How Is Our Maariv Structured?

Question #1: “Why is maariv structured differently from shacharis? In the morning, we start Shmoneh Esrei immediately after Ga’al Yisroel, whereas maariv includes two additional brochos.”

Question #2: “Why do we recite a kaddish immediately before Shmoneh Esrei in maariv, but not in shacharis?”

Answer:

The Gemara (Brochos 26b) teaches that Avraham Avinu initiated the daily morning prayer of shacharis, Yitzchak established mincha and Yaakov instituted maariv. The source that Yaakov introduced maariv is in the second verse of this week’s parshah, where it says vayifga bamakom, which is interpreted as meaning he prayed in that place. This provides ample opportunity to discuss the structure and laws of our maariv prayers.

What we call “maariv” actually fulfills four different mitzvos. The Gemara quoted above refers to only one of these mitzvos: tefillah, the prayers we recite as Shmoneh Esrei. The other three mitzvos are: reading shma (kri’as shma), required min hatorah every morning and night; remembering yetzi’as mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt; and birchos kri’as shma, reciting the blessings that Chazal instituted to surround the shma with brochos (Mishnah, Brochos 11a). These brochos, together with the shma, constitute the part of the davening between borchu and the Shmoneh Esrei.

In the morning, the birchos kri’as shma consist of two brochos prior to shma and one afterward. Birchos kri’as shma at night consist of four brochos, two before shma and two afterward. (The various places that we pause for the chazzan in the middle of these brochos do not indicate new brochos.) On weekdays, Ashkenazim in chutz la’aretz add another brochah at the end of maariv that begins with the words Baruch Hashem le’olam. This brochah consists of a selection of pesukim which mention Hashem’s name at least eighteen times, corresponding to the eighteen brochos of the original Shmoneh Esrei, followed by a brochah. The chazzan then recites a half-kaddish, after which everyone begins the Shmoneh Esrei.

The Avos did not establish the Shmoneh Esrei itself, but rather the concept that one should daven three times a day. The original text of eighteen brochos, from which the term Shmoneh Esrei was derived, was created by the Anshei Keneses Hagedolah. What we call the Shmoneh Esrei includes an additional brochah, Velamalshinim, which was added later and is a topic for a different time.

Order of maariv

This above order reflects how we daven maariv today. However, at the time of the Gemara, there was a dispute concerning when one should recite the kri’as shma and its brochos – before or after the Shmoneh Esrei. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi contended that the Shmoneh Esrei of maariv should be recited first, and only then should one recite kri’as shma and its brochos. Our structure follows Rabbi Yochanan, who ruled that since the blessings surrounding the kri’as shma include one that closes with the words Ga’al Yisroel –  He Who redeemed Israel, this should be recited before Shmoneh Esrei. This is because of the concept of masmich geulah latefillah, meaning that one should mention the redemption immediately prior to beginning prayer (Brochos 4b). To quote the Gemara: “Rabbi Yochanan said: ‘Who will merit the World to Come? One who recites the brochah of the redemption immediately before he recites the prayer in the evening.’ Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says, ‘The prayers are in the middle’” (Brochos 4b).

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi contends that one recites the blessings after the Shmoneh Esrei because the redemption from Egypt did not take place at night. Although Hashem smote the Egyptian firstborn at night, since the full redemption, that is, leaving Egypt, did not occur until the following morning, there is no compelling reason to mention the redemption prior to the evening prayer. In addition, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi notes that since the Torah states that one should recite kri’as shma when one goes to bed in the evening and when one rises in the morning, these two recitals should not have tefillah between them. Rabbi Yochanan contends, however, that although the Bnei Yisroel did not leave until morning, we consider the redemption to have begun at night. Therefore, even at night, the geulah should be mentioned before the prayer.

How do we rule?

