Prayer by Non-Angels

Question #1: Ahavah Rabbah

Brocha Rishonah asks me: “In the middle of reciting the brocha of Ahavah Rabbah, I feel a mild need to use the bathroom. Must I stop davening immediately, or can I delay using the bathroom and finish davening first?”

Question #2: The Baal Keriyah

“I am a baal keri’ah (often mispronounced as baal korei). It occasionally happens that while I am leining, I realize that I need to use the facilities. May I continue leining until I have finished reading?”

Question #3: Cantorial Quandary

Mr. Fine Cantor calls me. “I just found out that one may not pray when one has a minor urinary urge, which for me is quite common. I often have such a need prior to repeating the chazaras hashatz. It is rather embarrassing for me to leave the shul prior to beginning the repetition. What do I do?”

Introduction

Since Tehillim (106:30) emphasizes that Pinchas was rewarded in the merit of his prayer, we have an ideal opportunity to discuss this aspect of the laws of davening.

In the fourth chapter of Hilchos Tefillah, the Rambam lists and explains five essential prerequisites of prayer. This means that one may not be permitted to daven if he is unable to fulfill these requirements. The five requirements are:

  1. One’s hands must be clean.
  2. One’s body must be covered.
  3. The place where one is praying must be clean.
  4. One may not be distracted by bodily needs.
  5. One must have proper kavanah when praying, meaning that there is a requirement that one’s thoughts be focused.

This article will be devoted to factor number 4, that one must not be distracted by bodily needs. This means that it is prohibited to daven when feeling an urge to relieve oneself. Chazal derive this requirement from several biblical sources. One verse reads hikon likras Elokecha, Yisroel, “Prepare yourself, Israel, when you approach your G-d” (Amos 4:12). Of course, that verse does not specify what type of preparation is necessary. According to the midrash, another verse, Shemor raglecha ka’asher teileich el beis HaElokim, “Pay attention to your legs when you walk into the House of G-d” (Koheles 4:17), serves as an allusion to this specific type of preparation.

The Gemara background

The passage of Gemara that provides the background to this discussion reads as follows: “One who needs to relieve himself may not pray, and if he did pray, it is an abomination” (Brochos 23a). The fact that the Gemara calls this prayer an “abomination” teaches that one who prayed when he needed to relieve himself is required to pray again (Kesef Mishneh, Hilchos Tefillah 4:10; see also Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 92:1). In this situation, the brochos of the tefillah are considered brochos levatalah, brochos recited in vain (Biur Halachah 92:1, s.v. Hayah).

In general, when one needs to relieve himself, it is prohibited to wait unnecessarily. We will continue the discussion on this point shortly.

When is the prayer invalid?

The Gemara explains that a prayer recited when one senses an urge to relieve oneself is not always invalid. This depends on how strong the need was to relieve oneself at the time that he prayed. The Gemara rules that if he could have waited for a parsah, then he has fulfilled his obligation to pray. However, if he davened knowing that he would not be able to wait this long, the davening is invalid and must be repeated, since it is considered an abomination.

How long is a parsah?

A parsah is a distance of 8000 amos, approximately 2½ to 3 miles, and the Gemara means the amount of time it takes to walk a parsah. The authorities dispute how much time this is, some ruling that it is an hour (Bach, Orach Chayim 92), whereas most authorities consider it longer. Some opinions consider it as long as 96 minutes. The consensus of the late authorities is that if one would not have been able to wait for 72 minutes, the prayer is invalid (Aruch Hashulchan 92:2; Mishnah Berurah 92:3).

Milder needs

What is the halachah if someone feels a mild urge to use the facilities – meaning that he knows that he could wait more than 72 minutes? Is he permitted to pray?

We find a dispute among the rishonim whether, under these circumstances, one is permitted to pray, the Rif and Rashi contending that one may, whereas most authorities rule that it is still not appropriate to daven without first relieving oneself (Rambam, Rosh, Rabbeinu Yonah, Tur and Shulchan Aruch). This dispute appears to depend on two variant texts of the passage of Gemara involved. (However, we should note that the Aruch Hashulchan proposes a completely different way to understand this topic, and he concludes that all rishonim prohibit davening when one feels any urge.)

The Rambam codifies this requirement as follows:

“One who needs to relieve himself may not pray. Furthermore, one who needs to relieve himself and prays, the prayer is an abomination, and upon relieving himself, he must pray again. However, if he could hold himself the amount of time it takes to walk a parsah, his tefillah is acceptable, after the fact. In any instance, one should not daven without first checking oneself very carefully. He should also remove any mucous and phlegm and anything else that distracts him, and only then pray” (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 4:10).

