A Rishon Letzion Named Rapaport

Question #1: Fragrances on Motza’ei Yom Tov

May I include fragrances as part of havdalah when Yom Tov ends?

Question #2: Late Asher Yatzar

How long do I have to recite Asher Yatzar?

Question #3: Davening Outdoors

Is it permitted to daven in the courtyard outside a shul?

Question #4: A Rishon Letzion Named Rapaport

What do any of these questions have to do with parshas Shemos?

Foreword:

Rishon Letziyon is an old traditional title for the Sefardi rav of Yerushalayim. How did someone named Rapaport, which is a classic Ashkenazi family name, become Rishon Letziyon?

Introduction:

Parshas Shemos teaches that, for disobeying Pharaoh’s murderous commands, the Jewish midwives merited the “building of houses.” This is explained by the Midrash, quoted by Rashi, to mean that they were granted batei kehunah and batei malchus. Miriam was rewarded with batei malchus, that the royal house of Dovid Hamelech descended from her, and Yocheved merited batei kehunah — all kohanim are descended from her. The words batei kehunah mean “houses of kehunah,” which is a bit strange: why don’t Chazal simply call it beis kehunah, “the house of kehunah?” Although we will not answer this question, it became the source of the title of an important halachic work.

Batei Kehunah

A gadol beYisroel who lived three hundred years ago was descended from kohanim on both his father’s and his mother’s sides. Based on his lineage, he named his Torah works Batei Kehunah. This gadol, who is hardly known in the Ashkenazi world, carried the name Rav Yitzchak HaKohen Rapaport. He was the chacham bashi — a title for chief rabbi of a large city — in the Ottoman Empire, first of Izmir, Turkey, and subsequently became both the chacham bashi and the Rishon Letziyon of Yerushalayim. In numerous places, the Chida refers to the Batei Kehunah as the mofeis hador, or as mofeis doroseinu, “the wonder of our generation.” Considering that this was the same era in which lived such luminaries as the Gra, the Pnei Yehoshua, the Sha’agas Aryeh, the Noda Biyehudah, the Maharit Algazi and the Chida himself, this is a rather impressive accolade.

Rav Yitzchak Hakohen Rapaport

Rav Yitzchak Hakohen Rapaport was born in Jerusalem in 5445 (1685) to Rabbi Yehudah Rapaport. Rav Yitzchak’s father was born in Lublin, Poland, made aliyah to Eretz Yisrael, and there married the daughter of a family of major Torah scholars, who were kohanim and Sefardim. Thus, although Rav Yitzchak’s father had been born in Poland, hence the family name Rapaport, he was raised in a completely Sefardi environment. There was no Ashkenazi community in Eretz Yisrael at the time, and therefore Rav Yitzchak treated himself completely as a Sefardi. This explains how a Rishon Letzion could have such an Ashkenazi last name.

In his youth, Rav Yitzchak studied in the yeshiva of the Pri Chodosh, Rav Chizkiyah Di Silva. In his introduction to Batei Kehunah, Rav Yitzchak explains that he never left the beis medrash for fear that he would miss some of his rebbe’s Torah or that of the other great men who studied there. After the Pri Chodosh’s premature passing (according to various versions, he was somewhere between the ages of 39 and 46 when he passed away), Rav Yitzchak studied under the new rosh yeshiva, Rav Avraham Yitzchak, the author of the work Zera Avraham, another work well known in Sefardi circles, but that receives reactions of “what is that” among Ashkenazim.

Although Rav Yitzchak Rapaport always viewed himself as a resident of Yerushalayim, he served as the rav of Izmer for forty years, after which he returned to Yerushalayim, and was then appointed chacham bashi of the Holy City and Rishon Letzion. Among the Batei Kehunah’s many brilliant students, both from his period in Turkey and in Yerushalayim, we find an entire generation of gedolei Yisroel: the Maharit Algazi, the Chida, the Shaar Hamelech, the Ma’aseh Rokeach and Rav Mordechai Rebbiyo, the rav and rosh yeshivah of Hevron, author of the teshuvos Shemen Hamor.