Although in this instance we follow the decision of Rabbi Yochanan, this is very unusual, since we usually rule according to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi when he disagrees with Rabbi Yochanan (Tosafos, Nedarim 45a and Chullin 97a; Ramban, Eruvin 46a). Yet, in this instance, virtually all halachic authorities rule according to Rabbi Yochanan (Rif; Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 7:18; Rosh; Tur, Orach Chayim Chapters 235 and 236; Shulchan Aruch ad loc. Chapters 235:1 and 236:2. However, cf. the Shiltei Giborim quoting Rav Amram Gaon.) This is because the Gemara cites a beraysa, an earlier source of the tanna’im, which concurs with Rabbi Yochanan (Rif; Tosafos, 4b s.v. Da’amar).

Olam haba

Rabbi Yochanan’s original statement was: “Who will merit the World to Come? One who recites the brochah about the redemption immediately before he recites the prayer in the evening.” The rishonim raise the following inquiry: Does such a seemingly small act alone guarantee olam haba?

Rabbeinu Yonah provides two approaches to explain this curious statement: Hashem took us out of Egypt in order that we become His servants. One who recites the brochah of Ga’al Yisroel thereby acknowledges the tremendous kindness that Hashem performed. If an individual follows this immediately with prayer, he shows that he recognizes that the chesed that Hashem performed requires us to serve Him with total commitment. Prayer demonstrates that we recognize the good that Hashem has done for us, and that we are His servants. Internalizing and actualizing this mindset are what gains a person a place in olam haba.

A second reason is that when the Jewish people saw the miracles of the Exodus, they trusted in Hashem. Reciting the geulah describes the faith that the Jews placed in Hashem, and praying immediately thereafter demonstrates understanding that everything is because of Hashem, and that we should place our total trust in Him. Fearing Hashem and only Hashem results from having this total trust in Him. Thus, with these actions a person internalizes the qualities that will earn him olam haba.

Although the Gemara attributes this idea to Rabbi Yochanan, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi agrees that one who proceeds directly from mention of redemption to prayer merits olam haba. He disagrees only as to whether one should strive to accomplish this only with his morning prayers, or if he should do so also with his evening prayers. In the evening, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi prefers that one pray first and only afterward recite shma and its attendant brochos (based on Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah).

Why do we have interruptions?

This discussion leads us to a series of questions: As opposed to the morning prayers, where we recite the closing words Ga’al Yisroel and then immediately begin reciting the Shmoneh Esrei, three additional prayers are recited between the evening brochah Ga’al Yisroel and the Shmoneh Esrei. First, the brochah of Ga’al Yisroel is not the last brochah of the brochos that surround shma – it is followed by a brochah commencing with the word Hashkiveinu. Second, after Hashkiveinu, Ashkenazim in chutz la’aretz add the brochah that begins with the words Baruch Hashem le’olam. Both these brochos are recited between Ga’al Yisroel and the Shmoneh Esrei. If it is so important to recite Shmoneh Esrei immediately after the brochah of Ga’al Yisroel, why are there “interruptions” between them?

Furthermore, in the evening, the chazzan recites “half-kaddish” before beginning the Shmoneh Esrei. This kaddish is not recited in the morning, when nothing is allowed to interrupt between geulah and tefillah. Why are these three insertions not considered interruptions between the brochah of Ga’al Yisroel and the beginning of Shmoneh Esrei?

The first of these three questions (Why is the brochah Hashkiveinu recited between Ga’al Yisroel and the Shmoneh Esrei?) already surfaces in the Gemara (Brochos 4b). There, the Gemara explains that once Hashkiveinu was established as a brochah after Ga’al Yisroel, the two brochos together, Ga’al Yisroel and Hashkiveinu, are considered one long recitation of redemption. Therefore, Hashkiveinu does not constitute an interruption between geulah and tefillah.

What does this Gemara mean?

Some rishonim explain that while Hashem brought the Angel of Death upon the Egyptian firstborn on the first night of Pesach, the Jews were afraid and prayed to Him to save them from the fate of the Egyptians. This is considered an act of righteousness, not lack of faith, because tzaddikim always think that they have sinned and, therefore, are not deserving of Divine intervention. To remember these supplications, Chazal implemented the recital of Hashkiveinu, an appeal that Hashem protect us from all misfortune. Since this entreaty originated as part of the Exodus, it retains aspects of salvation and therefore does not constitute an interruption between geulah and tefillah (Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah ad loc.).

