In the Book of Shmuel (Chapter 1), an incident is recounted that Hannah, wife of Elkana, could not bear children. When Hannah made a pilgrimage to the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in Shiloh, she cried to Hashem from the depths of her soul and vowed that if Hashem would give her a son, she would dedicate his life to the service of Hashem. At the conclusion of her prayer, she was blessed by the leader of the generation, Eli Ha’Kohen, that Hashem grant her wish. Indeed, shortly thereafter, Hannah became pregnant and eventually gave birth to a son named Shmuel, a reference to the Hebrew words, “for I have requested him from Hashem.” This child grew up to be one of the greatest prophets, Shmuel Ha’Navi. Regarding Hannah’s prayer, the verse states, “And Hannah was speaking upon her heart; only her lips moved but her voice was not heard.”
The Gemara (Berachot 31a) states: “Rav Hamnuna said: How many important laws must we derive from the verses involving Hannah!”
The words “And Hannah was speaking upon her heart, only her lips moved” teach us that one who prays must actually verbalize the words of the prayer as opposed to only thinking them in one’s mind.
The words “But her voice was not heard” teaches us that one may not make one’s voice heard during the Amida prayer. The Baraita states that one who makes his voice heard while praying has little belief in Hashem, for one is behaving as if Hashem does not hear prayers whispered in an undertone. Furthermore, one who raises his voice while praying is behaving in the manner of false prophets, as the verse (Melachim, Chapter 18) states regarding the prophets of the Ba’al, “And they called in a loud voice.”
Some authorities maintain that when Rav Hamnuna said one must not let one’s voice be heard while praying, this means that the prayer must be recited so quietly that it is not even heard by the ears of the individual praying. Nevertheless, it is clear from both our Talmud and the Talmud Yerushalmi that only making one’s prayer heard by others is forbidden; however, one may pray in a way that one hears the words one is uttering.
On the contrary, the Tur actually writes that it is preferable for one’s ears to hear the words one is reciting, for this is conducive to proper concentration. Similarly, the Rambam writes that “one should not pray in one’s heart; rather, one should utter the words and make them heard to one’s ears in an undertone but not make them be heard by others.” The Rashba likewise writes that it is a Mitzvah to preferably make one’s prayer heard by one’s own ears. Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch rules likewise. Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l deals with this matter at length and concludes that halachically speaking, one should preferably be able to hear the words one is uttering in one’s Amida prayer.
Although Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch writes in his Bedek Ha’Bayit that it seems from the holy Zohar that it is correct to pray in a manner where not even one’s own ears hear the words one is reciting, nevertheless, the Halacha follows what Maran has written in his Shulchan Aruch which he authored after the Bedek Ha’Bayit where Maran rules that one should make one’s prayer heard by one’s own ears. This is because Maran had changed his mind and realized that there was no real indication from the Zohar that one should not make one’s prayer heard by one’s own ears.
Thus, halachically, one should be able to discern one’s own voice when reciting the Amida prayer.
Indeed, Maran zt”l expounded the Torah’s verse regarding the plague of frogs, “And Moshe and Aharon went out from before Pharaoh and Moshe called out to Hashem about the frogs which he placed upon Pharaoh.” Why does the Torah use the term “Moshe called out to Hashem” regarding the plague of frogs as opposed to any of the other plagues? Maran zt”l explains that Halacha requires one praying to hear the words one is uttering; however, during the plague of frogs, the frogs were croaking so loud that Moshe Rabbeinu could not hear himself and thus, he needed to raise his voice in order to hear the words he was uttering (see Shivchei Omer, page 81).