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I know the why, and I see that's been asked/answered here many times. But I was curious about the proper mechanics of the 3 steps back (forward) before/after Amidah.

I've always started with my feet together, taken 1 step back with my left leg, then taken my second step by moving my right leg past where my left leg is, then the third step is bringing my left leg back to be even with my right. (Then invert that to go forward.)

But I've seen others do 3 full steps — left leg back, then right to be equal, that's 1. Then again, and again.

Is there a "right" way?

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3 Answers

The method of stepping is outlined in Orach Chayim 123 (and to a lesser extent 95). As to your specific question — whether one should take three steps with each foot or two with one foot and one with the other — the Mishna B'rura 123:13 (speaking of the steps at the end of sh'mone esre) says clearly that it's the latter:

…first he should take a small stride with his left foot, then take a large stride with his right foot, then take a stride with his left foot in a manner that [will ensure] his feet are adjacent.

[By "large stride" he does not mean an overly large one — see MB 123:16 — but merely one large enough to allow a further step with the left foot that will ensure his feet are adjacent.]

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From Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 18:12

לאחר השמונה-עשרה אומרים אלהי נצר וכו׳. וקודם עושה שלום וכו׳ כורע ופוסע כך שלש פסיעות, כעבד הנפטר מרבו. הפסיעות יהיו בינוניות, ולכל הפחות כדי שיתן אגודל בצד עקב. ולא יפסע פסיעות גסות ולא יפסע יותר מג׳ פסיעות. פוסע תחלה ברגל שמאל ואחר־כך ברגל ימין, ושוב פוסע ברגל שמאל

Quick translation:

After Shemoneh Esrei say "Elokai Netzor etc.", and before "Oseh Shalom etc." bow and take three steps, like a servant departing from his master. The steps should be of middling length, and at least enough to place his toe to his heel. And don't take huge steps, or more than three. Step first with the left foot, then with the right, and then again with the left.

From Shulchan Aruch HaRav 123:5:

וכשפוסע עוקר רגל שמאל תחלה לפי שדרך הליכת אדם בסתם היא לעקור רגל ימין תחלה לכן עוקר כאן רגל שמאל תחלה להראות כאלו כבד עליו ליפטר מלפני המקום ומטעם זה אטר רגל עוקר תחלה שמאלו שהוא ימין כל אדם

Quick (and loose) translation:

When one steps, they should move their left foot first, since the way a person normally steps is with the right foot first, therefore, here we move our left first to show that it is difficult for us to leave G-d's presence. For this reason, a lefty should step with his right foot, since his left is everyone's right.

(This could be taken to mean that at the beginning of Shemoneh Esrei, you start with your right. Tzarich Iyun.)

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There is no right way per se, just whatever makes you feel comfortable. I generally do what HodofHod recommended. Personally, I also like to say the six words "Adonai Sefatai Tiftach Ufi Yagid Tehilatecha" when I make the six steps before I begin my Amidah. (three backwards and three forwards)

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Can you source that it's "just whatever makes you feel comfortable," especially considering the sources brought in the other answers? –  Double AA Jul 6 '12 at 1:31
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