Another interruption

Although we have now explained why Hashkiveinu is not considered an interruption between geulah and tefillah, we still do not know why the brochah beginning with the words Baruch Hashem le’olam is not considered an interruption. The rishonim devote much discussion to this question and to the origins of this brochah altogether, since it is not mentioned in the Gemara.

Tosafos (4b s.v. Da’amar) explains that, at some point in post-Talmudic history, this brochah was instituted to lengthen the davening. The reason for doing this was so that someone who arrived late for maariv would have time to catch up and finish davening and still be able to leave shul with everyone else. As the Rosh (Brochos 1:5) explains, at the time this brochah was implemented, the shullen were in the fields, and it was dangerous to walk home alone at night after maariv.

Other approaches

Other rishonim explain the origin of the brochah of Baruch Hashem le’olam somewhat differently. The approach presented by Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah requires a bit of an introduction.

The Gemara (Brochos 27b) quotes a dispute whether tefillas arvis reshus or tefillas arvis chovah, which seems to be a disagreement over whether davening maariv is required or optional. The halachic conclusion is tefillas arvis reshus. But is maariv really optional? Can one decide every night whether he wants to skip maariv?

The rishonim already note that the Gemara states that one who missed maariv must recite a make-up prayer, called a tefillas tashlumim, after the next morning’s shacharis. If maariv is optional, why must one make up the missed prayer?

In response to this difficulty, Tosafos explains that when the Gemara states that maariv is reshus, it does not mean that it is optional, but rather that it is less mandatory than other requirements. Should one need to choose between fulfilling two different mitzvos, maariv is set aside in favor of the other mitzvah (Tosafos, Brochos 26a s.v. Ta’ah). However, in all other circumstances, one is obligated to recite maariv.

The Rif resolves the problem differently, contending that, indeed, maariv is not obligatory. However, once one has decided to daven maariv, he must do so properly, meaning that, in the event that he did not daven, he would need to pray a “make-up” prayer.

Baruch Hashem le’olam

Returning to Baruch Hashem le’olam: Since reciting a tefillah for maariv was originally voluntary, Rabbeinu Yonah explains that the eighteen mentions of Hashem’s Name that constitute the prayer of Baruch Hashem le’olam were substituted for maariv and qualified as adequate fulfillment of the requirement to daven at night. A closing brochah beginning with the words yiru eineinu was then recited, followed by kaddish, and one thereby fulfilled the requirement of maariv without reciting Shmoneh Esrei. (A similar approach is presented by the Tur in the name of Rav Natrunai Gaon.)

The prayer of Baruch Hashem le’olam and the subsequent half-kaddish remained part of the maariv liturgy, even after davening a maariv Shmoneh Esrei became accepted as an obligation, and they are now followed by Shmoneh Esrei, the full kaddish and Aleinu. Reciting Baruch Hashem le’olam is not considered an interruption between geulah and tefillah, since it was originally adopted as a halachic obligation whereby one fulfills the mitzvah of prayer.

Later rishonim combine both the approach of Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah and that of Tosafos to explain the origins of the blessing Baruch Hashem le’olam. For example, the Tur explains that since the shullen were in the fields, people completed the maariv that they recited as a group while it was still daylight and ended their tefillah with kaddish. Everyone then recited the Shmoneh Esrei individually, in their own homes, after dark.

I found a similar approach in a commentary by a different rishon, Rabbeinu Manoach (commentary on the Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah, 7:18), who suggests that Baruch Hashem le’olam was instituted at a time when the Jews were not permitted to pray while standing. To avoid this, the Jews recited the verses of Boruch Hashem le’olam while sitting, recited kaddish, completed the service, and went home. Beyond the watchful eyes of the persecuting government, they recited the Shmoneh Esrei at home, while standing.