Since this is a halachic column, I will discuss some of the interesting halachic positions of the Batei Kehunah, most of which we know because they are quoted by the Chida, who perused the private library of the Batei Kehunah after the latter’s passing in 5515 (1755). The library included notes written in the margins of his seforim, unpublished teshuvos and other private writings and manuscripts that the Chida quoted, predominantly in his Birkei Yosef commentary to the Shulchan Aruch, most of which would otherwise have become lost to future generations.

Fragrances on Motza’ei Yom Tov

Our opening question was: “May I include fragrances as part of havdalah when Yom Tov ends?” Let me explain the background to this question. The Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 29:28) writes that when Yom Tov falls out midweek, at its end we are not required to recite the berachos on fragrances and on a lamp, unlike what we do every motza’ei Shabbos. The Rambam explains that we recite the beracha on fragrances on motza’ei Shabbos because our souls ache when Shabbos ends, and we provide them with some consolation with the pleasant fragrance. The Magid Mishnah raises the following questions about the Rambam’s statement:

(1) Indeed, why is the custom that we not smell fragrances when Yom Tov ends, just as we do when Shabbos ends?

(2) Why does the Rambam write that “we are not required to recite the beracha on fragrances?” Shouldn’t he write that we do not recite the  beracha on fragrances?

The Magid Mishnah answers that the soul aches only when Shabbos ends, because the sanctity of Shabbos is greater, as evidenced by the fact that we are not permitted to perform any melacha. Since cooking food and similar melachos are permitted on Yom Tov, the soul does not ache when Yom Tov ends.

If this is so, the Magid Mishnah asks, why do we not recite the beracha on fragrances as part of the kiddush/havdalah combination when Yom Tov is on motza’ei Shabbos, since the soul aches that Shabbos has ended? The Magid Mishnah answers that the festive celebration of Yom Tov consoles the aching soul the same way that fragrances would, thus rendering the use of besamim unnecessary. The Magid Mishnah then notes that the Rambam writes, “we are not required to recite the berachos on fragrances” when Yom Tov ends, because one can always take fragrances and recite a beracha before smelling them.

The Yad Aharon questions the wording of the Magid Mishnah that the custom is to not recite the beracha over fragrances as part of havdalah on Yom Tov. Would this not be an interruption in the havdalah, since it is not required?

The Chida (Birkei Yosef 491:3) quotes his rebbe, the Batei Kehunah, who wrote in the margin of his own personal copy of the Rambam that the Magid Mishneh wrote his comments very precisely. There would be no problem were someone to include besamim in his havdalah after Yom Tov. And the reason why the minhag is to forgo the besamim is because the soul does not ache when Yom Tov ends to the same extent that it does when Shabbos ends.

Late Asher Yatzar

At this point, let us analyze the second of our opening questions: How long do I have to recite Asher Yatzar?

The Levush discusses whether someone who does not have a need to relieve himself upon awaking recites Asher Yatzar anyway. He rules that he recites Asher Yatzar, because he undoubtedly relieved himself during the night without reciting Asher Yatzar – thus, he has an outstanding requirement to recite Asher Yatzar. The Adei Zahav, an early commentary on the Levush by Rav Menachem de Lunzanu, disagrees with the Levush, contending that, even if the Levush’s technical assumptions are correct – that we should assume that most people relieved themselves during the night without reciting Asher Yatzar – a person should still not recite Asher Yatzar upon awaking, because the time within which Asher Yatzar must be recited has expired by morning. The Adei Zahav rules that Asher Yatzar must be recited no more than six hours after relieving himself, and during the long winter nights, someone presumably has slept longer than that since he last relieved himself.

What is the source for the Adei Zahav’s ruling that Asher Yatzar must be recited within six hours? The Mishnah (Berachos 51b) states that you can recite an after blessing until the food that was eaten has been digested. The Gemara (Berachos 53b) discusses how long a time this is, Rabbi Yochanan ruling that it is until you are hungry again, whereas Reish Lakish seems to hold that it is the time it takes to walk four mil, which most authorities understand to be 72 minutes. (Some hold that it is a bit longer.) The Adei Zahav assumes that, according to Rabbi Yochanan, it takes six hours for someone to be hungry again after eating a full meal. The Adei Zahav explains that the time for Asher Yatzar, which is a rabbinic requirement, cannot be longer than it is for bensching, which is required min haTorah. Therefore, he concludes that the longest time within which someone can recite Asher Yatzar is six hours after relieving himself.

