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Thought for the Day: Standing For Shmone Esrei

One is certainly allowed to daven shmone esrei sitting down.  For example, on a plane where standing up would block the aisle and cause a chillul HaShem.  In fact, even lying down is permitted in certain circumstances (like, say... middle of chemotherapy and too weak to sit up for the few minutes needed).  Standing, however, is certainly the preferred mode of execution.  Why?

The Mabit starts with the Chazal we all know, that the Torah refers to prayer as "avodas ha'leiv" (service of the heart and mind), and avoda (ie, offering korbanos) needs to be performed in a standing position; therefore prayer has to performed standing.  So far so good.  However, continues the Mabit, that only begs the question, "Why does avoda have to be performed standing?"  Oh yeah; good question!  I'm surprised you didn't think of that; almost as surprised as I am that I never thought of it.

The Mabit answers that avoda of any sort if uniquely human, as is speech itself.  Whether it is the avoda of korbanos or the avoda of t'fila, therefore, it should be performed in a manner that is uniquely human.  We are in this world to sanctify the profane; to utilize the physical in service of the spiritual.  Since our pupose and aspiration to to rise, we are built vertical, with are brains (the seat of the intellect and the neshama) at the top.  Animals, on the other hand, are meant to be passively used; they have no aspiration to go up, so they are built horizontal.  Hence, korbanos are offered and prayer is said while standing.

What about our stance?  I had already heard that we keep our feet together in imitation of the angels, who have but a single foot.  We have free will, and we strive to be like the m'lachim who make every choice a choice to do ratzon HaShem.  The Mabit adds another dimension, however, that this is a very vulnerable way to stand.  We could easily be pushed over and would find it hard to defend ourselves.  That again is part of our avoda, acknowledging that we are completely dependent on HaShem and only HaShem.

What I found so cool about all this is that even if one doesn't have kavana for each word and even if one doesn't understand every word, our stance itself conveys the main intent of our prayer.

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