Morning Blessings-Terumah-Finding My Path
The question was raised as to why there are different customs regarding the order of prayer, and how each individual should pray. I replied that it is impossible to adequately explain these things in writing. However, the following can be revealed:
Our sages teach us that a person entering and leaving the Holy Temple would have to bow 13 times, paralleling the 13 gates of the Temple (Shekalim 6:1,2). These are also alluded to in the Book of Ezekiel, where each tribe will have its own gate when the holiness of Jerusalem is restored to the status it had in the time of the Temple (Ezekiel 48:31).
It is known that the Temple here on earth paralleled the Temple on High (Zohar, Volume II 59b). The Holy Temple on High therefore also has a gate for each tribe, as explained in the writings of the Ari (Pri Etz Chaim, Inyan Tefillah).
The concept of prayer is therefore the key with which each individual enters through his own gate. We are thus taught that prayer is, “The ladder standing on earth, with its head reaching the heavens (Genesis 28:12).” Each gate has its own combination, and it is for this reason that there are different orders of prayer. Each of the tribes has its own liturgy.
The 13th gate, however, is for the individual who does not know from which of the tribes he originates. Since he does not know which gate to use, he can use this one to enter the King’s courtyard.
The 13th gate also parallels the 13th Attribute of Mercy, which is, “Cleanses.” This includes the other 12 Attributes, as is known to those who comprehend.
Knowing the paths of heaven as he did, the Ari taught a way for those who do not know from which tribe they originate. For this reason, he arranged a special order of prayer based on all the others, as known to those who are well-versed (Teshuvot Divrei Chaim II, Orach Chaim 8).
It may then be asked why the other 12 gates were needed, since they are all included in the 13th. Why is the 13th gate not enough? The answer is, however, that each tribe originally knew its own particular order of prayer, and it was certainly best for each to enter through its own gate. Now that people do not know the tribe of their origin, and we also do not know which customs apply to which tribes, it is best to follow the order arranged by the Ari, which is universal.
The prophet Ezekiel predicted that in the Ultimate Future there would only be twelve gates in Jerusalem, one for each tribe. The reason for this is that everyone will then know his own tribe. (Magid Devarav l’Yaakov 141)
“Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, Who prepares man’s footsteps (Morning Blessings).” We acknowledge that God direct’s each person to his own particular gate, and that God direct each of us to discover our own path.