This Land Is My Land!

Yaakov plans to return to Eretz Yisrael…

Question #1: This Land is My Land!

How do we take possession of Eretz Yisrael?

Question #2: This Land is Your Land

How do you make Eretz Yisrael into “your” land?

Question #3: From California

How far west does Eretz Yisrael extend?

Introduction

In honor of a parsha in which Yaakov must leave Eretz Yisrael, with assurances that future generations will return, it behooves us to emphasize some of the special qualities for which Eretz Yisrael is so famous. Let us begin by mentioning some of the many pronouncements of Chazal regarding the uniqueness of Eretz Yisrael:

Eretz Yisrael was created first, before any other part of the world” (Ta’anis 10b). “Hashem Himself waters Eretz Yisrael directly” (Ta’anis 10b). The Gemara teaches that there was no mabul in Eretz Yisrael (Zevachim 113a). It also states that Eretz Yisrael lacks nothing (Berachos 36b; Yoma 81b; Sukkah 35a).

The centrality of Eretz Yisrael to all our prayers is expressed in the halacha, based on Shelomoh Hamelech’s tefillah when he dedicated the Beis Hamikdash (Melachim 1:8:48; Divrei Hayamim 2:6:38), that we face Eretz Yisrael when we pray (Berachos 30a).

Then there are the many halachic unique qualities to Eretz Yisrael. As we know, most agricultural mitzvos, including bikkurim, terumos, ma’asros, leket, shikcha, peah, peret, oleilus and shevi’is apply only in Eretz Yisrael, and most of the laws of kelayim, orlah, and revai’i apply min haTorah only in Eretz Yisrael.

The Gemara (Sotah 14a) asks: Why did Moshe desire so much to enter Eretz Yisrael? Was it because he wanted to enjoy its fruits? The Gemara answers that he wanted to fulfill the mitzvos that can be observed only in Eretz Yisrael!

There are mitzvos that are not agricultural that can be observed only in Eretz Yisrael. For example, the mitzvah of challah applies min haTorah only to dough kneaded in Eretz Yisrael.

A much more basic mitzvah is the requirement every month to establish and declare which day is rosh chodeshkiddush hachodesh — and to determine each year whether it should be a leap year containing thirteen months — ibur shanah — or a common year containing only twelve months, which requires the decision of a special beis din that meets in Eretz Yisrael (Berachos 63a). Thus, the creation of all our Yomim Tovim is dependent on the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael. (Hillel Hanasi introduced the use of our current calendar, which is based completely on calculation and not on observation. He realized that there would no longer be a beis din in Eretz Yisrael able to fulfill this mitzvah, and, therefore, it was required and necessary to implement a backup calendar with all the decisions predetermined and automatic.)

This land is my land!

An even greater emphasis on the primacy of Eretz Yisrael in keeping all the mitzvos can be noted in the following comments of the Sifrei, Rashi and the Ramban. To quote the Sifrei (Parshas Eikev #43), “Although I am exiling you, you will still be noticeably different because you perform mitzvos. This way, when you return to Eretz Yisrael, keeping mitzvos will not be a novel experience for you. We can compare this to a king who became angry at his wife and sent her back to her father’s house. Yet, at the same time, he instructed her, ‘Remember to wear your royal jewelry, so that upon your return, you will not find it foreign to dress like a queen.’ So, too, the Holy One, Blessed is He, said to Yisrael: ‘My sons, always be distinguished by doing mitzvos so that, when you return, they will not be unfamiliar to you.’” Even non-agricultural mitzvos, such as mezuzah and tefillin, apply in chutz la’aretz in order to keep us in the habit of observing mitzvos (Rashi, Devarim 11:18). From this Sifrei, we see that the primary place for observing all mitzvos, even the non-agricultural ones, is in Eretz Yisrael (Ramban, Vayikra 18:25; see also Ramban, Devarim 11:18).

One of the blessings of Eretz Yisrael is that its air makes one  wise (Bava Basra 158b). The Gemara states that ten units of wisdom arrived in the world and Eretz Yisrael took nine of them (Kiddushin 49b).

Eretz Yisrael is compared to a deer or an antelope. Aside from their natural grace and beauty, these gorgeous creations of Hashem possess a hide that stretches to cover all their innards. When the animal is skinned, its hide shrinks, such that it is hard to imagine how it possibly was sufficient to enclose the animal. Similarly, Eretz Yisrael, which is called eretz tzvi, “the beautiful land,” appears too small to provide residence and sustenance for all its inhabitants, yet it “stretches” to make available everything that all its residents need (Kesubos 112a; Gittin 57a).

How can we demonstrate our love for Eretz Yisrael? The Gemara reports that Rabbi Yosi bar Chanina kissed the gate of Akko, which was the halachic border of Eretz Yisrael in his day (Yerushalmi, Shevi’is 4:7).

This land is your land

How do you make Eretz Yisrael into “your” land?

The Gemara (Berachos 5a) teaches that “three wonderful gifts, olam haba, Eretz Yisrael and Torah, were granted to the Jewish people, but each can be acquired only through difficulties (yissurin).” As anyone who moves to Eretz Yisrael will attest, aliyah never happens without serious hitches. Growth in Torah learning requires much sacrifice, as does achieving the rewards awaiting us in olam haba. All these require major personal investment. But, to the extent that one endures difficulty, he internalizes “possession” of them. Thus, it is impossible to take possession of olam haba, Eretz Yisrael or Torah without encountering and surmounting obstacles on the way.

Taking these ideas further is a statement (Pesachim 113a) that someone who dwells in Eretz Yisrael inherits olam haba. Even more is conveyed by a different passage of Gemara (Kesubos 111a), that someone who walks just four amos in Eretz Yisrael is guaranteed olam haba!

The midrash teaches that five things are more cherished by Hashem than the worlds of heaven and earth that He created. One of these five things is Jews settling in Eretz Yisrael.

The Gemara also states that the shuls andthe batei midrash of chutz la’aretz will be transported to Eretz Yisrael (Megillah 29a).

From California

How far west does Eretz Yisrael extend?

Eretz Yisrael does not stretch as far west as California. Let us briefly discuss the westernmost parts of Eretz Yisrael, as described by various pesukim in Tanach. Every mention of the borders of Eretz Yisrael defines its western border simply as the “Yam Hagadol,” the “Great Sea.” (Although there are seas larger than the Mediterranean, it is called the “Great Sea” because of its relationship to Eretz Yisrael. In other words, it is considered “great” not because of its own qualities — it is “great” because anything associated with Eretz Yisrael is great!)

What about islands in the Mediterranean? Are they part of Eretz Yisrael?

This question is the subject of a dispute among tanna’im. According to Rabbi Yehudah, bodies of land due west of Eretz Yisrael are part of Eretz Yisrael. However, accepted halacha follows the opinion of the chachamim who draw an imaginary line from the northwestern corner of Eretz Yisrael to its southwestern border, Nachal Mitzrayim and include in Eretz Yisrael only islands in that easternmost part of the Mediterranean (Gittin 8a).

Where will I find the northwestern corner of Eretz Yisrael on my map of the Middle East?

