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Thought for the Day: Grammar in Shmone Esrei

I once had a boss who told me that "semicolons are stupid".  He was one of the best bosses I ever had for stories to tell the rest of my life.  While grammar is on few people's top ten list, it is important.  Consider:
  • Stop clubbing baby seals. (hackneyed phrase used by yuppies who don't have to worry about how to heat their home or feed their babies like the eskimos they are trying to put out of work.)
  • Stop clubbing; baby seals. (imperative lampoon of same group as above: instead of going out to night clubs, get yourselves some seals to coddle)
  • Stop clubbing, baby seals. (sarcastic imperative to baby seals telling them to stop partying)
  • Stop clubbing baby, seals.  (sarcastic warning to seals, telling them to lay off that baby)
Ok, point made, and I also got to make fun of yuppie culture; this has been a satisfying article so far.

So grammar really is important, even in Shmone Esrei.  It was pointed out to me that there is another interesting issue in r'tzei.  Namely, that "Yisrael" is used three times (yes; I certainly should have noticed this before myself).  After careful analysis (having been put on the spot at a yom tov table with this observation, followed by, "So why is that?"), we find that Yisrael is used twice as a noun and once as basically an adjective.

We have already discussed the yisrael in the phrase "ishei yisrael" (The Temple Service in Shmone Esrei).   At the beginning we have "r'tzei HaShem El-keinu b'amcha yisrael" -- be favorable to Your nation, who is Yisrael.  That is, we pray in the z'chus of being His nation, that our service should find favor.  At the end we conclude with "u's'hi l'ratzon tamid avodas yisrael amecha" -- let the service of Yisrael, who is Your nation, always find favor.  This time we are praying in the z'chus of being Yisrael, the people chose to serve HaShem  as our G-d.  We are therefore asking for favor as His nation, even if we weren't Yisrael and as Yisrael even if we weren't His nation.

The Nefesh haChaim says that all of the kavonos and depth of thought understood by the Ari, z"l concerning shmone esrei are not a drop in the ocean compared to what Chazal put there.  In fact, the Anshei K'nesses haGadol actually packed into the Shmone Esrei a unique kavana for each Jew every time he would daven.  You mincha today is not your mincha of yesterday and is unrelated to your mincha of tomorrow.

Given that, maybe grammar isn't important even in Shmone Esrei, it is important especially in Shmone Esrei.  It's probably worth spending a bit more time with those grammar Rashi's....


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