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We have now reached the Sixteenth Bracha of Shemone Esrei--the milestone bracha of Shema Koleinu--which encapsulates all of our previous requests.  The Sefer Ya’aros Devash movingly writes on this Bracha as follows:  “Here, one should turn to Hashem with all of his needs, whether big or small, and should leave out nothing, in his requests of Hashem.  There should be nothing that a person intends to undertake or accomplish that day in which he does not ask for Hashem’s success, and one should ask Hashem to place him on the proper and correct path.  It goes without saying that if c’v a person has a t’zara in his house that he should daven here for its successful quashing and removal, and that if a person is blessed with a Simcha, he should daven that it should be a successful one--not causing any kind of iniquity nor resulting in any negative impact or effect.  Before the concluding phrase of Ki Atta Shome’ah, one should daven in his own words--for it then per se will be Kava’anah-filled.  These Tefillos will be new and fresh, as they will relate to the situations and events of the day, and should come from the depths of the heart.  Through sincere Tefillos here, one can once and for all come to realize that his efforts and actions are meaningless on their own--and are all subject to Hashem’s determination and decree.  Moreover, anything he asks for Hashem here will be for a Kosher purpose--how would he ask Hashem for wealth or anything else in a way which would anger Him?!  Accordingly, one who davens for his needs from Hashem here will not readily sin--as he is asking Hashem Himself for the Bracha!  Additional Note One:  We can easily see how powerful this Bracha is in that five different names of Hashem are used within the Bracha: Hashem, Elokeinu, Kel, Atta, and Malkeinu. In Nusach Sefard there are actually seven Names of Hashem in the bracha, as we begin with the terms Av and HaRachaman.  Additional Note Two:  The Mishna Berura (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 122, seif katan 8) writes that it is better to daven the aforementioned Tefillos in Elokai Netzor after Yehiyu L’Razton, so that you will be able to answer Kaddish and Kedusha.  Accordingly, one must gauge his Tefillos, and the Minyan he is davening with, accordingly.  Additional Note Three:  In all events, the Kuntres Avodah HaTefillah brings from the father of the Shelah HaKadosh that the Bracha of Shema Koleinu should be infused with more Kavannah than the preceding Brachos, as it is the conclusion of all of the Brachos of request--and accordingly one’s heart and mind should be especially focused on asking Hashem to listen to the kol of his Tefillah and accept his Tefillah B’Rachamim. 



We begin (Nusach Ashkenaz) this bracha with the phrase Shema Koleinu--Hashem please hear, understand, and accept [similar to Shema Yisroel, in which we proclaim “Hear, understand, and accept, Yisroel: Hashem is our G-d, Hashem the One and Only.”].  What do we want Hashem to hear, understand, and accept here?  Our Kol, our voices, even if our Kavannah has not necessarily been full and complete.  Just we recite in the Haggada on Pesach (based upon Shemos 2:24)”Vayishmah Hashem Es Koleinu, so too, do we ask Hashem to turn to our voice itself and to hear, understand and accept our pleas for yeshuos--just as He understood it then and determined to release us from Mitzrayim.”  As HaRav Chaim Friedlander, Z’tl, writes: the Anshei Kneses HaGedolah especially chose not to use the term Shema Tefilaseinu, but rather Shema Koleinu--for even if we lack the merit, and even if we lack the good sense to daven in a better manner--please consider our Kol alone and respond to it without exacting a measure of strict justice.  In a similar vein, the Sefer Dover Shalom writes that we ask Hashem to hear our Kol--our groans and cries, even if they are inarticulate and not detailed or exact.  Finally, the Eitz Yosef writes that with the term Koleinu, we plead with Hashem that He recognize that we do not know all of the Kavanos, Remazim, and Sodos--all of the deeper meanings and powerful requests contained within the words of our Tefillos--but that Hashem nevertheless considers as if we had included them all within the Kol of our Tefillos.  Then, with the next phrase after Shema Koleinu--Hashem Elokeinu--we use Hashem’s names of Mercy and Hashgacha Pratis to emphasize the depths of our plea for compassion.  In fact, there are two different kinds of compassion for which we plea--as we ask for Chus and for Racheim.  What is the difference between them?  The Artscroll Siddur, as well as Rav Schwab on Prayer, and HaRav Friedlander, all bring the explanation of the G’ra.  As beautifully put in the Artscroll Siddur:  “The term Chus, pity, refers to an artisan’s special regard for the product of his hands; while Rachamim, compassion, describes the emotion aroused by someone who is pathetically helpless.”  We therefore exclaim--”Hashem Elokeinu, pity us because we are Your handiwork, and be compassionate, because we need You so desperately!”