Type of need

There is a dispute among the authorities whether the requirement to daven again is only when one needed to defecate, or also when one needed to urinate. The Magen Avraham, the Chayei Odom and the Aruch Hashulchan are lenient, ruling that even if the need was intense, one is not required to repeat the davening if one needed only to urinate, whereas the Elyah Rabbah and the Derech Hachayim require one to daven again. When the Mishnah Berurah records this dispute (Mishnah Berurah 92:2), he writes that he is unable to render a decision as to which position is correct, since both sides have early sources that follow their opinion (Biur Halachah, 92:1, s.v. Vetzarich).

Should he miss tefillah betzibur?

What is the halachah if someone has a minor urge to use the facilities, and he will certainly be able to wait longer than a parsah: may he postpone relieving himself in order to be able to daven together with a minyan?

The conclusion is that even though the prayer would be valid after the fact, he should not pray until he has had a chance to relieve himself.

Should he miss praying altogether?

Let us assume that the latest time to daven is approaching, and, if our individual relieves himself, he may miss davening altogether. Is he permitted to daven, even though he feels a mild urge to relieve himself, or does the requirement to use the facilities before davening require that he miss davening?

There is a dispute among the early acharonim as to what one should do. According to the Bach, he may not daven when he needs to use the facilities, even when this means that he will miss davening as a result.

However, according to the Magen Avraham, this depends on how severe the need is to use the facilities. If it is strong enough that he feels that he will not be able to wait until a parsah, he cannot pray. However, if the need is not that great, the Magen Avraham rules that one can rely on the Rif that one may daven. The Mishnah Berurah concludes in accordance with the Magen Avraham.

Make-up

Under the circumstances in which he was not permitted to daven, he would be required to make up the prayer, called tefillas tashlumim. This means that immediately after davening the next shemoneh esrei, after taking three steps backward at the end of the prayer, he waits for a few seconds, then steps forward and recites the shemoneh esrei again, as a makeup for the missed prayer.

What parts of prayer?

Until now, the rules that we have been describing apply to the shemoneh esrei. How do these rules apply regarding the other parts of prayer and regarding other brochos or learning Torah?

The laws regarding all these other Torah and tefillah activities are as follows: If one is in the middle of reciting brochos or tefillos other than shemoneh esrei and he has an urge, but he knows that he can wait a parsah, he may continue and complete the section of davening in which he is holding and then relieve himself (Shu”t Harashba, Volume 1, #131; Mishnah Berurah 92:9). However, he should not continue the next section of davening without first relieving himself. Therefore, if this happens during pesukei dezimra, he may continue until the end of yishtabach and then relieve himself. However, he is required to relieve himself before he answers borchu, since this begins the next section of davening (Shoneh Halachos). If this happens during the brochos surrounding the Shma, he could continue davening before he relieves himself, but he cannot start shemoneh esrei without first relieving himself. However, in this instance, he should not wait until he completes the brocha of ga’al yisroel, since ga’al yisroel should be recited immediately before beginning shemoneh esrei (this is called semichas geulah litefilah). Instead, he should relieve himself beforehand, so that he can complete the brocha of ga’al yisroel and begin shemoneh esrei immediately (Mishnah Berurah 92:9).

In this last instance, he should not recite the brocha Asher Yatzar until completing the shemoneh esrei. Whether one can recite the brocha of Asher Yatzar in the middle of pesukei dezimra or not is a dispute among the late authorities, which we will leave for a different time.

What is considered a new topic?

All of hallel, all of the megillah or all of bensching are each considered one unit. Therefore, someone who was in the middle of any one of them and began to feel an urge may complete them first. However, the haftarah is considered a new unit after keriyas hatorah (Biur Halachah 92:2, s.v. Korei). Therefore, someone who felt an urge during keriyas hatorah may wait until it is complete, but should attend to his need prior to the beginning of the haftarah.

In all of these instances, if the urge is great enough that he could not wait a parsah, he should not recite any brochos or tefillos. However, according to most authorites, someone who recited a brocha or a tefillah when he could not wait a parsah does not need to repeat them, although it was prohibited for him to recite them (Milchemes Hashem, on Rif Brochos page 16a; Pri Megadim, Introduction to Mishbetzos Zahav, Orach Chayim, Chapter 92; Mishnah Berurah 92:7; Biur Halachah 92:1, s.v. Afilu; however, the Lechem Yehudah, cited by Biur Halachah ad locum, rules that one did not fulfill the requirement and needs to recite the prayer or brocha again.)

Ahavah Rabbah

At this point, we can address the first of our opening questions, from Brocha Rishonah: “In the middle of reciting the brocha of Ahavah Rabbah, I feel a mild need to use the bathroom. Must I stop davening immediately, or can I delay using the bathroom and finish davening first?”

Based on the information that we now have, we can analyze the details and provide Brocha with an answer.