From the redwood forest

North of the land that most people identify with Eretz Yisrael are the famous cedars of Lebanon. However, most opinions consider the Promised Land to include current day Lebanon, or at least significant areas of it, as part of Eretz Yisrael. In the various Biblical descriptions of the borders of the Holy Land, we can observe that one location in the north, Har Hahor, figures prominently. First, I must note that the mountain called Har Hahor where Aharon was buried is a different place from the northern boundary marker of Eretz Yisrael. The reason why two different mountains would both be called Har Hahor is because the term means simply “the mountain of the mountain,” what Rashi describes as “an apple situated on top of another apple” — a mountain with a higher vertical rising peak on top. Thus, Har Hahor is as much a description as a name, and refers both to Aharon’s burial place, a mountain outside the southern or southeastern boundary of Eretz Yisrael, and to any one of the many choices suggested for Israel’s northwestern border, where the northern border reaches the sea.

I am aware of at least six different mountains identified as the Har Hahor of the northwestern-most point of Eretz Yisrael. All are mountains located on the eastern Mediterranean coast, all are north of what is today’s modern State of Israel, and each has this feature of a mountain with a mountainous peak rising on top. In other words, all opinions agree that true Eretz Yisrael spreads north of the borders of the current state. Opinions as to how far north will indeed be ultimately “ours” range from Lebanon, all the way up to Turkey. In other words, the consensus is that there are coastal areas north of Rosh Hanikra that are properly part of Eretz Yisrael, yet it is uncertain how far north.

To the Gulf Stream waters

Thus far we have discussed the western and northern borders of Eretz Yisrael; now we will discuss the southern border. In Parshas Mas’ei (Bamidbar 34), the Torah defines the easternmost point of the southern border of Eretz Yisrael to be the Dead Sea (Bamidbar 34:3), and its westernmost point to be Nachal Mitzrayim, the Stream of Egypt. We should first note that Avraham Avinu was promised from “Nahar Mitzrayim, the River of Egypt, whereas in Parshas Mas’ei, we are promised from the Stream of Egypt. Are these the same body of water? Indeed, Targum Yerushalmi explains both terms as referring to the Nile. Others do not. If so, what was Avraham promised, and why did we not receive it?

The Malbim (commentary to Bamidbar 34:2) explains that the borders promised at the end of Parshas Eikev (Devarim 11:24) reflect a promise for the future, when the Jewish people will acquire much more territory than what was possessed in the days of Yehoshua.

According to this approach, no part of Egypt is yet part of Eretz Yisrael. Similarly, others contend that the Stream of Egypt is the Wadi El Arish in the northeastern part of the Sinai Desert, whereas the River of Egypt is the Nile. According to this approach, Avraham Avinu was promised that, one day, his descendants would have much more extensive holdings to the south and southwest than they have ever controlled in history, even after Ariel Sharon crossed the Suez Canal and captured the Egyptian Third Army to end the Yom Kippur War. (The Gulf of Suez and the Suez Canal both lie east of the Nile and the area in between is the breadbasket and cotton growing area of Egypt.) Avraham Avinu was promised the land of ten nations, including Keini, Kenizi and Kadmoni, which Rashi (Bereishis 15:19) equates with Edom, Moav and Amon, but these are not the borders of Benei Yisrael’s territory when we entered the land in the days of Yehoshua. Until the era of moshiach, Klal Yisrael received the land of only seven of those ten nations, the rest going to other family members of Avraham Avinu, including the descendants of Amon and Moav, Avraham’s grandnieces, and of Eisav.

This land was made for you and me!

The Ramban (Devarim 11:24) explains the verses at the end of Parshas Eikev differently, understanding that those borders describe the area that we are commanded to conquer. This is consistent with his opinion that one of the taryag mitzvos requires that we conquer Eretz Yisrael, a topic in which both Rashi and the Rambam appear to disagree with him, and which we will leave for a different time.

I roamed and rambled

On the other hand, some major commentaries interpret the Stream of Egypt of Parshas Mas’ei to be the Nile, not the Wadi el Arish, making the Eretz Yisrael promised to Yehoshua far more expansive in the south and southwest. Since much of Cairo is on the eastern bank of the Nile, this approach considers that part of Cairo to be located in Eretz Yisrael!

I’ve followed my footsteps

Thus far, we have noted that the western border of Eretz Yisrael is the Mediterranean Sea. The middle of Eretz Yisrael originally had a very narrow “waist,” bound on its east by the Jordan River. The lands to the east of the Jordan were chutz la’aretz.

The sparkling sands

How did Transjordan, the land to the eastern part of the Jordan River, become part of Eretz Yisrael?

The answer is that the Benei Yisrael did not have a mitzvah to conquer Transjordan. Klal Yisrael requested permission to travel through the lands of Sichon in order to enter the Holy Land from the east. Sichon came to attack the Benei Yisrael, and, in this battle, Sichon, Og and their entire armies were eliminated. As spoils of war, everything they owned, including their extensive holdings east of the Jordan River, became the property of Benei Yisrael and, henceforth, all the laws of Eretz Yisrael apply. But only because Sichon and Og attacked the Jewish people and not because of any divine promise.

That golden valley

This background introduces a new question: When Dovid Hamelech conquered what the Gemara calls “Suria,” a huge tract of land east and north of the Jordan, the Mishnah and Gemara rule that it did not have the status of Eretz Yisrael because of a principle the Gemara calls: kibush yachid lav shemei kibush, literally, “the conquest of an individual is not considered a conquest.” But why not? What is the difference between Moshe Rabbeinu’s capture of Transjordan from Sichon and Og, which is now part of Eretz Yisrael, and Dovid Hamelech’s capture of Suria, which remains outside Eretz Yisrael? Was Dovid Hamelech’s conquest inferior to that of Moshe Rabbeinu?

Responding to this question created much literature among the rishonim. Among the approaches we find:

1. Dovid Hamelech conquered Suria to be a personal possession and did not involve the entire nation of Yisrael in its conquest (Rashi, Gittin 8b s. v. kivush).

2. The Rambam seems to hold a very similar approach, that conquered land becoming part of Eretz Yisrael is dependent on the involvement of most of the Jewish people, or acting as agency for the Jewish people (Hilchos Terumos 1:2).

3. At the time that Dovid Hamelech conquered Suria, the Benei Yisrael had as yet not taken possession of all of the land that they were supposed to acquire. Once the lands that the Jews were commanded in Parshas Mas’ei have been conquered, any land additionally conquered will have the halacha of Eretz Yisrael, but not land conquered earlier (Tosafos, Gittin 8a s. v. kivush).

Her diamond deserts

Although we have just demonstrated that the lands of Transjordan became endowed with the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael, and that, therefore, virtually all the laws of Eretz Yisrael apply to them, they still are not fully considered the Holy Land. For example, the midrash criticizes the tribes of Gad and Reuvein for prioritizing wrongly when they asked to receive their inherited lands in Transjordan. To quote the midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah, Parshas Matos 22, 7), which compares them to Korach and Haman (!?), “Similarly, we find that the Benei Gad and the Benei Reuven, who were wealthy and owned large herds, cherished their wealth and therefore elected to dwell outside Eretz Yisrael. As a result, they were the first of all the tribes to be exiled, as we are taught (Divrei Hayamim I, Chapter 5).

