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Elokai Netzor

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Parsha Halacha – Parshat VaYeira

The Last Paragraph of the Amidah

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In the Torah portion of Vayeira, we read how Avraham, our forefather, prayed the morning prayer, as the Torah says, “And Avraham arose early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the L-rd.”[1] Our sages say[2] that the word “stood” (or standing) refers to prayer as the verse says, “And Pinchas stood and he prayed.”[3] It is logical that standing refers to prayer since praying (the Amidah) must always be done standing in honor of the Shechinah (Divine Presence).[4]
The Rambam writes that “When Avraham arose, he also ordained the morning prayers… Yitzchak…  ordained an additional prayer service before sunset (Mincha). Yaakov… ordained the evening prayers.”[5]
The Alter Rebbe writes, “The men of the Great Assembly ordained that one should pray three prayers daily… the same way the patriarchs prayed. They established two of these services… corresponding to the two mandatory daily offerings. The evening service they established… corresponding to the limbs and fat of the sacrifices that could be offered throughout the night.”[6]
This article will focus on the short paragraph that is recited at the end of the Amidah which begins with the words Elokai Netzor.
The Prayer of Mar son of Ravina
The Talmud in Brachot (17a) cites the prayers that various Amoraim (sages of the Talmud) would say after completing their recitation of the Amidah. The one which is customarily recited today (with slight differences) is that of Mar, the son of Ravina.[7] His prayer went as follows:
“My G-d, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceitfully. Let my soul be silent to those who curse me, and let my soul be as dust to all. Open my heart to Torah, and let my soul eagerly pursue Your commandments. And save me from all bad occurrences and from the yetzer hara (evil impulse) and from a bad woman[8] and from anything negative which may occur in this world. (This line is not included in the daily prayers.) As for all those who plot evil against me, hasten to annul their counsel and frustrate their design. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable before You, L-rd, my Strength and my Redeemer.”
It is now customary to say (most of) the above prayer upon completing the Amidah before taking three steps backwards. In addition, most prayer books add several lines to this prayer.
Here are some explanations gleaned from the commentaries on this prayer:
  • Guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceitfully
“Guard my tongue” is referring to slander (lashon hara) while “my lips speaking deceitfully” is refers to lying speech.  Just as one’s lips are divided into two, so, too, one who speaks deceitfully does so with his mouth while thinking something else in his heart.[9]
It has been pointed out[10] that, although there are 365 negative commandments, we pray for Divine assistance specifically in refraining from speaking lashon hara. It is possible that the reason for this is that the Talmud says[11] that every person transgresses daily the sin of lashon hara, at least subtly (this is called avak lashon hara, the dust of lashon hara[12]). We therefore ask for special assistance in refraining from it.
  • Let my soul be silent to those who curse me
This means that the person should have the strength of character to not respond in kind to one who insults him. Alternatively, the Hebrew (Velimkalelai nafshi tidom) can be translated to mean, “May those who curse my soul be silent.”[13]
  • Let my soul be like dust to all
Not only should I not respond to those who insult me, but I should reach such a high level of humility that I don’t feel upset when I am insulted.[14]
Tosfot (D.H.VeNafshi) says that this means that just as dust can never be obliterated, so too (one is praying that) may my descendants never be obliterated.
Some say[15] that one is praying that just as dust which is stepped on by everyone yet ends up as the winner since all people are buried in the dust, so too (one is praying,) may I end up vanquishing all of my enemies.
These words can also be interpreted to mean, “May all of my enemies consider me like dust and not insult me in the first place.”[16]
  • Open my heart to Torah
Only when a person is truly humble (“may my soul be like dust for all”) is he able to truly understand the wisdom of the Torah.[17]
The Talmud says that one might say, “Now that I am guarding my tongue from evil, I may as well indulge in sleep.” Therefore, the verse says, “Guard your tongue from evil… Turn from evil and do good.”[18] “Do good” refers to Torah study, as the verse says, “For I gave you good teaching; do not forsake My Torah.”[19] Now that one has prayed that he be saved from speaking slanderously, he prays that his time be occupied with Torah study and with eagerly performing mitzvot rather than frittering away his time.[20]
  • Let my soul eagerly pursue Your commandments
