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Thought for the Day: The Temple Service In Shmone Esrei

What difference does a comma make?  The words "eats shoots and leaves" can be read as describing its diet or its behavior when dining.  (What the "it" being described?  I'm afraid you'll have to get the book to find out.  Or google it.)

As it turns out, placement of commas is not just  a goyishe zach; it comes up in t'fila also.  Case in point: r'tzei.  It starts off innocently enough: "May You be pleased, HaShem our G-d, with Your nation Yisrael and with their prayer."  So far, so good.  Then we have, "and restore the [Temple] service to the Holy of Holies in Your Sanctuary v'ishei yisrael and their prayer accept with love favorably."  Whew.  That's at least a run on sentence and needs a comma or semicolon or something.  Even worse, how should we translate "ishei yisrael"?  Is that the fires of Yisrael or the men of Yisrael?  Shockingly, it's a machlokes!  (Bet you didn't see that one coming, did you?)  There are three ways brought by the Mishna Brura to read it (120:1, s.k. 1)

The Tur understand this to be a t'filla and the comma goes after the phrase "d'vir beisecha".  That is, "the [altar] fires which we do not have now  and the prayers that stand in their place should be accepted lovingly."

The midrash also puts the comma after the word heichal, but understands "ishei" and "anshei" -- the men/tzadikim of Yisrael.  It then explains that the Archangel Michoel brings the souls of tzadikim close to HaShem and they are His nachas ru'ach.

Others go with "ishei" means "fires of", but put the comma after "ishei yisrael" -- "return the Temple service to the Holy of Holies in Your Sanctuary and the altar fires; and may you accept their prayer with love favorably.

The Ta"z says that the midrash is the coolest (my loose translation of "muvchar"), and the Gr"a says the last explanation is the simple meaning of our t'fila.

I shy away from cute titles, but I really, really wanted to call this one "Three Which are One."


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