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In this all-encompassing sixteenth blessing, we ask Hashem, “Shema koleinu – Listen to our voices.” In his sefer Beis Elokim, the Mabit explains that we choose to say the words our voices, to ask Hashem that even if our prayers are only a mere voice bereft of any thought or heart, He should still hearken to them. In the same vein, in the nusach Sefard variety, this blessing concludes with the sentiment, “Ki keil shomei’a tefillas kol peh – For You the Almighty listen to the prayers of every mouth.” In other words, even if it’s only lip-service, You still listen. The Eitz Yosef adds that we ask Hashem to accept our voice even though we are unaware of all of the secrets and hints that the Anshei K’nesses HaGedola embedded in our holy prayers.

We say, “Shema koleinu Hashem Elokeinu – Listen to our voices, Hashem our G-d.” The name Hashem denotes the attribute of rachamim, mercy, while the name Elokeinu is the attribute of din, strict justice. We therefore say, if we are unworthy, Hashem, please answer us with mercy. If we are worthy, then fulfill our requests with the judgment we deserve. We also invoke the name Elokim for it means “Takif u’baal heyecholis kulo – The powerful One Who is able to do everything,” and therefore we are confident that Hashem can fulfill our requests.


We then continue to ask, “Chus v’racheim aleinu – Be compassionate and merciful to us.” The Vilna Gaon, zt”l, zy”a, explains that chus denotes the compassion that a craftsman has for that which he makes. Therefore, we ask Hashem, Who is our manufacturer, to spare us. The term racheim is used for the mercy one has for the powerless and the helpless.

The bracha continues, “V’kabeil b’rachamim uv’ratzon es tefilloseinu – Accept with mercy and desire our prayers.” The Iyun Tefillah explains: If our prayers lack the correct meaning and concentration, then Hashem should answer them with mercy. On the other hand, if they are worthy prayers, then Hashem should accept them with desire and goodwill.

We proceed to, “Ki Keil shomei’a tefillos v’sachanunim Attah – For You are the Al-mighty Who listens to our petitions and supplications.” The Siach Yitzchak explains that tefillos denotes prayers that are backed with solid arguments such as one who prays in order to be able to learn with yishuv hadaas, a settled mind, or one who asks for help with parnassah, his livelihood, since he gave generously to charity. Tachanunim, on the other hand, are our pleadings that Hashem should do it, as a freebie, even though we don’t deserve it as the word tachanunim derives from the root chinam, which means a free gift.

We then say, “U’milfonecha Malkeinu – And from before You our King, Reikam al tishiveinu – Do not turn us away empty handed.” As the Iyun Tefillah and the Eitz Yosef explain, we beg Hashem that even if we are not worthy to have all our prayers answered, may Hashem please at least grant us some of our requests.

The Mishna Berurah [119:4] cites the Magen Avraham who says that at this point in the bracha, it’s good to insert a confession over our sins. So too, the Tikunei HaAri [58] dictates, “Ro’ui meod lomer vidui b’shomei’a tefillah – It is very fitting to confess in this blessing.” In the 17th chapter of the sefer Rumo Shel Olam, he adds that especially if one did a recent transgression such as yelling at his spouse, speaking lashon hara, or looking at something that a Jew should not look upon, he should make sure to confess in his saying of Shema koleinu. The Mishna Berurah also says that in this blessing one should pray for his sustenance even if he is wealthy. The Shaarei Teshuva [119:1] brings from the Zohar in Pinchas that one should not do this during the prayer of Mincha.

The Yaros Devash eloquently declares that in the bracha of Shema koleinu, one should pray using his own words for any need of the moment, whether large or small. It is especially true that he should ask for help if he is in distress. (Perhaps this is why Shema koleinu is the sixteenth blessing of the Shemoneh Esrei, for the number 16 is the gematria of the word vai [vav yud], one’s woes.) He adds that with these supplications, we’re certainly fulfilling the mitzvah of tefillah since we will say them with full kavana, wholehearted intent.

The Mishna Berurah cautions us, however, that we shouldn’t get carried away at this point with lengthy personal requests. Rather, we should save them for the end of the Shemoneh Esrei and just make abbreviated petitions at this juncture. Later, the Mishna Berurah [122:8] explains we save it for the end of the Shemoneh Esrei for if there is a Kaddish or Kedusha, we would be able to answer, and we couldn’t do so during Shomei’a Tefillah. The Birkei Yosef also says we should not engage in lengthy requests during this blessing and the Talmudei HaAri state that we shouldn’t even make prolonged confessions at this juncture.

Many years ago, when I went to the great Rav Pam, zt”l, zy”a, to get a haskama, approbation, for my sefer Meaningful Living, he asked me to tell him a sample vort. I suggested that the reason why the Birkei Yosef and the disciples of the Ari didn’t want us to say prolonged insertions in Shema koleinu is in order that we shouldn’t delay the saying of the bracha of Modim, thanks to Hashem, in favor of our own personal needs. Rather, we must put aside our personal requests and save them for later in order to hasten showing our appreciation to Hashem faster. Rav Pam approved of the pshat and gave me a beautiful haskama.

We then say, “Ki Attah shomei’a tefilas Yisrael b’rachamim – For You listen to the prayer of Your nation Yisrael with mercy.” Rav Chaim Kanievsky, zt”l, zy”a, writes that in addition to listening to the prayers of Klal Yisrael, Hashem listens to the goyim, gentiles as well. However, there is a difference. To a goy, Hashem might fulfill his requests even though the consequences might not be for his benefit. But, in Hashem’s special mercy for us, he only answers them if the results are favorable.

The Olas Tamid adds that Hashem in His mercy listens to our prayers even though we word them silently and he cites the Sefer HaChaim who explains that we daven b’lachash, in a whisper, to show that we believe, “Karov Hashem l’chol korav – That Hashem is close to all who call to Him,” for when you are close to someone you even hear a whisper.

The blessing concludes, Baruch Attah Hashem, Shomei’a tefillah – Blessed are You, Hashem, Who listens to our prayers. The Otzar HaTefillah says that the first time this blessing was uttered, it was said by the angels when Hashem listened to our cries in Mitzrayim, in Egypt.

In the merit of our brushing up on how to pray, may Hashem fulfill all our requests and bless us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.


Transcribed and edited by Shelley Zeitlin.


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