Never too late

The Yad Aharon disagrees with the Adei Zahav, contending that although an after beracha is associated with the food or beverage that was consumed and, therefore, can be recited only as long as one is still satiated from what he ate, Asher Yatzar is a general beracha of thanks to Hashem and never becomes too late to recite. This approach would explain the position of the Levush that someone can recite Asher Yatzar in the morning, notwithstanding that it might be far more than six hours since he relieved himself.

The Chida, after quoting the above literature, states, “The mofeis of our generation, our master and rebbe, wrote in the margin of his personal copy that the Yad Aharon’s understanding is inaccurate. The rishonim explain that berachos after eating are appreciation… Asher Yatzar is a beracha for the salvation and also for the relief of the discomfort” (Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 6:3). Later in his comments, the Chida explains that the Batei Kehunah held that Asher Yatzar has an expiration time, although he never shared with us how long he holds that would be.

There are other reasons to support the Levush’s position that someone should recite Asher Yatzar upon waking in the morning, even if he has no need to relieve himself. The Bach explains that Asher Yatzar should be treated like any other of the morning daily berachos, birkos hashachar, which most authorities assume are recited even if someone did not have a specific reason to recite them – such as, he is not wearing shoes or he is unable to rise from bed. Thus, even if someone had no need to use the facilities upon arising, he still should recite Asher Yatzar in the morning. This position is held by many other poskim, particularly the Rema (Orach Chayim 4:1), although he does not explain why he holds this way (see Magen Avraham 4:2; Elyah Rabbah 4:1; Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 6:1; Mishnah Berurah 4:3). However, the Levush appears to disagree with this opinion of his rebbe, the Rema, and the Bach, implying that only someone who relieves himself recites the beracha Asher Yatzar, a position held by many other authorities (Arizal; Adei Zahav; Birkei Yosef).

The Levush himself (Orach Chayim 7:3) notes that the laws of Asher Yatzar should not be compared to the laws of berachos on food, since reciting Asher Yatzar is part of nature (we refer in English to a “call of nature”), whereas when and what we eat is an individual’s choice. The Levush and the Elyah Zuta (4: 1) both contend that this last distinction means that there is no time limit for reciting Asher Yatzar; however, the Chida questions whether this distinction makes any difference. In yet a third place (Orach Chayim 47:6 in his sidenote), the Levush again alludes to this topic, contending that, like the berachos prior to studying Torah, Asher Yatzar is not dependent on the time it takes to digest food.

Other acharonim add another idea. The beracha of Asher Yatzar includes an acknowledgement that there are apertures in the body that must remain open. Since this is something that we must acknowledge always, it is always appropriate to recite this beracha. Furthermore, the beracha of Asher Yatzar includes acknowledgement of the removal of ruach ra, which happens when we wash our hands upon awakening and when washing our hands after using the facilities. As such, Asher Yatzar is always appropriate upon awaking in the morning (Bach; Elyah Rabbah).

Among the many opinions explaining the Levush, many differences in halacha result. If the time for reciting Asher Yatzar never expires, someone who forgot to recite Asher Yatzar after relieving himself, when he remembers he should recite Asher Yatzar, regardless of how much time has transpired. According to the Adei Zahav, he should recite Asher Yatzar only within six hours of relieving himself.

Davening Outdoors

At this point, let us discuss the third of our opening questions: “Is it permitted to daven in the courtyard outside a shul?”

Based on a verse in Daniel (6:11), the Gemara (Berachos 34b) rules that a person should daven in a building that has windows. Rashi explains that looking at the sky humbles a person, causing him to daven with greater kavanah. The Gemara then quotes Rav Kahana that davening in an open field is considered an act of chutzpah. Rashi explains that davening in a place that is relatively notexposed, rather than an open field, creates greater fear of the King, and the individual’s stubborn heart is broken.

The poskim explain that this refers to a situation where the person has an alternative. However, someone traveling, and the best place to daven is an open field, may daven there, and it is not a chutzpah (Magen Avraham; Mishnah Berurah).