After asking Hashem to be “Chus V’Racheim Aleinu”--we further our request with the phrase “V’Kabel B’Rachamim U’VeRatzon Es Tefilaseinu.  In Nusach Ashkenaz this is the second of three times that we will mention the term Rachamim in this one Bracha.  Once again, in asking for Rachamim we indicate to Hashem that we know that we are unworthy of His granting our requests and receiving His blessings.  When sincere, this expression constitute the optimum kind of Tefillah--Ke’Ani BaPesach--as an indigent person who knocks on Hashem’s door.  To better help visualize the moment, one can actually put his hand out in front of him as he recites these words.  We note that we not only ask Hashem for His Rachamim, however, but also for His Ratzon.  By Ratzon, we mean to indicate (at least) two points:  Firstly, we don’t want to act like mechutzafim, and that we are sincerely looking for Hashem to accept our prayers ‘B’Nachas Ruach’ (Kuntres Avodas HaTefillah).  Moreover, when something is done B’Ratzon, with willingness, it is performed in a more complete and perhaps more-than-complete way.  We thus respectfully ask Hashem to not only accept our Tefillos on a minimal basis, but accept them with a ‘breite hant’--in the most beneficial way possible--with a Ratzon that Only Hashem is capable of!



The Bracha continues: Ki Keil Shomea Tefillos VeSachanunim Atta . The Kuntres Avodas HaTefillah explains that Tefillos refers to our set and designated Tefillos  such as Shemone Esrei, whereas Tachanunim are our private prayers and pleadings  for our personal needs. We then continue with the phrase U’Milefanecha Malkeinu Reikam Al Teshiveinu. The Sefer Baruch She’Amar explains that we address Hashem here especially as Malkeinu--for it is truly to the glory of a king--who is so powerful--that he can grant requests that no one else can.  Thus, even if we are wholly unworthy--please do not send us away empty-handed--please provide us with some of the relief and help we need--because You are a King who knows, cares and loves His subjects!



Firstly, we note that the term Shome’ah or Shema is mentioned four times (in Nusach Sefard five times!) within the bracha.  This may serve to remind us that we should be careful in listening to others--so that we can legitimately ask Hashem to listen to us.  In fact, the Sefer Avudraham writes that the basis for our asking Hashem within the bracha for “Reikam Al Teshiveinu” (do not send us away empty-handed) is the Posuk “Al Yashov Dach Nichlam” (Tehillim 74:21).  This is the very same Pasuk which teaches us l’halacha that we should not turn away a pauper begging for assistance.  (There are exceptions to the rule, which we will not delve into now.)  Thus, we must both listen to others if we want Hashem to listen to us--and similarly if we want Hashem not to turn us away empty-handed, we should endeavor to act in a like manner with others who need our help.  In many Siddurim one will find a Nusach of Vidui placed as a note underneath the bracha of Shema Koleinu.  This is based on the Zohar in Parshas Balak, which teaches how important it is for one to recite Vidui in Shema Koleinu.  The Mishna Berurah actually brings this concept in Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 119, Seif Katan 4.  The Mishna Berurah adds there that one should also ask for Parnassah in this Bracha [before Ki Atta Shome’ah], even if he is a wealthy person.  We conclude the bracha with the words “Baruch Atta Hashem Shome’ah Tefillah”.  The bracha is in the present tense, like all of the other brachos of Shemone Esrei, because we must realize that Hashem not only listened to our forefathers and fathers--but wants to listen to us in the here and now as well--and we must accordingly daven to Him in a manner which befits this wonderful and wondrous reality!



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The Levush writes that this Bracha corresponds to the Malochim who thanked Hashem for answering our Tefillos in Mitzrayim when we cried out to Him, as the Pasuk (Devarim 26:7) records:  VaYishma Hashem Es Koleinu--and Hashem heard our voices”.  Indeed, HaRav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita, notes that the initial phrase of the Bracha is Shema Koleinu--based on this very Pasuk!  The Dover Shalom writes that ‘Koleinu’ actually refers to our moans and our groans--even though another human being standing by may not understand the meaning behind the moan and groan--we know Hashem does!  The Eitz Yosef, in a different vein, explains that ‘Koleinu’ here refers to the voice of our own tefillos--even if we do not understand the depths of their meaning, all of the intentions and sodos placed into them by the Anshei Kneses HaGedolah, and all others who were Mechaber Tefillos for K’lal Yisrael.  We ask that Hashem not only listen to our voice--but do so as Hashem Elokeinu--so that the Chesed of Hashem represented by the Names Hashem and Elokeinu overtake any strict Din which we might otherwise be subject to.  We plead with Hashem here that our Tefillos--which we really do mean sincerely no matter how improperly they may be expressed--are accepted by Hashem to the greatest extent possible!  We must certainly make sure to recite these treasured and powerful words Shema Koleinu Hashem Elokeinu with Kavannah!



