Making Personal Requests in the Weekday Sh’moneh Esrei – Part 1
At this time, when the Jewish hostages and soldiers in Israel are in grave danger, and the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael are in significant danger, and anti-Semitism is rising world-wide, many of us are increasing our recitation of Tehillim (Psalms) and are reciting various prayers on behalf of our loved ones and fellow Jews. The Netziv writes that – whenever possible – one who has personal requests should insert them during one’s recitation of Sh’moneh Esrei, since when praying Sh’moneh Esrei it is an eis ratzon (a time of favor) to have one’s requests fulfilled by Hashem. In this article we will discuss the parameters of inserting prayers in one’s recitation of Sh’moneh Esrei, regardless if the prayers pertain to safety or to health, livelihood, et al.
Chazal describe tefilah (prayer) as an Avodah shehi b’lev (a service that is in the heart). Many people engage in a constant battle to maintain their concentration during davening (praying). To address the issue, many great Rabbis throughout the centuries have praised the practice of adding into the template text of Sh’moneh Esrei one’s personal, individualized requests (see note). By doing so, one adds a personal dimension to one’s tefilah, allowing one to more easily internalize that one is actually speaking to Hashem. Doing such leads one to recite heartfelt tefilos, which, in turn, have the potential to uplift and keep one’s entire davening fresh and full of “heart” (but see note). Another benefit of making personal requests is that doing such reinforces in one’s mind and heart that everything one has, attains, and accomplishes, is from Hashem.
One may pray to Hashem for any and all of one’s needs, physical and spiritual. In this vein, the Chayei Adam writes that it is proper for one to pray daily for all of the following: his livelihood; that he and his descendants study Torah and serve Hashem with sincerity and have no religious defect; and for any of his other needs (see also note).
Although, in general, it is preferable for even personal tefilos to be recited in Hebrew, if one can better express oneself in another language, one should indeed recite one’s personal requests in one’s familiar language.
1) The Weekday Sh’moneh Esrei is divided into three sections: The first three b’rachos are likened to praises of a servant to his master; the middle b’rachos are likened to requests made by the servant from his master; and the last three b’rachos are likened to the thanks expressed by the servant before departing from beseeching his master. One may not insert personal requests in the first and last three b’rachos, since it is inappropriate to make requests at a time when one is praising or thanking one’s master. One may, however, insert requests for all Jewish people in the first and last three b’rachos (such as Ya’aleh V’yavo, Al Hanisim, Zochreinu l’chaim, et al.).
2) The Gemara writes that although one may ask for one’s personal needs in the b’rachah of Shema Koleinu (see next week’s article for elaboration), one may insert personal requests in any of the middle b’rachos of Sh’moneh Esrei so long as the request is inserted in a b’rachah that relates to the topic of the request. For example, if a member of one’s household is ill, one may pray for the ill person in the b’rachah of Refa’einu (Heal us...); if one is struggling financially, one may pray for financial assistance in the b’rachah of Bareich Aleinu (Bless for us...).
3) There is a halachic distinction between requests made for current needs (e.g., one is already ill, or one is already struggling financially) and those made for future needs (e.g., that one should not become ill, or that one should not have future financial difficulty). One may insert requests for either current or future needs in the b’rachah of Shema Koleinu, or at the end of Sh’moneh Esrei (see next week’s article for elaboration on this second option), or at other times throughout the day not as part of structured prayer sessions. In the other middle b’rachos of Sh’moneh Esrei, however, one may insert requests only for current needs, not for future needs. See note for exception.
4) The Shulchan Aruch writes that one should not insert lengthy personal requests within any particular b’rachah. This ruling pertains even within the b’rachah of Shema Koleinu (see note).
5) Rabbeinu Yonah writes that a request for personal needs in Sh’moneh Esrei should be said in the singular form (e.g., “please provide me with livelihood” or “please heal me”) – see note, whereas a request on behalf of all Jewish people or a group of people should be said in the plural form.
6) Rabbeinu Yonah writes also that when one inserts a request in a middle b’rachah of the weekday Sh’moneh Esrei, one should do so in the middle of the b’rachah. I.e., one should not insert it before starting the b’rachah or after finishing the b’rachah. Rather, one should start reciting the b’rachah and say at least one coherent fragment of the b’rachah (e.g., “Attah chonein l’adam da’as”) before inserting the request. Moreover, one should not insert a request for personal needs immediately before the closing of a b’rachah, just before the words “Baruch Attah Hashem”; rather, one should insert it before the phrase that immediately precedes the closing of the b’rachah. In contradistinction, a request by an individual on behalf of all Jewish people or a group of people should not be inserted in the middle of the b’rachah; rather it should be inserted immediately before the closing of the b’rachah, just before the words “Baruch Attah Hashem.” See note for exception.