Tosafos asks: According to the Gemara, when Yitzchak went lasuach basadeh (Bereishis 24:63), he went to pray (Berachos 26b), so how could Rav Kahana call this an act of chutzpah?

Tosafos provides two answers to his question.

(1) Yitzchak went to Har Hamoriyah to daven, which is where the Beis Hamikdash would be built, implying that this is certainly a place that will create greater fear of Heaven and more humility.

(2) Rav Kahana is discouraging davening in an open place, where his prayer may be disturbed by passersby, whereas Yitzchak was in an area where there was no one to disturb him.

According to the second answer of Tosafos, there is nothing wrong with davening in a place that is completely exposed, as long as he is comfortable that no one will disturb his prayers. According to his first answer, this is not true. We should note that Rashi’s reason disagrees with Tosafos’s second answer, and Rashi may accept Tosafos’s first reason (see next paragraph).

The Beis Yosef questions Tosafos’s second answer: why did Rav Kahana say that davening outdoors is a chutzpah? The concern is not of chutzpah, but because he will get distracted. For this reason, he follows the first reason of Tosafos in his Shulchan Aruch, and quotes Rashi’s reasoning: “A person should not pray in an open area, such as a field, because someone in a non-exposed place has greater fear of the King and his heart is broken” (Orach Chayim 90:5). We should note that several prominent poskim provide various explanations why Tosafos was not bothered by the Beis Yosef’s question (see Perisha, Bach, Taz, Magein Giborim, all in Orach Chayim 90).

The Magen Avraham (90:6) adds to this discussion by quoting the Zohar that implies that a person should daven inside a building. The Chida reports to us that the Batei Kehunah wrote a great deal about this topic. He concluded that it is sufficient if the area is enclosed, but it is not necessary for it to be roofed. The Birkei Yosef (Orach Chayim 90:2) notes that great rabbis often pray in the unroofed courtyards of shullen.

The Mishnah Berurah concludes this topic with the following ruling: Notwithstanding that the Shulchan Aruch rejected Tosafos’s approach, many acharonim justify this answer that it is acceptable to daven outdoors in a place where someone will not be disturbed. A traveler may daven outdoors, but should preferably daven under trees, if practical. However, someone who is home should not rely on this, and should daven indoors (Mishnah Berurah 90:11). Thus, it would seem that, according to the Mishnah Berurah, it is incorrect to daven outdoors in the courtyard of a shul when he has the option of davening in the shul itself. On the other hand, Sefardim, who tend to follow the conclusions of the Chida, probably have a strong halachic basis to daven inside gates, even if there is no roof above them, relying on the Chida who followed the ruling of his rebbe, Rav Yitzchak Rapaport, the author of the Batei Kehunah.

Conclusion:

The power of tefillah is very great. Through tefillah one can save lives, bring people closer to Hashem and overturn harsh decrees. We have to believe in this power. One should not think, “Who am I to daven to Hashem?” Rather, we must continually drive home the concept that Hashem wants our tefillos and He listens to them! Let us hope that Hashem will accept our tefillos together with those of all Klal Yisrael!

Appreciating Tashlich

Question #1: As a child, I remember being told that tashlich was our annual opportunity to throw away all our sins into the water. What is behind this custom?

Question #2: Someone once told me that tashlich alludes to the 13 middos of Hashem’s mercy. How do these middos correspond?

Answer:

The answers to both of these questions revolve around developing a deeper understanding of the custom of reciting tashlich on Rosh Hashanah. Let us research the sources and halachos of this minhag, and comprehend the lessons that we should learn while observing it.

The earliest surviving mention of tashlich of which I am aware is in the writings of the Maharil, who lived in Germany during the late Fourteenth Century, and others of his generation (Minhagei Rosh Hashanah #9). He mentions the custom of going on Rosh Hashanah to the ocean or rivers that contain fish in order to “throw our sins into the depths of the sea,” vesashlich bimtzulos yam kol chatosom.

We should note that in the verse upon which this is based (Micha 7:19), it is Hashem, and not ourselves, Who is casting our iniquities into the sea. This is important, because tashlich does not mean that we have now successfully thrown away our sins. It is the realization that only by doing teshuvah will Hashem throw away our sins.