We continue with the next phrase of “Chus V’Rachem Aleinu--have compassion and pity on us.”  The Avnei Eliyahu explains the difference between Chus and Racheim.  The term Chus relates to the affection and caring that a creator has for its creations (such as the craftsman or artisan for his work product).  For instance, Hashem tells Yonah (3:10-11):  Atta Chasta Al HaKikayon Asher Lo Amalta Bo VeLo Gidalto…VeAni Lo Achus Al Ninveh…--you had such compassion for the Kikayon tree which you did not toil over nor nurture--and I should not have compassion over the people of Ninveh?!”  On the other hand, Rachamim, or mercy, is not based in the relationship of the maker with the item--but is instead rooted in the desperation or lowliness of the person or item for whom or which mercy is sought.  Rachamim is an expression of abject humility--where we ask Hashem that even if we have sunk so low that You have even theoretically a justifiably diminished regard for us as Your creations--please have pity and mercy on us in all events!  We then proceed to reiterate “VeKabel B’Rachamim U’Veratzon Es Tefillaseinu.” We ask that even if we are miskeinim--direly inadequate--please accept and be appeased by our Tefillos--for at least we know to come to You in sincerity!”



The next phrase is: “Ki Kel Shomei’ah Tefillos Vesachanunim Atta--because You are G-d, Who listens to our prayers and supplications.”  HaRav Chaim Friedlander, Z’tl, importantly explains that the word Kel uniquely combines Hashem’s Omnipotence with His Chesed so that it essentially means ‘All Powerful in Chesed’.  Kel is accordingly and most appropriately one of the 13 Middos of Hashem--’Hashem, Hashem Kel Rachum’.  It is because of this All-Powerful Chesed that we ask Hashem to listen to our prayers.  HaRav Friedlander then continues that the difference between Tefillos and Tachanunim is that the term Tefillos typifies our regular prayers--when we daven regularly we can explain what we are davening for and why we are davening for it.  On the other hand, the term Tachanunim, represents a plea for Chesed without any cheshbonos, without any justifications or explanations.  In truth, all of our requests must be presented in the manner of Tachanunim--pleadingly and with sincerity, in the manner in which one would ask for mercy for himself in front of one who can fulfill his request.  The concept of Tachanunim also includes the tone and manner in which the Tefillah is recited--and most certainly indicates that one is davening not because he has to--but because he wants to and needs to.  When we pray with Tachanunim, we recognize that Hashem has to do nothing for us, we rely upon Hashem’s Chein (His graciousness towards us), and that all He does for us is Bechinam--as a great and free gift.  One can picture an indigent person at the door or in Shul whose hand is out.  This is how we come before our Creator--Who is a Kel Shomei’ah--One Who is All-Powerful in Chesed-- actually listening to our prayers!



The next phrase is: “U’Milfanecha Malkeinu Reikam Al Tishiveinu--and do not turn us away empty-handed from before You, our King.”  HaRav Schwab, Z’tl, in the monumental, must-have-in-your-home Sefer, Rav Schwab on Prayer (Artscroll) teaches as follows:  “We hope that HaKadosh Baruch Hu answers our tefillah in the affirmative, and He gives us health, sustenance, and whatever else we ask Him for. However, sometimes, for reasons of His own, HaKadosh Baruch Hu says “no” to our tefillah. We therefore ask HaKadosh Baruch Hu here that if the answer to our tefillah is “no,” then, at least “do not send us away empty-handed,” with a feeling of total rejection. At least let our hearts be filled with emunah and bitachon, that we have had the zechus to talk to HaKadosh Baruch Hu, and that He has heard our tefillah, whether or not He answers us in the affirmative.  An illustration of this is found in the description of Chana after she had cried her heart out to HaKadosh Baruch Hu, begging Him for a son. When she finished, her demeanor is described as, “Ufaneha Lo Hayu Lah Od--her face was no longer sad” (Shmuel I 1:18 ). Although she was not sure that her tefillah would be answered, she nevertheless left with a feeling that HaKadosh Baruch Hu had heard her tefillah, and she relied on His judgment.”



The next phrase is:  Ki Atta Shomei’ah Tefillas Amecha Yisrael B’Rachamim--for You listen to the Tefillos of Your nation Yisrael with mercy.”  HaRav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita, points out that even though we have just mentioned the words “Ki Kel Shomei’ah Tefillos V’Sachanunim Atta--for You listen to prayers and supplications”, here we provide a second Ki--a second and further explanation of why we are now pleading before Hashem:  Hashem--not only do You listen to mankind’s Tefillos, but You listen to the Tefillos of Amecha Yisrael.  Now, what is special about Amecha Yisrael?  First, unlike the other nations of the world who only thank Hashem when the goings are good, we are Hashem’s nation in all events and under all circumstances, no matter what the nations of the world intend to do to us, and no matter how beleaguered we may be.  Additionally, as Amecha Yisrael--we offer our prayers collectively and together, which brings greater potence to our Tefillos, for, as the saying goes, for the whole is greater than the sum of all of its parts.  Thirdly, through our closeness and prayers for one another, we arouse Hashem’s compassion towards us in a Middah K’Neged Middah manner.  Finally, the Sifsei Chaim teaches that the more one associates himself with the K’lal, the more he draws Hashem’s mercy on the K’lal as a whole towards his particular Tefillos as well. The concluding words of our bracha are:  Baruch Atta Hashem Shomei’ah Tefillah--Who is listening to our prayers (in the present tense)--we can and should envision Hashem listening to our very words--and we should therefore very much make sure that they are sincere and heartfelt!




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