Amidah: Sacrifice or Prayer?
The Gemara is found in Berachoth 1:1 and discusses the source for the halakhah that during the Amidah we stand with our feet next to each other. We will discuss soon exactly what it means that we keep our feet next to each other. The Gemara cites the opinion of two Amoraim Rabbi Levi and Rabbi Simon although it does not know who said what. One Amora says that the reason we keep our feet together is to liken ourselves to the Angels and the other Amora says that we liken ourselves to the Priests.
The Gemara elaborates now: The one who says that we keep our feet next to each other in order to liken ourselves to the Priests learns this from the verse in Shemoth 20:23 “You shall not ascend on stairs My altar so that your nakedness not be revealed over it”. He learns that the Priests would walk on the altar placing the heal of one foot next to the big toe of the other foot so as to keep their legs closed. According to this Amora it would seem (and the Commentators seem to think so also) that during the Amida we should keep one foot in front of the other.
The Amora that says that we keep our feet next to each other in order to liken ourselves to the Angels learns this from the description Ezekiel gives of the angels that he sees in his vision in which the angels appear to have a single leg. Yechezkel says in 1:7: “veraglehem regel yeshara”, and their legs were a straight leg which means that they appeared as if they only had one leg. According to this opinion we should keep our legs next to each in parallel during the Amidah.
Here comes a very important point that the Gemara does not make explicitly because this is not its focus. The difference in the reason given for keeping our legs next to each other during the Amidah tells us exactly how we should position our feet, in parallel or in serial, but more so it makes a distinction in the nature of the Amidah. The opinion that during the Amidah we liken ourselves to the Priests supposes that the Amidah is a stand in for the Sacrificial Ritual which is no longer possible because we do not have the Beth Mikdash. The other opinion, that we liken ourselves to Angels suggests that the Amidah represents the universal Tefillah, prayer, distinct from the Sacrificial Ritual.
We learn here that the Amoraim dispute whether we keep our feet in parallel or in serial during the Amidah and that depends on whether we liken ourselves to the Priests performing their Service or to the Angels. On a deeper level perhaps this dispute is rooted in their perception of the nature of the Amidah. Is it a continuation of the Sacrificial Ritual or universal prayer.