The wheat fields waving

Of course, we all know that Eretz Yisrael is famous for its seven special fruits — wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates — and the unique mitzvah, bikkurim, which is performed only with these seven fruits. I know that someone is going to criticize my calling wheat and barley “fruits,” since you will not find them in the produce department of your local supermarket. However, wheat and barley kernels are indeed “fruits,” and this is why the Mishnah frequently refers to them as peiros. We all commemorate this mitzvah annually at the Pesach Seder, when we read the story beginning with the words “Arami oveid avi,” which is part of the recital made by the pilgrim bringing his bikkurim to the Beis Hamikdash.

A voice was sounding

We are meant to be “a light onto the nations,” which charges us with the responsibility to act in a manner that we create a kiddush Hashem. This means we are to live as a nation in Eretz Yisrael following the mitzvos of the Torah that Hashem commanded us individually and nationally, and that only Hashem could have commanded!

The Beis Hamikdash represents our relationship to Eretz Yisrael as being completely dependent on the Torah; this is why the bikkurim must be brought to the Beis Hamikdash and placed alongside the mizbei’ach. Our acquisition of Eretz Yisrael is only for the purpose of observing the Torah.

The Place Where Yaakov Davened

Question #1: Ascending Har Habayis Today

“I have been told that it can be halachically permitted to ascend Har Habayis, and I have also heard that it is forbidden and could violate some very severe Torah laws. Which is true?”

Question #2: Non-Jews in the Beis Hamikdash

“Where in the Beis Hamikdash may a non-Jew pray?”

Question #3: Is Yaakov second rate?

“If Yaakov created the maariv prayer, why is his prayer treated as inferior to those created by Avraham and Yitzchak? After all, the Gemara’s conclusion is that tefillas arvis reshus, the evening prayer is optional (Brachos 27b).”

Introduction:

Our parsha opens: “Then Yaakov left Be’er Sheva, heading towards Haran. And he stopped at the place and spent the night there because the sun had already set.” Rashi raises the question that the posuk should say that he stopped at “a” place, not “the” place; it is clearly referring to a place with which we are already familiar. Rashi explains that this refers to Har Hamoriah, where Akeidas Yitzchok took place. We are more familiar with referring to this mountain as Har Habayis, literally, “the mountain of The House,” upon which the Beis Hamikdash was later built.

Chazal derive from here that Yaakov arrived at this holy place and instituted the prayer of maariv. Shelomoh Hamelech prayed that the Beis Hamikdash should be a place for both Jews and non-Jews to worship Hashem (see Melachim I 8:41), and this spirit is again emphasized in a later prophecy, ki beisi beis tefillah yikarei lechol ha’amim (Yeshayahu 56:8) “My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations.”

This provides an opportunity to discuss the laws mentioned in the Mishnah describing the different levels of sanctity that apply to the Land of Israel and the Beis Hamikdash area, all laws that we need to know today and will need to know even more thoroughly when the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, bimheirah be’yameinu.

The first chapter of Mesechta Keilim, which is an introduction to the entire seder and the concepts of Taharos, closes with the following: “There are ten levels of sanctity” germane to different places in Eretz Yisrael, and then the Mishnah enumerates the different levels. This article will list and explain these different levels, which should help us understand some of the laws that apply.

(1) Land of Israel

The lowest of these levels of sanctity is “the land of Israel itself, which is holier than all other lands” in that three offerings brought to the Beis Hamikdashkorban omer, bikkurim and the two loaves offered on Shavuos — can be brought only from produce of Eretz Yisrael.

There are many other halachos germane exclusively to Eretz Yisrael, such as that most agricultural mitzvos of the Torah apply only in Eretz Yisrael, at least min haTorah.

The special semicha given by Moshe Rabbeinu that is required for many halachic areas can be issued only in Eretz Yisrael (Sanhedrin 14a; Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 4:6). Another halacha that can be fulfilled only in Eretz Yisrael is the appointment of a king over the Jewish people (Tosefta, Sanhedrin 4:6).

Eastern side of the Jordan

The eastern side of the Jordan became part of the Land of Israel in the days of Moshe, when the kings Sichon and Og attacked the Benei Yisrael, and they and their armies were annihilated. However, these lands were not originally part of the Land of Israel that was promised to the Benei Yisrael when they left Egypt. Can the korban omer, bikkurim and the two loaves of Shavuos be offered from produce of the eastern side of the Jordan River, which was not part of the originally promised Eretz Yisrael?

This is the subject of a dispute among the rishonim, in which Rashi (Sanhedrin 11b s.v. al shetayim and Menachos 83b s.v. kol ha’aratzos) rules that these korbanos can be brought from the eastern side of the Jordan, whereas the Ran (Nedorim 22a s.v. hahi) rules that they cannot.

(2) Walled Israeli cities

The next level of sanctity is that the walled cities of Eretz Yisrael, according to the Mishnah, are holier than other places in Eretz Yisrael in the following two ways:

(1) A metzora may not remain in these cities.

(2) Once a meis has been removed from these cities, it may not be returned. (And certainly if the person died outside a walled city, his remains may not be brought into the city). The Rambam and the Raavad disagree whether this ruling includes an absolute prohibition to bury someone in a walled city in Eretz Yisrael (Raavad, Hilchos Beis Habechirah 7:13) or whether someone who died within the walled city may be buried in the city (Rambam ad loc.). All agree that once the meis was removed from the walled city, it may not be returned to the city, and certainly may not be buried there.

Capital punishment

According to many early authorities, another law about the walled cities of Eretz Yisrael is that when a Beis Din carried out capital punishment, this was required to be performed outside a walled city in Eretz Yisrael (Rash and Rosh, Keilim 1:7, based on Mishnah Sanhedrin 42b; see also Tosafos ad loc. s.v. beis).

Purim

An obvious question is — why did I not mention that there is a difference in that the walled cities celebrate Purim on the fifteenth of Adar, sometimes called Shushan Purim, whereas unwalled cities celebrate Purim on the fourteenth of Adar.

The answer is that this has nothing to do with walled cities in Eretz Yisrael; even walled cities outside Eretz Yisrael that date back to the time of Yehoshua entering Eretz Yisrael would celebrate Purim on the 15th (see Ran, Megillah 2a s.v. kerachin, in the name of Tosafos).

(3) Yerushalayim

The third level is the walled city of Yerushalayim, in which it is permitted to eat maaser sheini, the meat of kodshim kalim (Keilim 1:8)such as korban pesach and shelamim, and bikkurim (see Bikkurim 2:2).

By the way, the current “Old City” walls of Yerushalayim, constructed by the Ottoman Turks almost 1500 years after the churban, are not the borders that define the halachic sanctity of the city. Without question, there are areas outside the current walls that did have the sanctity of Yerushalayim, and the walls probably encompass areas that were not part of the city at the times of Tanach and Chazal, and, therefore, do not have the sanctity of Yerushalayim. When Moshiach comes, it will be necessary to determine exactly where the borders of the halachic “old city” of Yerushalayim are.

(4) Har Habayis

The fourth level is Har Habayis, beyond which many tamei people may not enter, including zavim, zavos, niddos and women after childbirth, until they have been able to complete the first stage of their taharah process. Because of space considerations, we cannot explain the details of these types of tumah, but our readers should be aware that, because of these laws, many people who ascend the Har Habayis today violate a Torah prohibition equivalent to eating treif food.

