Taanit, Chapter Two, Mishnah Two
Todays mishnah continues to set the scene for the prayers recited on the special fast days.
1) [When] they stand up to pray they bring down before the ark an old man conversant [with the prayers], one who has children and whose house is empty [of food], so that his heart is complete prayer.
2) He recites before them twenty-four benedictions, the eighteen recited daily, to which he adds six.
Section one: This section describes the shaliah tzibbur, the prayer leader. It is critical for the success of the communitys prayers for them to choose a qualified shaliah tzibbur. Their prayers will be mediated through him so as a community this is a consequential choice. The person chosen is not one who sings the best, but one whose prayers will be the most heart felt and who knows the liturgy. The person has to be old, one who has gone through many of lifes experience and is therefore wiser. The person has to have children. A man who has children will pray even harder during a drought because he knows that without rain he will not be able to provide food for them. As hard as it is for a person to suffer, it is even harder for one to watch his/her children suffer. Finally, his house must be empty, for if his house were full, his prayers would be less personal. In short, they would find an old poor person who has children.
Section two: This section begins to describe the contents of the prayers themselves. The Amidah for fast days is made up of the 18 benedictions that are recited every week day, plus another six special blessings, which shall be enumerated in the following mishnah.