7) The Mishnah Berurah writes that it is proper l’chatchilah (preferably/initially) to be careful to adhere to all of these rulings of Rabbeinu Yonah.
• Inserting personal requests in Sh’moneh Esrei can enhance one’s davening immensely.
• One may – and should – ask for both physical and spiritual needs.
• If necessary, one may make requests in a language other than Hebrew.
• One may not make personal requests in the first three or last three b’rachos of Sh’monehEsrei.
• One may make requests in the middle b’rachos of Sh’moneh Esrei if the requests relate to the topic of the b’rachah and the needs addressed in the requests are current. However, one should not make lengthy requests within a b’rachah.
• One may make any type of request in the b’rachah of Shema Koleinu or at the end of Sh’moneh Esrei, or at other times throughout the day not as part of structured prayer sessions.
• There are various guidelines that dictate in which segment of a b’rachah one should insert a request, which one should preferably follow.
IY”H, in next week’s article we will continue to discuss this topic.
 See Mishnah Berurah 288:22 and Ishei Yisrael chapter 36 note 63 regarding the permissibility of making personal requests on Shabbos.
 Harcheiv Davar to Bereishis 18:23 and 48:22.
 Gemara Ta’anis 2a. (Chazal is an acronym for Chachameinu zichronam livrachah – Our Sages, may their memories be blessed.)
 Personal requests for tefilah are not a new innovation. The pasuk (verse) writes that Ya’akov Avinu (our Patriarch Ya’akov) told his son Yosef (Bereishis 48:22): "וַאֲנִי נָתַתִּי לְךָ שְׁכֶם אַחַד עַל־אַחֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר לָקַחְתִּי מִיַּד הָאֱמֹרִי בְּחַרְבִּי וּבְקַשְׁתִּי" – And I (Yaakov) have given to you (Yosef) one portion over your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Emori with my sword and with my bow. Targum Onkelos renders the words “בְּחַרְבִּי וּבְקַשְׁתִּי” (literally: with my sword and with my bow) as “בִּצְלוֹתִי וּבְבָעוּתִי”– with my prayer and with my request. Similarly, Rashi (in his second explanation) translates בְּחַרְבִּי וּבְקַשְׁתִּי” as “with my wisdom and with my request”; see Sifsei Chachamim. See Seforno, Rabbeinu Bachya, and Chidushei HaGri”z al HaTorah (all ad loc.) for an explanation of why the pasuk refers to prayers and requests as a “sword” and a “bow.”
 See Ya’aros Devash, Derush #1, s.v. B’virkas ShemaKoleinu.
 It should be noted, however, that the Sefer Chasidim (158) warns against overemphasizing personal requests lest they be viewed as the central focus of Sh’moneh Esrei, and the template text of the Sh’moneh Esrei as secondary. See also #4 with note 16.
 24:19; cited in M.B. 122:8.
 The Mishnah Berurah (47:10) writes that a father and mother should pray constantly that their children become lomdei Torah (studiers of Torah), tzadikim (righteous people), and ba’alei middos tovos (people who possess good character traits).
 Chayei Adam 24:19; cited in M.B. 122:8. Cf. S.A. O.C. 101:4 with M.B. 15,18 and notes in Dirshu Mishnah Berurah n.e. The Chayei Adam adds that heartfelt personal tefilos in another language are more effective than tefilos recited in Hebrew without proper understanding and feeling.
 Rabbeinu Yonah to Gemara B’rachos 34a s.v. Al Yish’al; S.A. O.C. 112:1; M.B. 112:1; Ishei Yisrael chapter 24 note 66.
 Avodah Zarah 8a.
 In fact, the Chiddushei HaRan (ad loc.) explains the Gemara’s intent that if a member of one’s household is ill, one may not wait until the b’rachah of Shema Koleinu to insert a prayer on behalf the ill household member; rather, one should insert a prayer on his/her behalf specifically in the b’rachah of Refa’einu. (While often people insert a prayer for an ill household member in the b’rachah of Refa’einu, it would seem that common custom is to be flexible and permit inserting it instead in the b’rachah of Shema Koleinu or at the end of Sh’moneh Esrei – see next week’s article for elaboration on the latter option.) The Ran, however, adds that if one neglected to insert a prayer on behalf the ill person in the b’rachah of Refa’einu, one may certainly insert a prayer on his/her behalf in the b’rachah of Shema Koleinu. Note: In the b’rachah of Refa’einu one may also insert a prayer for an ill person(s) who is not a household member so long as one specifies the ill person(s) by name; i.e., one does not insert a prayer (e.g.) for all ill Jewish people (Halichos Shlomo 8:16; see note 60 in Orchos Halacha for some parameters); cf. Sh”ut Ohr L’tziyon vol. 2, 7:33 who rules that one may not insert a prayer for an ill person(s) who is not a household member in the b’rachah of Refa’einu unless the ill person is a Torah scholar.