For clarification purposes: In addition to walls surrounding the city of Yerushalayim, there were also walls surrounding the entire Har Habayis. The Kosel HaMaaravi, where we daven, is part of the western wall of the Har Habayis. These are not the walls of the Beis Hamikdash. The Beis Hamikdash occupied only a small area of the Har Habayis. Although the Har Habayis has much more kedusha than that of Yerushalayim, the Beis Hamikdash has much greater kedusha than that of the Har Habayis. Today when we are all temei’im, someone entering the area where the Beis Hamikdash once stood is chayov kareis, an extremely severe punishment (Kaftor Vaferech, Chapter 6; Kesef Mishneh, Hilchos Beis HaBechirah 6:14; cf. Ra’avad ad loc., who disagrees).

As we said, the Har Habayis has far less sanctity than the Beis Hamikdash. Nevertheless, most contemporary poskim prohibit ascending the Har Habayis. A minority of poskim permit entering areas of the Har Habayis that are not part of the Beis Hamikdash, in order to daven or perform a mitzvah, but only after performing certain taharah procedures, including washing oneself thoroughly, making certain that there are no chatzitzos (intervening substances on one’s body), and immersing in a mikveh. All agree that it is prohibited to enter any part of the Har Habayis if one is tamei with what halacha calls tumah hayotzei migufo, which includes people who are baalei keri, zav, zavah, niddah and yoledes.

Ascending Har Habayis today

At this point, let us address our opening question:

“I have been told that it can be halachically permitted to ascend Har Habayis, and I have also heard that it is forbidden and could violate some very severe Torah laws. Which is true?”

The answer is that most people who ascend the Har Habayis are, unfortunately, violating major halachos, and, for this reason, the vast majority of contemporary halachic authorities rule that no one, except for security personnel when necessary, should ever ascend Har Habayis. Unfortunately, since it has now become “stylish” in many circles to ascend the Har Habayis, many people are violating halachos, somethingthat they would never have done on their own without encouragement.

(5) Cheil

The fifth level is the “cheil,” beyond which non-Jews may not proceed, nor Jews who are tamei meis. The word “cheil” means a wall or fortification (see Tehillim 48:14, Yeshayahu 26:1). Most authorities assume that the sanctity of the cheil over the Har Habayis is only a rabbinic injunction, and that min haTorah it is permitted to enter the cheil with this level of tumah, but prohibited from entering the Beis Hamikdash proper (Raavad, Hilchos Beis Habechirah 7:16; Rash, Rosh and Gra, Keilim 1:8).

This is the first time the Mishnah has mentioned the category called tamei meis, tumah contracted through contact with a corpse. (Someone who was ever in the same room or under the same roof as a corpse also becomes tamei meis.) This status creates a major halachic concern, because it is a severe Torah prohibition to enter the Beis Hamikdash grounds while tamei, and virtually everyone today has become tamei meis. Although other forms of tumah can be removed by immersion in a mikveh at the appropriate time, tumas meis can be removed only by sprinkling on the person who is tamei from the water in which was mixed ashes of the parah adumah (the red cow or heifer whose processing is described by the Torah in parshas Chukas and in mesechta Parah). Since we do not know where the remaining ashes of the previously prepared paros adumos are, we cannot purify ourselves from tumas meis.

At this point, we can address the second of our opening questions: “Where in the Beis Hamikdash may a non-Jew pray?”

The answer is that he may pray anywhere on the Har Habayis that he would like, as long as it outside the cheil area. Technically speaking, this means that he is praying near the Beis Hamikdash, but not inside it.

(6) Ezras Nashim

The sixth level is the Ezras Nashim. The term “ezras nashim” is used today to mean the area of a shul which is designated for the women to daven. The original term refers to an area of the Beis Hamikdash, or, more technically, the entrance area of the Beis Hamikdash. Beyond this area, only someone completely tahor may enter. It is called the Ezras Nashim because women usually did not enter past this point, although they could, if there was a halachic reason for them to do so.

We should note that the Beis Hamikdash is oriented westward. In other words, from the Ezras Nashim until the Kodesh Hakodoshim, which is the highest level of sanctity, we are entering on the east, and moving toward the west, with the Kodesh Hakodoshim being the western most area of the Beis Hamikdash.

The Beis Hamikdash was not centered in the middle of the Har Habayis, but on its west-northwest side (Rambam, Hilchos Beis Habechirah 5:6). The Ezras Nashim is the beginning of the Beis Hamikdash itself.

(7) Ezras Yisrael

The seventh level is the Ezras Yisrael, beyond which anyone tamei is prohibited from entering min haTorah. Even someone with a very mild amount of residual tumah, called mechusar kippurim, may not enter this area.

The term Ezras Yisrael does not mean “He who helps Israel,” or “the help of Israel” (as it does when used in davening) but comes from the word azarah, as it is used many times in Yechezkel and Divrei Hayamim, where it refers to the “courtyard,” the enclosed areas of the Beis Hamikdash that are outside the Kodesh or Heichal. The term Ezras Nashim that we mentioned previously also uses the word azarah in the same sense.

(8) Ezras Kohanim

The eighth level is the area called the Ezras Kohanim. Normally, only kohanim are allowed to enter past this point, although there are circumstances in which a Yisrael is permitted to enter past this area to carry out some halachic responsibility.

The Ezras Kohanim was a strip of area alongside the eastern side of the mizbei’ach.

At this point, it is appropriate to quote the words of the Rambam: “The location of the mizbeiach is extremely exact, and it may never be moved from its location… We have an established tradition that the place where David and Shelomoh built the mizbeiach is the same place where Avraham built the mizbeiach and bound Yitzchak. This is the same place where Noach built a mizbeiach when he left the Ark and where Kayin and Hevel built their mizbeiach. It is the same place where Adam offered the first korban, and it is the place where he (Adam) was created….

“The dimensions and shape of the mizbeiach are very exact. The mizbeiach constructed when the Jews returned from the first exile was built according to the dimensions of the mizbeiach that will be built in the future. One may not add or detract from its size” (Hilchos Beis Habechirah 2:1-3). Prior to building the second Beis Hamikdash, the prophets Chaggai, Zecharyah and Malachi testified regarding three halachos about the mizbeiach that were necessary to reinstitute the korbanos, one of which was the exact location of the mizbeiach (Zevachim 62a).

(9) Between the mizbei’ach and the Kodesh

The ninth level is the area past the mizbei’ach, to which a kohein with a blemish or one who has not had his hair cut properly may not enter.

As the Mishnah teaches, a kohein with either of these disqualifications may not perform the service in the Beis Hamikdash, and if he did, the korban that he worked with became invalid (Mishnah Zevachim 15b).

(10) The Kodesh

The tenth level is the Kodesh. In the Beis Hamikdash, there actually was an area in front of the Kodesh called the Ulam, which has the same level of kedusha as the Kodesh. The the ulam area did not exist in the Mishkan.

Inside the Kodesh area was where the menorah, the shulchan and the golden mizbei’ach stood. The golden mizbei’ach was used daily only for the burning of the ketores, although on Yom Kippur it was also used for some of the holiest of the korbanos, those that were brought into the Kodesh Hakodoshim.