Concerning Torah study, we pray that “our hearts be open,” whereas concerning the observing of mitzvot we pray that “our souls eagerly pursue” the mitzvot. (The Hebrew is Uvemitzvotecha tirdof nafshi. Translated literally, this means, “May my soul run after Your mitzvot). This is because one should study Torah in a methodical and unhurried manner whereas one should fulfill the mitzvot quickly and without delay. For example, if a poor person requests charity, one should give it to him immediately as his situation may be urgent.[21]
  • As for all those who plot evil against me, hasten to annul their counsel and frustrate their design
This means that (we are praying that) G-d should annul the plots of our enemies while those plots are still in the enemies’ minds, even before they are expressed in speech. (The Hebrew for “frustrate their design” is “kalkel machashavtam” which, translated literally, means “ruin their thoughts.”)[22]
Performing mitzvot with alacrity is the best spiritual protection against the plots of one’s enemies, as King David said, “All Your commandments are faithful; they pursued me in vain; help me. They almost destroyed me on earth, but I did not forsake Your precepts.”[23] This explains the continuity of these two requests – “Let my soul eagerly pursue Your commandments” and “As for all those who plot evil against me, hasten to annul their counsel etc.”[24]
Additional Prayers
There are several lines that are customarily added to the prayer of Mar, the son of Ravina. These differ slightly depending on the various nuscha’ot (versions) of the siddur. Here are some explanations on some of these prayers:
  • In order that Your beloved ones should be rescued, save Your right hand and answer me.[25]
Based on this verse, the Midrash says[26] that when the Jewish people suffer, G-d, too, is in pain (so to speak). And when G-d responds to our prayers, He is “saving” Himself as well. This is the meaning of “Save Your right hand and answer me,” i.e., by answering us, G-d is saving His own right hand. (See Job 2:3 that at the time of the destruction of the Holy Temple, G-d’s right hand is withdrawn.)
This is an appropriate way to finish our prayers as we are essentially saying that our prayers are not only for ourselves but also for G-d.
  • Do it for the sake of…
In most siddurim, the following lines are added to this prayer at this point: “Do it for the sake of Your name; do it for the sake of Your right hand; do it for the sake of Your Torah; do it for the sake of Your holiness.” The reason for saying this prayer is that whoever recites these four requests every day will merit to receive the Divine presence. [27]
These four requests correspond to four of the Divine attributes: Keter (Your name), Chessed (Your right hand), Tiferet (Your Torah) and Gevurah (Your holiness).[28]
When the Bait HaMikdash was destroyed, there were four aspects that were desecrated: G-d’s name was desecrated, his right hand was (so to speak) weakened, the strength of the Torah was lacking and, finally the holy site of the Bait HaMikdash was destroyed. At the conclusion of our Amidah we pray for the return of these four aspects.[29]
Passages for the Name
The poskim write[30] that, before the end of the Amidah, it is good to recite a verse from the Tanach that begins and ends with the same letters as the beginning letter and last letter of one’s Hebrew name.[31] One can also say a verse from Tanach that includes their actual name.[32] One who has two names (or more) should recite one verse for each name.[33] By reciting this verse at this (and at other[34]) time(s), one will be able to remember his name when he is asked it on the great judgment day. In addition, this will redeem his name from the negative forces in which it may be “exiled.”[35]  Many siddurim now list the verses that correspond to various names.
Why Would One Forget His Own Name?
The question has been asked, why would one forget his name on judgment day? After all, there is nothing a person knows better than his own name![36]
Rabbi Moshe Wolfson explains[37] that a person’s name represents his shlichut, his mission in this world.[38] (Although many people might share the same name, they each have a different shlichut as the same letters can be put together in different ways and can have various permutations, etc.) For a tzadik who fulfills his mission in this world, his name is fitting and he certainly remembers it, having “earned” it by fulfilling the mission on which he was sent. But a wicked person who does not fulfill his mission mars his name and isn’t worthy of being called by that name. This is why, when he is called to give a reckoning for his deeds on the great judgment day, he forgets his name. The purpose of saying the verses that remind us of our names at the end of the Amidah is that as we still stand in the presence of the Almighty G-d after our prayers, we remind ourselves that we have a unique mission in this world, and we pray to G-d that we fulfill it and earn our names.
There are various laws that apply to the paragraph of Elokai Netzor in terms of adding one’s personal prayers at this time and the laws of interrupting during this prayer in order to respond to kadish etc. These will, G-d willing, be addressed in a future article.
May we merit to have our prayers accepted for our sakes and for the sake of the Almighty Himself!