Brocha may not begin shemoneh esrei until she uses the facilities. However, since this is only a minor need and also because her question is germane to the brochos surrounding Shma, she is permitted to continue davening and to complete Shma and its brochos before she does so. However, if she completes the prayer up to Boruch Atta Hashem Ga’al Yisroel, she will create a problem, in that she will not be able to recite shemoneh esrei immediately after completing that brocha. Therefore, she should take care of matters sometime between where she is now in davening and before she recites the words Tzur Yisroel. She should not recite Asher Yatzar until after she completes shemoneh esrei.

If she felt this need during pesukei dezimra, she should relieve herself some time before she begins reciting the brochos of Shma, meaning the brocha that begins with the words Boruch Ata Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam yotzeir or uvorei choshech. If she is in shul, she should take care of it before she answers borchu.

Are there any differences between men and women regarding these halachos?

No , there are no differences between men and women.

Learning and teaching Torah

If one has a great urge to relieve oneself, not only is it forbidden to pray, but it is also forbidden to learn Torah (Rema, Orach Chayim 92:1).

Public teaching

Someone who is in the middle of teaching a class or giving a public lecture who feels a need to relieve himself may finish the class he is teaching before doing so (Mishnah Berurah 92:7). Similarly, the baal keri’ah who feels such a need in the middle of the reading may complete it before relieving himself (Biur Halachah 92:1, s.v. Hayah). The reason is because we have a general halachic principle that kavod haberiyos, human dignity, supersedes a rabbinic prohibition, and the prohibition of teaching Torah when he needs to relieve himself is only miderabbanan (Magen Avraham 92:3).

The Baal Keri’ah

At this point, we can answer one of our opening questions: “I am a baal keri’ah. It occasionally happens that while I am leining, I realize that I need to use the facilities. May I continue leining until I have finished reading?”

The answer is that, based on the above, he may.

What about a Chazzan?

The later authorities are lenient, ruling that if the chazzan completed his personal shemoneh esrei and has a minor need to use the facilities, he may repeat the shemoneh esrei without first using them. The reason for this lenience is that the requirement to use the facilities is rabbinic, and the concept of kavod habriyos supersedes it (Brochos 19b). An additional reason that one may be lenient in this instance is because of the opinion of the Rif, mentioned above, that one who can wait for a parsah may daven lechatchilah. Although we do not usually follow the Rif’s minority opinion, under extenuating circumstances, one can rely upon it (Biur Halachah 92:1 s.v. Hayah).

Cantorial quandary

Back to our third question:

Mr. Fine Cantor calls me. “I just found out that one may not pray when one has a minor urinary urge, which for me is quite common. I often have such a need prior to repeating the chazaras hashatz. It is rather embarrassing for me to leave the shul prior to beginning the repetition. What do I do?”

Since Mr. Cantor is embarrassed to exit to use the facilities during the time that he is leading the davening, he may delay doing so until he finishes the davening. However, this is true only if his need is mild enough that he feels he can wait 72 minutes. If he feels that he cannot wait this long, he has no choice but to use the facilities, since, otherwise, he will not fulfill the mitzvah of davening, and his brochos will be in vain.

Caught in the middle

What is the law if someone is in the middle of the shemoneh esrei and he feels an urge to relieve himself? Should he interrupt the prayer to do so?

The halachah is that he should try to wait until he completes the tefillah and not interrupt the shemoneh esrei (Shu”t Harashba Volume 1, #131; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 92:2). However, he should not answer kedushah if his need is great, since this constitutes a new section of davening (Shoneh Halachos).

If his need to relieve himself is very great, he should go, even though he is in the middle of davening. When one needs to relieve himself, it is prohibited to wait unnecessarily. This prohibition is referred to as bal teshaketzu.

Must he repeat?

If someone needed to relieve himself in the middle of the shemoneh esrei, when he returns, does he continue the tefillah from where he was, or does he start it over again from the beginning?

Whether or not he returns to the beginning depends on the following:

Should his delay have been long enough that he could have recited the entire shemoneh esrei, then he is required to begin again from the beginning of the shemoneh esrei. If his delay was shorter, then he returns to the point where he interrupted his prayer.

In either instance, one should not talk during this interruption, and one should not recite Asher Yatzar until after he finishes the shemoneh esrei.

Men or women?

Are there any differences between men and women regarding these halachos?

No. Although I have been using male gender for this entire article, there are no differences between men and women.

Conclusion

The Rambam (Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah 2:3) explains that angels are made of a different type of matter than we are. They have no physical body, and Hashem made them in such a way that they have spiritual aspects and no true material appearance. This is why they can, at times, assume different forms. It is also a factor in their having no physical needs, and why they do not have free choice. Man was created by Hashem as the only creation that has free choice. Therefore, our serving Hashem and our davening is unique in the entire spectrum of creation.

Understanding how much concern Chazal placed in the seemingly minor aspects of davening should make us more aware of the fact that davening is our attempt at building a relationship with Hashem. As the Kuzari notes, every day should have three very high points — the three times that we daven. We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these three prayers.