(11) The Kodesh Hakodoshim

The highest level of sanctity is that of the Kodesh Hakodoshim. This was entered only by the Kohein Gadol and only on Yom Kippur. In actuality, the Kohein Gadol entered the Kodesh Hakodoshim four times on Yom Kippur: The first time was with the Yom Kippur ketores, the second time to begin the kaparah of his special Yom Kippur bull offering, the third time to attend to the kaparah of the goat offering, and the fourth time, later in the day, to pick up the censer and the ladle with which he had offered the ketores when he first entered.

But one second; you told me that the Mishnah says that there are ten levels of sanctity, and then you listed eleven. This is inconsistent!

You are indeed correct. At the end of their commentaries to this chapter, the Rash and the Bartenura raise this question, to which there are many answers. The Rambam seems to understand that the first level that I counted, Eretz Yisrael, should not be included: The Mishnah is listing ten levels of sanctity above Eretz Yisrael.

Conclusion: Was Yaakov third rate?

At this point, let us return to the third of our opening questions: If each of our three daily prayers was established by one of our forefathers, why is it that two of these prayers are obligatory, and yet 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 davening maariv is mandatory, but that it is more easily deferred – we want to know why Yaakov seems 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 Penei Yehoshua (Berachos 26b s.v. mihu) explains that Yaakov never intended to create a new prayer at night, but intended to daven mincha! Suddenly, Hashem made the sun set, and it got dark early, in order to force Yaakov to stop at that place. Thus, Yaakov’s prayer was because he had missed mincha, but not because he was trying to institute a prayer in the evening. Since his creation of maariv was unintentional, it shows no lack of respect for Yaakov to suggest that it may have more lenient rules than the prayers created by Avraham and Yitzchak, shacharis and mincha.

Planting Kil’ayim

Question #1: Spelt

I understand that spelt is a type of wheat. May I plant a small patch of it next to my wheat field?

Question #2: Trees and Ornamentals

I purchased a property in Israel that has grapes and other trees and ornamentals growing on it. What do I do to avoid violating the prohibition of kil’ayim?

Question #3: Tomatoes

May I plant various types of tomatoes next to one another?

Foreword:

In parshas Ki Seitzei, the Torah teaches the mitzvah not to plant your vineyard with kil’ayim (Devarim 22:9), after which the Torah mentions two other kil’ayim prohibitions: doing work with different animal species together and wearing shatnez. In parshas Kedoshim, the Torah introduces several mitzvos called kil’ayim when it says, “You shall keep my laws. You shall not breed your animals as kil’ayim, you shall not plant your field as kil’ayim and you shall not wear kil’ayim shatnez garments” (Vayikra 19:19).

I have written many times about the prohibitions of wearing shatnez, grafting one tree min (species) onto another and crossbreeding animals, but I have never written an article devoted to this week’s topic — the kil’ayim prohibitions in a vineyard and in a field. Please note that this article is only a general introduction to these mitzvos and not halacha le’maaseh — the topics are far more complex than can be covered in one article. For this reason, the opening questions in this article are going to be left unanswered.

Kil’ei hakerem

Kil’ei hakerem is the prohibition of planting an herbaceous (meaning non-woody, i.e.  – a plant other than a trees or a shrub), cultivated plant in a vineyard or adjacent to a grapevine. This mitzvah applies min haTorah in Eretz Yisrael and as a rabbinic prohibition in chutz la’aretz (Orlah 3:9; Kiddushin 39a). It also includes planting above or below grapes, such as, if the vine is trained onto a trellis or other framework.

Kil’ei hakerem is the only instance in which the Torah prohibits using what grows in violation of the kil’ayim prohibition. Other kil’ayim mitzvos prohibit only the act, but what grows or develops as a result may be used. (The Yerushalmi, Kil’ayim 1:4, permits using even the cutting developed from a forbidden graft.)

There is a major dispute among tana’im and rishonim whether kil’ei hakerem applies even when planting one species other than grapes in a vineyard, or only when two species other than the grapes are planted in a vineyard. Rav Yoshiyah rules that the lo sa’aseh of kil’ei hakerem applies only when planting both wheat and barley (or any two other species that are kil’ayim with one another) in a vineyard. Since the Torah says, “You shall not plant kil’ayim in your vineyard,” Rav Yoshiyah understands this to mean that someone is planting two varieties that are kil’ayim with each other, in a vineyard, which compounds the prohibition.

Vineyard vs. vines

There are major halachic differences between a few grapevines and what is halachically called a vineyard. The most prominent difference is that it is prohibited to plant any type of grain or most vegetables within four amos (about seven feet) of a vineyard, whereas it is forbidden to plant only within six tefachim, which is less than two feet, of a grapevine that is not part of a vineyard.

What is a vineyard?

So, what is a vineyard?

The halacha is that a vineyard must have at least five grapevines growing, four of which are positioned in a rectangle or square. Exactly how the fifth vine is planted is unclear from the Mishnah (Kil’ayim 4:6), and is disputed by the halachic authorities. The Chazon Ish rules that a vineyard requires that the fifth vine continues in a straight line from two of the other vines. In other words, the minimum definition of a vineyard is two parallel grape plantings, one of at least three plantings and the other of at least two.

Others contend that the fifth vine can also be similar to the way one would envision, from a bird’s eye view, the location of the tail relative to the four legs of an animal standing in rapt attention. The four legs form a rectangle, and the tail is alongside the rectangle, but opposite the middle of a side rather than the continuation of one of its sides (Rambam, Peirush Mishnayos, Kil’ayim 4:6; Tosafos Yom Tov; cf., however, Rambam, Hilchos Kil’ayim 7:7).

If five vines have been planted this way, and alongside them many more vines were planted haphazardly, the disorganized vines might not be considered a vineyard, but individual vines. The practical difference is whether vegetables and grains may be planted nearby, as long as they are more than six tefachim from the vines, or whether the laws of a vineyard apply, which requires a much more substantive distance of four amos. In both instances, construction of a tzuras hapesach or other mechitzah will allow planting the vegetables or grains alongside the vines, as long as the mechitzah separates between the vines and the vegetables or grains.

One row of grapevines is not considered a vineyard, even if it contains hundreds of plantings (Kil’ayim 4:5). This means that one may plant vegetables or grains alongside the grapes, as long as there is a six tefachim distance between them.

Kil’ei hakerem in chutz la’aretz

The rules of kil-ei hakerem in Eretz Yisrael are stricter than they are in chutz la’aretz. In chutz la’aretz, there is a rule, kol hameikil ba’aretz, halacha kemoso bechutz la’aretz. For our purposes, this rule means that since the law of kil’ei hakerem in chutz la’aretz is only miderabbanan, Chazal ruled that whenever a recognized scholar ruled that a particular situation is not considered kil’ayim in Eretz Yisrael, even when the halachic conclusion rules against him, one may follow this minority position in chutz la’aretz. For example, since Rav Yoshiyah rules that kil’ei hakerem is prohibited only when planting two species (that are already prohibited together) in a vineyard, this is the only act of kil’ei hakerem prohibited in chutz la’aretz. However, in Eretz Yisrael, there is concern over planting even a single type of vegetable in a vineyard.