Others cite a different biblical source, from Nechemiah (8:1), for tashlich: “On the first day of the seventh month [which is, of course, Rosh Hashanah] all the people gathered together as one, to the street that was before the gate of the water” (Rav Reuven Margulies, cited in Piskei Teshuvos 583: footnote 48). Tashlich is recorded by the Rema and the Arizal, and has become standard practice.

It is interesting to note that the earliest sources for tashlich are all Ashkenazic authors, and only later did the custom spread to Sefardic communities. For example, Rav Chaim Vital (Sha’ar Hakavanos, quoted by Kaf Hachayim 583:30) writes, “The custom practiced by the Ashkenazim, which they call ‘tashlich,’ to go on the first day of Rosh Hashanah after Mincha, slightly before sunset, to the Mediterranean Sea or to a spring is a proper custom. It is preferable to do this outside the city, stand on the seashore or alongside the spring and recite three times, ‘Mi Keil Kamocha…’ (Micha 7:18-20).”

Is it a Good Omen?

The Rema, both in Darkei Moshe and in his glosses to Shulchan Aruch, cites the custom of tashlich in what appears to be an unusual place. We would have expected that he mention tashlich as part of the discussion concerning what to do after Rosh Hashanah morning davening, which is found in Chapter 596 of Orach Chayim, or, alternatively, together with the laws of Rosh Hashanah Mincha, which are found in Chapter 598. Indeed, we find other authorities who discuss the rules of tashlich in both of these places. However, the Rema mentions the custom of tashlich earlier, in Chapter 583, where the Tur and Shulchan Aruch record the custom, mentioned in the Gemara, of eating special foods on the night of Rosh Hashanah as a good omen, a siman tov, for the coming year. Why did the Rema insert the practice of tashlich in the wrong place chronologically?

It appears that the Rema includes tashlich in the chapter of good omens for the New Year because the main reason for the custom of tashlich is its powerful symbolism.  One can certainly explain why, according to the Rema, there is a preference to recite tashlich near a river, ocean, or other source that contains fish, since they are a sign of prosperity without ayin hora.

A Different Reason

The Gr”a, in his notes to this Rema, presents a different reason for the custom. He quotes the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni #99):

If Avraham could see the place of the Akeidah, why did it take him three days to get there? The answer is that the Satan first attempted to dissuade Avraham from going. When the Satan realized that this plan would not be successful, the Satan tried a different tactic, and made himself into a large river that would be impossible to pass… Avraham continued on [accompanied by Yitzchak and the two lads] until the river was up to their necks. Avraham then lifted his eyes heavenward, saying, “Master of all worlds, You revealed Yourself to me and said, ‘I am the only One, and you are the only one. Make the entire world know about My name and bring your son as an olah.’ I did not question your words, nor did I delay fulfilling them. Now we are drowning. If my son Yitzchak drowns, how will I guarantee that Your unity be known?” Immediately, Hashem scolded the Satan, who left.

According to this approach, tashlich is a reminder of the tremendous mesiras nefesh of Avraham Avinu. This should make us internalize the message repeated daily in Shema — to love Hashem with all our being, even to sacrifice our lives for Him because we love Him so. Developing this quality of Ahavas Hashem is certainly one of the main goals of Rosh Hashanah. Thus, according to the Gr”a, tashlich is primarily an educational lesson.

A Fishy Place

However, according to the Gr”a’s approach, there is no apparent reason for reciting tashlich near a water source containing fish, a preference mentioned in most early sources. We may also note that the first reason I mentioned, that we want Hashem to wash away our sins as we do teshuvah, should also not require that the water contain fish.

The answer is that there are many other reasons for reciting tashlich at a water source that contains fish. For example, the Levush explains that we should see ourselves as fish caught in a net – this symbolizes how we have gotten caught in the traps laid for us by the yeitzer hora. This comparison should encourage us to do teshuvah and to take the Yomim Nora’im more seriously.

Here is another reason why tashlich should preferably be recited at a water source containing fish. Fish, living their lives concealed under water, are not exposed to ayin hora; we, also, hope not to be exposed to ayin hora (Elyah Zuta).

