Please explain the differences in the types of "prayer" that is meant when these terms for "prayer" as found in Tanac"h are used. I have intentionally omitted English translation for these verses, as for purposes of this question, I am not just seeking literal meaning. I am looking more for the difference in nuance in the term and whether a specific type or method of prayer is implied, esp. in the verses cited. Why was that term used over the other? Also, do any of these terms have practical halachot in terms of the way we should currently pray?


Genesis 25:21:

וַיֶּעְתַּ֨ר יִצְחָ֤ק לַֽיהוָה֙ לְנֹ֣כַח אִשְׁתּ֔וֹ כִּ֥י עֲקָרָ֖ה** הִ֑וא וַיֵּעָ֤תֶר לוֹ֙ יְהוָ֔ה וַתַּ֖הַר רִבְקָ֥ה אִשְׁתּֽוֹ׃

Exodus 8:5:

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֣ה לְפַרְעֹה֮ הִתְפָּאֵ֣ר עָלַי֒ לְמָתַ֣י ׀ אַעְתִּ֣יר לְךָ֗ וְלַעֲבָדֶ֙יךָ֙ וּֽלְעַמְּךָ֔ לְהַכְרִית֙ הַֽצֲפַרְדְּעִ֔ים מִמְּךָ֖ וּמִבָּתֶּ֑יךָ רַ֥ק בַּיְאֹ֖ר תִּשָּׁאַֽרְנָה׃


Exodus 8:8:

וַיֵּצֵ֥א מֹשֶׁ֛ה וְאַהֲרֹ֖ן מֵעִ֣ם פַּרְעֹ֑ה וַיִּצְעַ֤ק מֹשֶׁה֙ אֶל־יְהוָ֔ה עַל־דְּבַ֥ר הַֽצְפַרְדְּעִ֖ים אֲשֶׁר־שָׂ֥ם לְפַרְעֹֽה׃

Exodus 14:10:

וּפַרְעֹ֖ה הִקְרִ֑יב וַיִּשְׂאוּ֩ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֨ל אֶת־עֵינֵיהֶ֜ם וְהִנֵּ֥ה מִצְרַ֣יִם ׀ נֹסֵ֣עַ אַחֲרֵיהֶ֗ם וַיִּֽירְאוּ֙ מְאֹ֔ד וַיִּצְעֲק֥וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל אֶל־יְהוָֽה׃


Numbers 21:7:

וַיָּבֹא֩ הָעָ֨ם אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֜ה וַיֹּאמְר֣וּ חָטָ֗אנוּ כִּֽי־דִבַּ֤רְנוּ בַֽיהוָה֙ וָבָ֔ךְ הִתְפַּלֵּל֙ אֶל־יְהוָ֔ה וְיָסֵ֥ר מֵעָלֵ֖ינוּ אֶת־הַנָּחָ֑שׁ וַיִּתְפַּלֵּ֥ל מֹשֶׁ֖ה בְּעַ֥ד הָעָֽם׃

Deuteronomy 9:20:

וּֽבְאַהֲרֹ֗ן הִתְאַנַּ֧ף יְהוָ֛ה מְאֹ֖ד לְהַשְׁמִיד֑וֹ וָֽאֶתְפַּלֵּ֛ל גַּם־בְּעַ֥ד אַהֲרֹ֖ן בָּעֵ֥ת הַהִֽוא


Deuteronomy 3:23:

וָאֶתְחַנַּ֖ן אֶל־יְהוָ֑ה בָּעֵ֥ת הַהִ֖וא לֵאמֹֽר׃

I Kings 8:30:

וְשָׁ֨מַעְתָּ֜ אֶל־תְּחִנַּ֤ת עַבְדְּךָ֙ וְעַמְּךָ֣ יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר יִֽתְפַּֽלְל֖וּ אֶל־הַמָּק֣וֹם הַזֶּ֑ה וְ֠אַתָּה תִּשְׁמַ֞ע אֶל־מְק֤וֹם שִׁבְתְּךָ֙ אֶל־הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וְשָׁמַעְתָּ֖ וְסָלָֽחְתָּ׃

(The above verse also has a form of פלל)

  • Devarim Rabbah 2:1 lists ten terms of tefillah: sha'avah, tze'akah, ne'akah, rinah, pegi'ah, bitzur, keri'ah, nipul, pilul, and tachanunim. Yakut Shimoni 811 adds ze'akah (not sure if that's the same as tze'akah, which is omitted by the Yalkut), itur, amidah, chilui, and chinun. (The Yalkut numbers 13 forms of tefillah; it omits tachanunim.) From R' Pincus' Sefer Gates of Prayer (Feldheim), which is on precisely this topic. So perhaps this should be closed as there literally is a book to answer your question? ;)
    – DonielF
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 4:48
  • 1
    Maybe they are synonymous. Do you have some reason to assume otherwise? If so, consider editing it in. Regarding Tefillah, see seforim.blogspot.com/2016/08/the-meaning-of-word-hitpallel.html.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 2:08

2 Answers 2


First of all, the midrash tells us that there are many more verbs that express prayer in the bible (see first comment here for a list of six sources that list at least ten different names for prayer). There are also many interpretations regarding the differences between them.

There isn't one commentator that I know of who lists all of them and compares them (this would be an interesting project to undertake if one has some free time). However here's a link that starts you off with a comparison between the ten main ones. And here's another one stating that the strongest prayer is expressed by "צעקה".

"עתירה" isn't listed in the above comparison, so I'll add here that both Rashi and Malbim (at least) explain that anytime this word is mentioned the meaning is: praying a lot. Rashi brings proof for this explanation from several sources.

This question touches upon the general subject of milim nirdafot (synonyms). Some commentators, such as Radak, Ibn Ezra, Ralbag, and more, say that the bible expresses itself many times twice, as a literary tool. To them, two different words can mean the exact same thing, and the Torah (or other books) uses them interchangeably for no meaningful reason.
Others, like the Malbim and the Vilna Gaon, said that there are never two words that are used in the bible and that mean the exact same thing. There's always a meaningful difference between them, and a reason for using both (or more).

  • "there isn't one commentator" - R' Pincus wrote a sefer built around explaining what each of the 10 are. Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 4:26
  • 2
    a. There are more than just 10 (as the lists aren't identical in the different sources). I added an article that explains 10 of them. b. I said "There isn't one commentator that I know of".
    – Cauthon
    Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 8:00
  • 1
    ... that's why I told you. I wasn't saying you were wrong. Not all comments are meant to be belligerent criticism - some are actually meant to be edifying to the poster! Commented Jan 27, 2016 at 3:57

Lichorah tefillah can only work if you are prepared to live with a different relationship with God than you had prior to your request being answered.

Therefore the different words for prayer describe different ways you are prepared to face God and change your relationship with him.

That is, they describe different self-transformations that are fitting for the travail you find yourself in.

  • To be precise, you didn't explain the differences in the types of prayer. Nor did you provide a reliable source for your answer.
    – Chaim
    Commented Jun 23, 2016 at 2:48
  • I agree with the above comment. Even without sources, the main focus of my question was to seek the meaning and contrast of each term being used; not a generalized concept.
    – DanF
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 15:42

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