Kil’ei zera’im

Kil’ei hasadeh or kil’ei zera’im (two ways of referring to the same prohibition) is planting two non-woody (also called “herbaceous”) commonly cultivated plants or seeds near one another, planting one species very close to another, already-planted species, or planting the seeds of one species on top or inside a specimen of another species. This mitzvah applies only in Eretz Yisrael. In chutz la’aretz, it is permitted to plant two herbaceous plants next to one another, although some authorities prohibit planting the seed of one species on top of or inside another in chutz la’aretz (Rambam, Hilchos Kil’ayim 1:5; Tosafos Chullin 60a s.v. Hirkiv). Therefore, in Eretz Yisrael, someone planting a garden patch must be very careful to keep the different species separate.

Both prohibitions, kil’ei hakerem and kil’ei zera’im exist, even if the species are not intentionally planted together, but grew on their own (Kil’ayim 2:5). In this instance, if the two species are too close together, one either must pull out one, or, as we will see shortly, build a mechitzah between them.

Introductions

Several important introductions will facilitate understanding the laws of these mitzvos.

A. Firstly, many assume that kil’ayim prohibits hybridization or crossbreeding (two ways of saying the same thing) of unlike species, or, in simpler terms, attempting to mix genetic material and create new species. However, this approach is inaccurate, since only one of the many kil’ayim prohibitions, crossbreeding animals, attempts to create something that does not occur in nature. All the other mitzvos ban the appearance of mixing two species. This distinction is very important in understanding many of the laws of kil’ayim.

B. Secondly, for clarity’s sake, I will use the word “species” in this article to mean items that halacha prohibits “mixing.” The dictionary definition of the word “species” is “a pool of individuals that breed together and will not breed with other individuals.” However, neither halacha nor science uses this definition. Since this article is a halachic talk about kil’ayim, I will discuss only aspects of the halachic definition germane to these mitzvos.

What defines a halachic species? Although there is a great degree of uncertainty about this, certain principles can be derived from the various passages, particularly of the Talmud Yerushalmi Kil’ayim.

(1) Two varieties that naturally cross-pollinate are halachically considered one species (see Yerushalmi Kil’ayim 1:2).

(2) At times, similarity of leaves or appearance or taste of the fruit are sufficient evidence to consider two varieties as members of the same species (Yerushalmi Kil’ayim 1:5). Small differences are never considered significant (Bava Kama 55a). Thus, different varieties, one of which grows wild and the other of which is cultivated, are usually one species (Mishnah Kil’ayim 1:2). Frequently, the rules are difficult to define and, therefore, most authorities recommend not growing two similar varieties of squash or beans together.

C. It is also important to note that the definition of “species” for the laws of kil’ayim is not the same as it is for the laws of challah. Spelt and wheat are considered different minim for the laws of kil’ayim, notwithstanding that they are the same min for the laws of challah. (This means that dough made of spelt and wheat flour can combine to create enough dough to be obligated to separate challah, notwithstanding that wheat and spelt cannot be planted next to each other.)

Cultivated

D. As I mentioned above, kil’ei zera’im and kil’ei hakerem apply only to species that are cultivated or maintained in your location for food, forage, clothing, dye or other similar purposes. The Mishnah states that the laws of kil’ayim apply to a species called zunin,usually understood to be darnel, a ryegrass that, in earlier generations, was used as bird seed. Planting zunin in a field of barley, rye, oats or spelt violates the prohibition of kil’ei zera’im. (Why it is permitted to plant zunin in a wheat field [Mishnah Kil’ayim 1:1] is a topic that we will leave for a different time.)

Proximity

Planting two crop species together or near one another is prohibited as kil’ayim. How far apart the two species must be depends on several factors, including the layout of the planting and what and how much was planted. In some situations, when growing small amounts of certain vegetables, planting the two species in alternate patterns is sufficient to permit the planting, notwithstanding that the different species grow alongside one another (Kil’ayim 3:1; Shabbos 84b ff.).

Between two grain fields of different species — for example, one growing spelt and the other rye — there needs to be an empty area greater than ten amos squared, approximately twenty feet by twenty feet, between the two fields. On the other hand, between two kinds of vegetables, the requirement is that the separating area be only six tefachim squared, approximately two feet by two feet. And even the size of this requirement is only miderabbanan. Min haTorah there is a dispute among rishonim whether the distance is one tefach squared, or 1.5 tefachim squared (Raavad, Hilchos Kil’ayim). The Chazon Ish (5:1) ruled according to the Rambam, the lenient opinion, that requires only one tefach squared, approximately four inches by four inches.

Mechitzah

Although we usually think of mechitzah as a separation necessary in a shul, the word has significance in several other areas of halacha, and particularly in the laws of kil’ayim. For the purposes of kil’ayim, whenever one wants to plant two species and there is not enough space to allow this, a halachically acceptable separation between the plantings permits the planting (Kil’ayim 2:8; 4:6). The rules here are similar to what is called a mechitzah for other halachos, including permitting carrying on Shabbos, although, for the laws of Shabbos, the entire area must be enclosed by mechitzos on all sides. For the laws of kil’ayim, it suffices that there is a halachic divider separating the plantings from one another. Among the many ways that someone can separate the two areas is by building a wall that is ten tefachim tall (approximately 32-40 inches) or piling rocks to a height of ten tefachim. Another option is a furrow or crevice in the ground, either natural or dug, that is ten tefachim deep.

The Mishnah (Kil’ayim 4:4) notes that lavud, openings that are smaller than three tefachim (about ten inches), does not invalidate a mechitzah, and therefore a fence that is more open than closed, but is ten tefachim tall, is a valid mechitzah for kil’ayim purposes. Similarly, one may build a “wall” with sticks placed either horizontally or vertically every three tefachim, and it is a satisfactory mechitzah.

This means that someone may have a vineyard on one side of a fence, in which the grapes grow alongside the fence, and plant grain or vegetables on the other side of the fence; it is completely permitted, even though the two crops may be growing within inches of one another.

Gaps

Large gaps in the middle of a mechitzah may not invalidate it. The general halachic principle is that an area that is mostly enclosed is considered “walled,” even in its breached areas (Kil’ayim 4:4; Eruvin 5b). For example, a yard enclosed by hedges tall enough to qualify as halachic walls may be considered enclosed, notwithstanding that there are open areas between the hedges, since each side is predominantly enclosed either by the hedges or by the house. This is true as long as the breach is smaller than ten amos,about 17 feet (Kil’ayim 4:4). This means that someone may have a vineyard on one side of the hedges (inedible growths usually do not create prohibited kil’ayim), and grain or vegetables on the other side of the hedges, even though the two crops may be extremely close to one another.

Tzuras hapesach

The Gemara (Eruvin 11a) rules that a tzuras hapesach, which we customarily use to make to enclose an area to permit carrying on Shabbos, may be used to separate two species, so that there is no prohibition of kil’ayim. A tzuras hapesach consists of two vertical side posts and a horizontal “lintel” that, together, vaguely resemble a doorway. Thus, it is permitted to grow a vineyard on one side of the tzuras hapesach and grain or vegetables on the other side.