 M.B. 119:1, citing P’ri Megadim - Eishel Avraham 119:1.
 Sh”ut Sheivet HaLevi (8:21) asserts that if one’s intention in making requests for future needs is to arouse one’s concentration in tefilah (see Gemara B’rachos 29b and Sefer Chasidim #158), one may make such requests.
 O.C. 119:2. Although the Shulchan Aruch introduces this ruling with the words Yeish mi sheomeir (there is someone who says), since he does not cite any dissenting opinion, it is presumed that he holds of the ruling. It is common for him to present a ruling in such a manner when he found it in only one or two Rishonim (early commentators); see Kaf Hachayim 119:14 and M.B. 32:180.
 M.B. 119:12. This assertion pertains only to requests that are inserted within the individual b’rachos of Sh’moneh Esrei – including within the b’rachah of Shema Koleinu. However, at the end of Sh’moneh Esrei (see next week’s article), one may add as many requests as one wishes (M.B. 119:12), as is evidenced by a statement in Gemara B’rachos end of 31a. In addition, one should not add the same exact personal request within a b’rachah all the time –with the same wording, as doing such would give the appearance that one was adding to the template text of the b’rachah; rather, after reciting a request daily for some extended period, one should cease doing so for some time and resume doing such at a later date (Halichos Shlomo chapter 8 - note 60 in Orchos Halacha; Aderes - cited in Dirshu Mishnah Berurah n.e. 116:1 note 1). See also notes 18 and 24 below. [It would seem that during the interim period one may simply add those requests instead at the end of Sh’moneh Esrei (see next week’s article for elaboration).]
 B’rachos 34a s.v. Af Al Pi She’amru, cited by S.A. O.C. 119:1; see end of #6.
 The reason for not inserting a request for personal needs in plural form is that doing so would give the appearance that one was adding to the template text of the b’rachah, which was established two thousand years ago by Anshei Keneses Hagedolah (the Men of the Great Assembly), and which was composed in plural form (M.B. 119:9). [However, requests made not as part of the structured prayers should rather be said in plural, per the Gemara B’rachos 29b-30a that the text of Tefilas Haderech (the Traveler’s Prayer) should said in plural form.]
 M.B. 119:5.
 B’rachos 34a s.v. Af Al Pi She’amru, cited by S.A. O.C. 119:1.
 M.B. 119:3, citing P’ri Megadim (Mishb’tzos Zahav 119:1).
 The reason is that the text that immediately precedes the closing of the b’rachah should be similar to the text of the closing of the b’rachah (see M.B. 66:52).
 However, a prayer that is recited by the public for the public may be inserted in the middle of the b’rachah (see M.B. 119:8,12; cf. S.A. O.C. 566:4).
 The reason is that if one were to insert such a request in the middle of a b’rachah, it would give the appearance that one was adding to the template text of the b’rachah, which was established two thousand years ago by Anshei K’neses Hagedolah (the Men of the Great Assembly) (M.B. 119:8).
 There is one exception to this ruling: If one is making a request in plural form (on behalf of all Jewish people or a group of people) in the b’rachah of Shema Koleinu (see next week’s article for elaboration), one must insert it before the words “ki Attah shomei’a tefilas” so that the text that immediately precedes the closing of the b’rachah is similar to the text of the closing of the b’rachah; see Bais Baruch (on Chayei Adam ) chapter 24 note 86 (and M.B. 66:52). According to the Bach (cited in M.B. 119:10), however, even in the b’rachah of Shema Koleinu, a request in the plural form (on behalf of all Jewish people or a group of people) may be inserted only at the end of the b’rachah (just before the words “Baruch Attah Hashem”), and not in the middle of the b’rachah. [It would seem that the argument of the Bais Baruch is compelling and the position of the Bach is difficult to understand.]
 119:9. See also Aruch HaShulchan 119:3.
 Im Yirtzeh Hashem (G-d Willing).