A tangential point is that we see from the writings of the various rishonim that in their era both Sefardim and Ashkenazim recited Baruch Hashem le’olam as part of the daily maariv. This practice is mentioned even in Shulchan Aruch, despite the fact that he discusses usual Sefardic practice. There were individual gedolim, both Ashkenazim and Sefardim, who did not recite Baruch Hashem le’olam (Rashba, Brochos 4b, quoting Rashbam; Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah, quoting Ramban; Rambam also makes no mention of it). However, the common practice today of Sefardim and the minhag Eretz Yisroel not to recite Baruch Hashem le’olam are both customs of later origin.

Should one stand for Boruch Hashem le’olam?

Thus, we see that according to all approaches, the brochah beginning with the words Boruch Hashem le’olam was included as a substitute for the Shmoneh Esrei, or, in other words, to fulfill the mitzvah of prayer. If that is so, should it be said standing?

The Rema 136:2 writes that people who are meticulous in their observance stand while reciting these pesukim, since they are a replacement for the Shmoneh Esrei. However, the Magen Avraham cites several authorities who disagree and contend that they should deliberately be said sitting. The Taz explains that if one intends to say Shmoneh Esrei, since he would fulfill his chiyuv with the 18 pesukim if he says them standing, he will be considered as having recited Shmoneh Esrei twice, which one is not permitted to do under ordinary circumstances. Therefore, he should recite the pesukim sitting, which demonstrates that he is reciting them only to fulfill the custom and not to fulfill his mitzvah to daven maariv.

However, if he has already said Shmoneh Esrei, such as if he skipped Baruch Hashem le’olam in order to start the Shmoneh Esrei together with the tzibur, one should recite these verses standing (Magen Avraham 236:2).

Kaddish at night

At this point, we can answer one of the questions mentioned at the beginning of the article:

“Why do we recite a kaddish immediately before Shmoneh Esrei in maariv, but not in shacharis?”

This practice dates back to the post-Gemara takkanah, when half-kaddish was recited after Baruch Hashem le’olam to end the public tefillah at this point, or to demonstrate that the requirements of tefillah had been fulfilled. Although today, one cannot fulfill his requirement to daven maariv with this brochah, the brochah of Baruch Hashem le’olam and the subsequent half-kaddish were left in place.

I also found an alternate answer to this question: We say kaddish in the evening, because we paskin that maariv is reshus, and therefore we need not be concerned about the interruption, whereas in shacharis, which is definitely a required prayer, we are concerned about the interruption (Tosafos, Brochos 4b s.v. Da’amar, quoting Rav Amram Gaon).

Interrupting maariv

Notwithstanding this last statement, the halachah is that one may not interrupt between the birchos kri’as shma of maariv and the Shmoneh Esrei (Tosafos, Brochos, 4b s.v. Da’amar). However, for important purposes, the halachic authorities allowed certain interruptions. For example, the Rashba (Shu”t 1:293) rules that on Rosh Chodesh, we may announce that people should not forget to say Yaaleh Veyavo, and the Mishnah Berurah (236:7) extends this heter to include that one may announce Al Hanissim on Chanukah and Purim, something that is not permitted in shacharis.

Conclusion: Was Yaakov’s prayer second rate?

The question is obvious: If each of the three prayers was established by one of our forefathers, why are two of these prayers obligatory, whereas the Gemara concludes that maariv is optional? Even if we understand the Gemara to mean, as some rishonim explain, that it is only relatively optional, meaning that one is required to daven maariv but it is more easily deferred, why does Yaakov’s prayer seem to get a second-rate standing? After all, he is considered the most chosen of the forefathers, bechir shebe’avos, so why should his prayer be considered of lesser importance?

The Pnei Yehoshua (Brochos 26b s.v. Mihu) explains that Yaakov never intended to create a new prayer at night – he meant to daven mincha! Suddenly, Hashem made the sun set and darkness fell early, in order to force Yaakov to stop at that place. Thus, Yaakov’s prayer was because he had missed mincha, not because he was trying to institute a prayer in the evening.