The Order and the What and Why of Jewish Prayer
What follows is a brief description of the rubrics of a Shabbat evening prayer service. Many of the sections stay the same for daily prayer. The page numbers refer to Mishkan T’filah, the prayer book we use on Friday evenings.
Kabbalat Shabbat “Welcoming the Sabbath” is the first part of the service that sets the mood for Shabbat. It contains six psalms, one for each day of the week, culminating with Psalm 92, a psalm for Shabbat. At Mount Zion, we usually chant the first two, Psalms 95 and 96 [p.p. 12 & 13]. The love poem, L’cha Dodi [p. 20] was composed by kabbalist Rabbi Solomon Alkabetz of Safed in 1529. We stand for the last stanza (“Bo’i V’shalom“) and turn around to face the sanctuary entrance to welcome symbolically, the Sabbath bride. We light candles [p.2] to bring Shabbat warmth into our sanctuary.
Chatzi Kaddish [p. 26] is like a semi-colon; it gives us a pause between Kabbalat Shabbat and the main part of the evening service. It also sets the musical tone for the Shabbat evening prayers.
Shema and its Blessings
Bar’chu [p. 28] is the official call to worship. The Cantor or prayer leader “invites” the congregation to prayer with the first line of the prayer, and the congregation responds with the second line.
Creation (Ma’ariv Aravim in the evening service) [p.p. 30-31], along with Revelation and Redemption are the statements of Jewish belief relating to God that surround the recitation of Shema.
Revelation[p.p. 32-33] (Ahavat Olam in the vening service). God so loves us that God gave us the Torah.
Shema [p. 34] God is One, so we must also try to become one human family, living together in love and in peace.
V’ahavta [p.36] Loving God means loving God’s creation. We do that by performing mitzvot and passing our tradition on to our children. The text comes directly from Deuteronomy 6:5-9 and Numbers 15:40-41 and is chanted according to Torah cantillation (trope). The following middle sections are not in our evening prayerbook , but appear in our Shabbat morning one where we pray them silently: Deuteronomy 11:13-21; Numbers 15:37-39}.
Redemption/Geulah [p.p. 38-41] just as God saved us from Egypt, we ask God to please save us again in the future. This rubric includes Mi Chamocha [Who is like You?].
Hashkiveinu [p.p. 42-43] In the evening service only, we pray for Divine protection from all bad things.
V’shamru [p. 44] The people of Israel should celebrate Shabbat, a sign of the covenant between Israel and God.
Hatefilah (the prayer) also known as The Amidah (the “standing” prayer) also known as the Sh’moneh Esreh (the 18 benedictions)
Avot/Imahot (“Fathers/Mothers”)[p.p. 48-49] is the first prayer of Hat’filah / the amidah/ the Sh’moneh Esreh (which translates as 18 benedictions, but is actually 19 during the week and 7 on Shabbat). We are connected to God by our ancestors, by the history which makes us who we are today & guides us for tomorrow.
G’vurot (“Strength”)[p.57] God is mighty because God does great things! When we heal the sick, comfort others and laugh with others, we become “mighty” like God.
K’dushat Hashem (“Holiness of God’s Name”) in the evening service[p.58] proclaims that God is holy! In the morning service this is replaced with Kedusha, during which we stand up on our toes for each mention of “Holy” like the angels Isaiah saw.
Petition (But not on Shabbat)
Kedushat Hayom (“Holiness of the Day”) is the one prayer on Shabbat that takes the place of a series of petition prayers during the week.
R’tzei [p.56-57] O please won’t you hear and accept our prayers?
Modim [p.61] We thank God for everything.
Shalom / Peace[p.63] In the evening, Shalom Rav. Peace is the greatest hope of all…We ask God to help us to create a true and lasting peace on earth.
Mi Shebeirach We pray for healing of body, mind and soul for our loved ones and for ourselves.
Aleinu [p. 282] We are God’s partners, trying to help all of the dreams we prayed about to become a reality. The middle paragraphs are the basis in our liturgy for Tikkun Olam — fixing the world!
Kaddish [p. 294] No, not death but life. Though people die, life is good. We affirm that life can be holy, as God is the Giver of Life.
Kiddush[p.5] From the same Hebrew root word [K-D-SH = HOLY] as Kedushah and Kaddish, this prayer sanctifies Shabbat over the blessing of wine. L’chaim – to life!
Learn more: Prayer Movement