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Sermon Illustrations > Prayer > Liturgy

From Exegesis and Exposition, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Fall, 1988) p. 55.

Throughout (tractate) Berachoth: there seems to be an emphasis on liturgy and outward form rather than inner, or private prayer.

For example, in 1:4 the number of benedictions for a day is specified, a total of seven and their length&md;"One is long and one is short. Where they said it must be long, it is not allowed to be made short." In Berachoth 3:1 Gamaliel taught that "one must say every day the Eighteen Benedictions." In Berachoth 6:5 blessings over meals must be precisely done. According to the School of Shammai a blessing over the appetizer did not serve for what had been prepared in the pot. The concern is not so much the intent of the prayer but the act of it and the precision of the act. In Berachoth 2:3 the stress is put on reciting the Shema not understanding it&md;"He who reads the Shema and does not hear his own words has complied with the requirements of the Law." Though some disagreed (R. Jose believed Shema implies one must hear) this was the accepted view. And an emphasis on form seems also implied by the ruling that if a mistake in reciting was made the reader had to go back to the mistake and repeat the word or verse correctly. In 5:5 a mistake in reading was considered a "bad omen," but some (R. Chanina ben Dosa) considered fluent prayer a guarantee of answered prayer. While some of these rulings are later than the Gospel era they may reflect the attitude and trend of the earlier rabbis. Liturgy itself is not wrong and concern for correctness in reading and doing is justified, but throughout the tractate the emphasis indicates that a value on the form was greater than that on the intent or spirit. These practices may be in the background of our Lord's harsh criticism of hypocritical prayers (Matt. 6).