Weeding

What about weeds? Do weeds present a kil’ayim concern?

As anyone who gardens knows, the definition of a “weed” is whatever the gardener does not want in his garden. Halachically, if the “weed” is from a species that is not maintained in your area, it is not a kil’ayim concern.

Conclusion

Targum Onkelos (Vayikra 19:19 and Devarim 22:9) understands the word kil’ayim to mean “mixture.” However, other commentaries explain the origin of the word from the Hebrew root כלא, the same as the word beis ke’le “prison” (see Bamidbar 11:28). Rav Hirsch (Vayikra 19:19) explains that the root כלא means to hold something back, and that the plural form kil’ayim — similar to yadayim, hands, or raglayim, feet — means a pair. Therefore, the word kil’ayim means to pair together two items that should be kept apart.

Concerning this, Rav Hirsch (Vayikra 19:19) writes, “The Great Lawgiver of the world separates the countless numbers of His creations in all their manifold diversity, and assigns to each one of them a separate purpose and a separate form for its purpose.”

In addition, observing the laws of kil’ayim helps us remember how various species obeyed Hashem’s instructions to remain separate during their creation. This reminds the contemplative Jew that if the plants heeded Hashem’s word during the Creation, how much more are we obligated to obey His instructions!

A Place to Pray

At the beginning of parshas Vayeitzei, the Torah teaches that Yaakov reached “the place,” vayifga bamakom, and he stopped there, because the sun had already set (see Rashi). The Gemara explains the word vayifga to mean he prayed. As Rashi notes, the word bamakom means that he stopped at a specific place, yet the Torah does not identify which place. Chazal explain that he stopped at the place where the akeidah of his father had occurred, which is the place from which Adam Harishon was created and the location of the mizbei’ach of the Beis Hamikdash, toward which we daven three times daily.

To quote the Rambam: “The location of the mizbei’ach is very exact… this is the holy place where Yitzchak was bound… We have a tradition that the place where David and Shelomoh built the mizbei’ach is where Avraham had built the mizbei’ach upon which Yitzchak was offered, and is the same place where Noach built the mizbei’ach after he exited the ark. This is the same mizbei’ach upon which Kayin and Hevel offered, as did Adam Harishon, and it is the place from which he was created” (Hilchos Beis Habechirah 2:1-2).

The Gemara (Berachos 6b) asks: “What is our source that Avraham assigned a place for prayer?” The Gemara responds: “‘Avraham arose early in the morning and went to the place where he had stood before Hashem’ (Bereishis 19:27). The expression ‘where he had stood’ alludes to prayer, as it says, ‘Pinchas stood up and prayed’” (Tehillim 106:30).

We see that Yaakov stopped to pray because he was continuing the practice of his grandfather, Avraham. Thus, we can see the importance of where we pray and to associate our davening with the Beis Hamikdash.

Toward the Mikdash

The Gemara (Berachos 30a) teaches that someone davening outside Eretz Yisrael should face Eretz Yisrael, someone within Eretz Yisrael should face Yerushalayim, someone within Yerushalayim should face the Beis Hamikdash, and someone within the Beis Hamikdash should daven facing the Kodesh Hakadashim. It even specifies how one should face within the Kodesh Hakadashim. Someone who has this shaylah should not be reading my article for instructions, but should check the Gemara.

Window on Yerushalayim

The room where one is davening should have some windows or doors open that face Yerushalayim (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 5:6; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 90:4). This halacha is derived from a verse in Daniel (6:11): “He had windows open, facing Yerushalayim, in the upper story of his house, and three times a day… he prayed to Hashem” (Berachos 31a, 34b).

Why windows?

Rashi explains that looking heavenward through the windows influences one to be increasingly humble.

This ruling prompts the following question of the Magen Avraham (90:4): Why should we daven in a house that has windows? One is supposed to daven looking downward, to avoid distraction. So, logically, would it not be better if a shul deliberately did not have windows? Yet, Daniel davened in a room with windows.

The Magen Avraham answers that the windows are there so that if one is having difficulty concentrating while praying, he can look heavenward for inspiration. Similarly, Rashi may mean that immediately prior to davening one should look heavenward, but that, in general, while davening one should not be looking around or upward.

The Machatzis Hashekel shares with us several other reasons why davening should be in a room with windows. Some explain that this is a practical consideration, for ventilation, since being physically comfortable facilitates having proper focus when davening. Others explain that there should be windows facing Yerushalayim, not to provide a view, but to remind us that our tefillos travel first to Yerushalayim and then to heaven.

It is interesting to note that the Kesef Mishneh quotes a responsum of the Rambam, wherein he explains that the requirement that there be windows applies when davening at home, but not in shul. When the Mishnah Berurah (90:8) quotes this halacha, he similarly explains that this law applies primarily to a house, although he also applies the law to a shul, which is the prevailing custom. The later authorities note that having windows in a shul is implied by the Zohar, and contend that the Shulchan Aruch, the author of the Kesef Mishneh himself, followed this approach (Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 90:4; Kaf Hachayim 90:19).

Twelve windows?

The Zohar states that it is proper that a shul have twelve windows. Upon quoting this, the Beis Yosef says that the reason is based on deep kabbalistic ideas. Thus, although we do not understand the reason for this ruling, we should try to follow it.  Therefore, when Rav Yosef Karo, the author of the Beis Yosef, subsequently wrote the Shulchan Aruch, he ruled that a shul should, preferably, have twelve windows (Orach Chayim 90:4). The Pri Megadim rules that it does not make any difference which direction the twelve windows face, as long as at least one faces Yerushalayim. This is based on the fact that Daniel’s prayer room had a window facing Yerushalayim.

Outdoors

The Gemara mentions that it is inappropriate to daven outdoors (Berachos 34b). Although Chazal imply that Yaakov davened outdoors, his situation was different, because he was traveling. A traveler may daven outdoors, particularly if there is no more appropriate place for him to pray. In addition, even if a person has a place indoors to daven, but it is a place where he might be disturbed, it is better that he pray outdoors. If he has two places where he can daven undisturbed, one under trees and the other not, it is preferable to daven in the place where there are trees overhead (Pri Megadim, Chayei Adam, Mishnah Berurah).

Tosafos cites an opinion that the concern is not to daven in a place where someone will be disturbed by travelers, but one may daven outdoors in a place where he will not be bothered. The Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 90) mentions this Tosafos, but questions it, implying in Shulchan Aruch that should someone have two choices where to daven undisturbed, one indoors and one outdoors, it is preferred to daven indoors.

Un-elevated Davening

The Gemara (Berachos 10b) rules that one should not daven from an elevated place. Quite the contrary, it is proper to pray from a low place, as the pasuk states, “from the depths I call to You, Hashem” (Tehillim 130:1).

Set place — Makom kavua

A person should daven regularly in the same place, as the Gemara states: Whoever establishes a place for his prayer, the G-d of Avraham will assist him. Furthermore, upon his passing, they will say about him that he was exceedingly humble and righteous and a disciple of Avraham Avinu (Berachos 6b).This passage of Gemara is subsequently quoted verbatim by the Rif and the Rosh, and its conclusion is quoted by the halachic authorities (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 5:6).