[1] Gen. 19:27
[2] Brachot, 26b and Talmud Yerushalmi, Brachot, 4:1
[3] Psalms, 106:30
[4] Rabbi Yonatan Eibeshitz in Ya’arot Devash, vol. 2, Derush 18, pg. 916, paragraph beginning VeHinai Kulam. He explains that although the Shechinah is also present when we study Torah (See Pirkei Avot, 3:6), when we pray, the Shechinah is present even before we begin the prayer but when we study Torah, the Shechinah comes after we begin studying. Therefore, we must stand for prayer but need not stand when studying Torah. But see Brachot 6a.
[5] Hilchot Melachim, 9:1. In Hilchot Tefillah (1:5) the Rambam says that the prayers were established to follow the pattern of the sacrifices. See below
[6] O.C. 89:1 This represents a fusion of the views Brachot 26b as to whether the patriarchs established the prayers or whether they were established to correspond to the sacrifices. The Alter Rebbe holds that these views are both correct. This may be based on the fact that, in the Babylonian Talmud (ibid), Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi is cited as saying that the prayers were instituted as corresponding to the sacrifices while in the Jerusalem Talmud (ibid) he is cited as saying that it was learned from the forefathers. See Penei Yehoshua and above note 5 that the Rambam too, merges these views.
[7] Mar, the son of Ravina, a fourth-century Amora of Babylonia was considered to be a paradigm of a G-d fearing and a pious person. He fasted every day of the year besides Erev Yom Kippur and Purim (Sefer HaYuchsin by Rabbi Avraham Zechut, entry mem).
[8] I.e., He was praying that if his wife passes away and he needs to remarry, he should marry a good woman.
[9] Vilna Gaon on Mishlei, 2:12
[10] Siddur with the Pirush of Ohr HaChamah, by Rabbi Zundel Kroizer
[11] Bava Batra 164b. It should be noted that the Talmud lists three sins that people, generally, transgress every day. They are avak lashon hara (as mentioned), sinful (i.e., sexual) thoughts, and iyun tefilah (according to Tosfot this means a lack of concentration in prayer, see commentaries on ibid for other interpretations of this sin). Perhaps the focus in this prayer is on lashon hara as that is the only one which causes harm to others.
[12] An example of avak lashon hara is if someone says, “Let’s not talk about so and so as that would be lashon hara.”
[13] Maharsha
[14] Iyei HaYam, cited in the Likutim on the new Ein Yakov (Mesorat HaShas, Jerusalem, 2008).
[15] Maharshal in the Chochmat Shlomo on Tosfot ibid
[16] Maharsha
[17] Iyun Tefillah in Sidur Otzar HaTefilot. See Ta’anit 7a and Tosfot D.H. Af, based on Eiruvin, 55a. See also there, 54a, Nedarim, 55a and Sotah 21b
[18] Psalms, 34:14 and 15
[19] Proverbs, 4:2
[20] Avudraham
[21] Ein Eliyahu on the Ein Yaakov by Rabbi Eliyahu Bezagar (printed in Vilna, 1869), cited in the Ein Yaakov Hamefuar by Rabbi Chaim Avaraham Yamnik (Jerusalem, 2009)
[22] Siftei Chachamim on Brachot, ibid
[23] Psalms, 119:86-87. See Gittin, 7a (cited in Ein Eliyahu) where Rav Elazar advises Mar Ukva to vanquish his enemies by rising early and staying up late to study Torah. This will cause them to be destroyed automatically.
[24] Avudraham
[25] Tehillim, 60:7
[26] Midrash Tanchuma, end of Parshat Acharei Mot, cited in Iyun Tefillah, in Siddur Otzar HaTefilot
[27] This Midrash is cited in the Tur (O.C. 122) and the Sefer HaManhig, 63
[28] Bach
[29] Acaharit LeShalom in Sidur Otzar HaTefilot
[30] The earliest source I found for this custom is in a parenthesis within a commentary of Rashi on Micha 6:9. (The parenthetical inserts in Rashi’s commentaries were not written by Rashi but were added by an editor at a later time.) He says that if a person says such a verse every day it will save him from Gehinom. This custom is cited in the Elya Rabbah (122:3) and various sources quote it from the Kitzur Shela. In fact, see Kovetz Ohel Moshe of Shatz Vizhnitz, volumes 1-10, page 41 and on, that this custom is not mentioned in the original Kitzur Shela but was added into the later versions of that book.
[31] For this purpose, one should use their actual Hebrew name as opposed to their nickname. For example, one whose name is Yosef and is nicknamed Yossi, should recite a verse which begins with a yud and ends with a pei rather than a verse that ends with a yud. A verse that includes the name Yosef is also acceptable (Siddur Otzar HaTefilot).
[32] Ibid
[34] In the introduction to the Siddur of Reb Hirsh Shatz (printed in 1560), it says that it is good to recite such a verse every day whether when traveling or when involved in any other matter.
The book Divrei Chachamim (published in Hamburg, 1692) by Rabbi Yehudah Leib Puchovitzer of Minsk (Da’at Chochmah, Sha’ar HeYedi’ot, chapter 7,) says that he found in many sefarim (holy books) in the name of the Kabbalists that one should say such a verse at all times and it will aid him in troubled times. And will also allow him to remember it when he is asked it “in the grave.”
[35] Zera Kodesh by Rabbi Naftali of Ropshitz, on the verse “And these are the names of the Jewish people (Exodus, 1:1).”
[36] The Ponovizher Rov (Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahanaman) is quoted (Sefer Tuvecha Yabi’u, Parshat Bamidbar) as explaining that one will forget even their own name when they experience the terror of being judged by G-d Himself. The only thing that will remain etched in our memory at that time is the eternal Torah that we studied in our lifetimes. Thus, throughout our lifetimes, we recite the Torah verse (or verses) that will remind us of our name.
[37] Emunat Itecha, Shemot, page 188
[38] He explains that this is why it is important for the tzadikim to the know the Hebrew names (and the mother’s name) of those who seek his blessings. This is in order to know the root of the person’s soul, his previous reincarnations and what he has accomplished and/or ruined in his life. All this is encapsulated within one’s name (although it takes a tzadik to discern this).
 Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom!

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