Thursday, July 10, 2014

Elokai Netsor, praying for our good behavior

אלקי, נצור לשוני מרע
As we explained last week, the 'amida technically ends with the nineteenth and last blessing: sim shalom (see our explanation of
sim shalom here). But before we finish the 'amida we recite the "Elo-hay, netsor..."
This prayer is different from every other prayer.  First, because while every berakha in the 'amida is written plural, "Elo-hay, netsor..." is written in the first person of the singular. This is because "Elo-hay, netsor..." was not part of the original 'amida but, as the Gemara explains, it was a "personal" prayer composed by Mor bareh deRabina (approx. 500 ACE), which ever since, has been adopted by all the Jewish people to end the 'amida.
Then, the content of this berakha is also very particular.  In this prayer Mor bareh deRabina asked: "HaShem, save my tongue from evil, and my lips from falsehood". Knowing how challenging is keeping our mouth under control, Mor bar Rabina asked for God's assistance to prevent him from speaking evil (leshon hara) and deception. Negative words, gossip, lies, curses, are considered by the rabbis the main source of most conflicts between man and man.
Next, this beautiful prayer says: "May I behave with humbleness and patience" and "May I keep my composure and calm". Now, we are asking haShem's help for something very special. How to react in moments of tension. For example, when someone offends or aggravates me, on the personal, social realm we are supposed to act with restraint, humbleness and patience (this principle does not apply in a political realm, or when someone hurts me physically, etc.), which is not very easy.... So we ask HaShem for His help to grant us patience. 
Do you why this prayer is so unique?
In the 'amida, we ask God to grant us the things we need: wisdom, health, livelihood, etc. In this prayer, however, we request something completely different. We ask God's help to refining our character and improving our behavior. We request God to help us and inspire us to do good, and to assist us, preventing us from doing evil.
Our behavior (saying or not saying leshon hara',  reacting or not reacting angrily in moments of tension, etc.) depends on us. We are endowed with freedom of choice to make moral choices. When saying this prayer, therefore, we must remember, that we are not asking God to control our lives and take charge of our actions and decisions. That is our responsibility! We ask for His help and His inspiration, to reach the best of our potential and behave with utmost integrity.