What does the Gemara mean when it says one should pray in an “established place”? This is the subject of a dispute among the rishonim; I will quote three approaches:

Daven in shul

(1) Rabbeinu Yonah explains that it means to pray somewhere set aside for prayer, such as a shul. When someone cannot daven in shul and must pray at home, he should have a set place where he can pray undisturbed (see Magen Avraham 90:33). Rabbeinu Yonah rules explicitly that an established place does not mean a specific place in a shul — the entire shul is established for prayer. In his opinion, there is no requirement to have a specific seat in shul where one always davens.

Furthermore, according to Rabbeinu Yonah, it does not seem to make any difference which shul one attends, since one is, in any instance, davening in a place that has been established for prayer. According to this approach, the special rewards that the Gemara promises to someone who establishes a place for his prayer are because he was always careful to daven in a shul.

Based on Rabbeinu Yonah’s approach, many rishonim note that someone who is unable to join the tzibur should still daven in a shul, rather than at home (Rabbeinu Manoach, Hilchos Tefillah 5:6, based on Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 8:1; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 90:9).

Set place in shul

(2) Other rishonim disagree with Rabbeinu Yonah’s approach. The Rosh contends that, even in a shul, one should have a set place where he prays – the way we traditionally use the term makom kavua (Rosh, Berachos 1:7; Hagahos Maimaniyos, Hilchos Tefillah 5:10; Tur Orach Chaim #90). The poskim note that it need not be the exact same seat or location. Rather, anywhere within four amos (approximately seven feet) is considered to be the same place (Mishnah Berurah 90:60). If a guest is sitting in your seat, it is improper to ask him to sit elsewhere, since any nearby seat fulfills makom kavua.

For the occasion when someone must daven at home, he should have a set place where he can daven undisturbed (Magen Avraham 90:33). A woman should also have a set place in the house, out of the way of household traffic, where she davens undisturbed.

Daven in the same shul

(3) A third approach is advanced by Rabbeinu Manoach, who explains that establishing a place in which to daven means that someone should not daven randomly in different shullen, but should always daven in the same shul.

If we combine these three approaches, to guarantee the reward that the G-d of Avraham will assist him and that upon his passing, they will say about him that he was exceedingly humble and exceedingly righteous and a disciple of Avraham Avinu, a person should be careful to daven in the same place, in the same shul, whenever he can, and, certainly, on a regular basis.

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 90:19) concludes that one should always have a set place to daven, whether at home or in shul. He does not mention davening in a specific shul, implying that he is following the view of the Rosh, the second of the three opinions that I quoted. This fits the Shulchan Aruch’s general halachic opinion of ruling according to one of the three, main accepted poskim of Klal Yisrael: the Rif, the Rambam and the Rosh.

Notwithstanding this halachic ruling, the authorities conclude that it is permitted to change your place (either the beis haknesses, or the place therein) when there is reason to do so (see Tur Orach Chaim 90; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 90:19). The Pri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 90:33) mentions that, in places that have two separate structures for the tefillos, one for winter and another for summer, changing from one to the other does not run counter to this halacha.

Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach ruled that one may daven each of the three daily tefillos in different shullen, as well as the weekday prayers in one shul and the Shabbos tefillos in another (Halichos Shelomoh, Tefillah, Devar Halacha 5:2). It is unclear whether Rav Shlomoh Zalman understood that this approach accommodates Rabbeinu Manoach’s understanding of the Gemara, or that the Shulchan Aruch and later authorities do not follow Rabbeinu Manoach’s ruling.

Avoid idols

Another very important consideration is a ruling of the Avnei Neizer (Orach Chaim #32), that it is forbidden to daven in a room that is underneath the residence of a non-Jew, out of concern that the non-Jew has an idol or icon in his home, an assumption he makes in his time and place, 19th century Russia. In today’s world, this may still apply, depending on the faith of the upstairs neighbor.

Choice of Shullen

There is discussion in the Gemara and poskim concerning what is the preferred shul that one should choose to daven in. Of course, we are assuming that all the choices are conducive to davening with proper focus.

Closer or farther?

The Gemara (Bava Metzi’a 107a) quotes a dispute between Rav and Rabbi Yochanan, whether it is preferable to attend a shul that is closer, so as to regularly be among the first ten in shul (Toras Chaim, ad loc.), or a more distant shul, to receive reward for each step getting there. The poskim conclude that it is preferable to go to the shul that is farther away and receive the extra reward for every step (Magen Avraham 90:22; Graz 90:12). As we know, most people choose to daven at the most convenient, nearest shul. We should rethink this practice.

Larger or smaller?

Another consideration in choosing shullen is which one has the larger regular attendance. This is based on the concept of “berov am, hadras melech” – “a multitude of people is the King’s glory” (Mishlei 14:28).

Shul or Beis Hamedrash

The Gemara (Berachos 8a) asks: “What is the meaning of that which is written: ‘Hashem loves the gates of Zion more than all the sanctuaries of Yaakov’ (Tehillim 87:2)? Hashem loves the gathering places in which halacha is determined. This accords with what Rav Chiya bar Ami reported, quoting Ulla: Since the day that the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, Hakadosh boruch Hu has nothing in His world but the four amos of halacha.” The Gemara says that some amora’im were particular to pray “between the pillars where they learned,” referring to the pillars upon which the study hall was supported (Rashi). The Gemara specified “between the pillars,” indicating that not only did they daven in the study hall, as opposed to the beis haknesses, but they davened in the exact location where they studied (Ma’adanei Yom Tov, Berachos 1:7:70).

We see from this that there is preference to daven in a beis hamedrash where Torah is studied, as opposed to a beis haknesses used solely for davening (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 90:18).

What is the best choice for a makom kavua? The best option is for a person to daven in a beis hamedrash, particularly the one where he usually studies Torah, or in a beis haknesses, with a minyan. These choices are preferable to davening with a minyan elsewhere, such as at home, a simcha hall or an office building (Mishnah Berurah 90:27). However, none of these are greater priorities than the ability to concentrate on the davening. Therefore, should someone find that he cannot focus on his davening in shul but can do so in a minyan in someone’s home, it is preferable to daven with the home minyan (Mishnah Berurah 90:28).

If a person cannot attend shul to daven with a minyan, he should daven at home at the same time that they are davening in shul. This means that he should begin his shemoneh esrei at the same time that the congregation with whom he usually davens begins theirs. This is because the time that the tzibbur is davening is considered to be an “eis ratzon,” a time of Divine favor (Pri Chadash 90:9; Pri Megadim 90, Eishel Avraham #17).

Conclusion

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. Three times a day, we merit an audience with the Creator of the Universe, a golden opportunity to praise, thank and beseech 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.

Understanding how much concern Chazal placed on the relatively minor aspects of davening should make us even more aware of the fact that davening is our attempt at building a relationship with Hashem. How much preparation should this entail? Is it proper to merely jump into the davening without any forethought? Through tefillah we save lives, bring people closer to Hashem, and overturn harsh decrees. Certainly, one should do whatever one can to make sure to pay attention to the meaning of the words of one’s tefillah. One of the necessary preparations for tefillah is choosing where to daven. This sets the tone and contributes towards a successful prayer session. Let us hope that Hashem accepts our tefillos, together with those of all Klal Yisrael!

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