28b) " that one
who makes his prayer set and time-bound, such prayer is not beseeching nor
a request". Naturally, each person fulfills their obligations and achieves
their potential in such prayers, according to their intellectual ability.
However, in the optional, introductory or intermittent prayers, each
individual prays because of their needs, troubles and tribulations, or the
needs and sorrows of family, neighbors and society. This is a function of
heart and the emotions and therefore each prayer is a shout and a loud cry.
We know that prayer requires both heart and mind. Indeed, irrespective of
the source this unity is achieved. The set prayers flow from the mind yet
the mind affects also the heart that follows it, adding personal emotion
and human warmth. When the prayers originate in the heart, they move the
mind and the intellect to merge with them. So we have the Amidah recited
in silence - the outpouring of the mind, and then the reader’s repetition
is recited aloud. For this unity between mind and heart one requires the
unity and community of purpose of communal prayer. Such unity of the
worshipers is even able to unite Heaven and Earth.
Shem Mi Shmuel, 5675.
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Meir Tamari and Torah.org.
r. Tamari is a renowned economist, Jewish scholar, and founder of the Center For Business Ethics (www.besr.org) in Jerusalem.