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    3 steps backwards – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. At the end of the Amidah why do we take three steps backwards?

    Israeli soldier prayingA. Four explanations are offered by “Rite and Reason” by Shmuel Pinchas Gelbard:

    1. According to the Midrash, Moses passed through three levels when he ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Torah: darkness, clouds, and deep blackness. When he descended he went through the same levels. When completing our Amidah we too take three steps backwards.

    2. When the Torah was given, the people retreated three measures of distance from the mountain, as the verse says, “And the people stood afar” (Ex. 20:21).

    3. Where one prays becomes sacred space. Upon concluding the prayer the person concerned emerges from this sanctified realm and returns to mundane reality.

    4. Prayer corresponds to the three daily offerings. When a kohen climbed the ramp up to the altar he ascended on the right and descended on the left. Between the top of the ramp and the altar were three steps on which the kohen stepped backwards when he left.

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