Must it be Fishy?

Notwithstanding the various reasons to explain saying tashlich at a place populated by fish, the Magen Avraham (583:5) emphasizes that whereas the Maharil advised reciting tashlich at a river with live fish, the Arizal implies that it is equally acceptable to say tashlich at a well, notwithstanding that it contains no fish. I will explain more about this shortly.

Outside the City

The Arizal (quoted by Magen Avraham 583:5) emphasizes that it is preferable to go to a water source outside the city. Based on the Midrashic source cited above, we can well understand that our traveling is an attempt to reenact, in our own small way, the tribulations that Avraham Avinu underwent on his way to performing the incredible mitzvah of akeida.

I quoted earlier Rav Chaim Vital, the main disciple of the Arizal, who writes that one should recite tashlich at the seashore or next to a spring. Going to the Mediterranean or some other sea is certainly hinted at in the verse asking Hashem to throw all one’s sins into the depths of the sea, implying that one is close enough to throw something into the water. Not all gedolei Yisrael were stringent about being next to the body of water when they recited tashlich, but they were satisfied with having the water in sight. For example, it is recorded that the Chasam Sofer went to a high place from where he could see the Danube River running through Pressburg (today known as Bratislava).

Anyone who has been in Yerushalayim for Rosh Hashanah has probably noted that, because there is no flowing river near the city, tashlich is recited in interesting places, such as near mikvaos and alongside buckets of water. For much time, Yerushalayim has been without any significant natural source of water, something unusual for any old city. The custom of reciting tashlich alongside a mikvah or a water cistern in Yerushalayim is mentioned by the Kaf Hachayim (583:30), who permits reciting tashlich even next to an empty water cistern! He explains that tashlich is only an allusion, and the main “water” to which we are referring is the “yam ha’elyon.” Obviously, he is alluding to a kabbalistic reason for tashlich.

In contemporary Yerushalayim, the most common practice is to recite tashlich alongside small backyard fish ponds stocked with a few inexpensive fish from a pet store. I assume that in the time of the Kaf Hachayim, there were few pet stores in Yerushalayim, and the scarcity of both potable water and tolerable living quarters did not allow for backyard fish ponds.

Feeding the Fish

The Maharil is emphatic that one should not take bread to tashlich on Rosh Hashanah to feed the fish. Apparently, this custom of feeding crumbs to the fish was observed over six hundred years ago, despite the opposition of most halachic authorities.

What is wrong with feeding the fish?

It is forbidden to feed any animals, birds or fish on Yom Tov, if they are not dependent on you for their nourishment.

Crumb Carrying

Some authorities quote an additional reason for prohibiting putting bread into the river on Yom Tov. Carrying is permitted on Yom Tov only for items that fulfill some Yom Tov need. Since fish in the sea are not dependent on us for nourishment, carrying in a public domain to feed them desecrates Yom Tov (Mateh Efrayim 598:5).

Instead of Feeding the Fish

Some authorities describe a different practice that does not desecrate Yom Tov: While reciting the word “tashlich,” one should empty out the dirt that one finds in the hems of one’s garment into the water, hinting at casting away our sins. With this act, we should accept doing teshuvah wholeheartedly (Likkutei Mahariach; Kaf Hachayim; see Mateh Efrayim 598:4).

Some sources quote, in the name of the Arizal, that one should only shake out the dust on the tzitzis of one’s talis koton (Likkutei Mahariach, cited by Piskei Teshuvos 583:footnote 50). Obviously, according to this Arizal, women cannot fulfill this part of the custom.

Women and Tashlich

Many authorities are strongly opposed to women going to tashlich altogether (Elef Hamagein 598:7). On the holy day of Rosh Hashanah, there should be no intermingling of the genders, and better that the men not see women altogether. If women want to go to tashlich, the best approach to avoid this problem is that introduced by my Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Ruderman, that women go to tashlich before Mincha and men after.

The Structure of Tashlich

The main part of tashlich is to recite three verses from Micha that allude to the thirteen attributes of Hashem’s kindness. Thus, to understand tashlich well, we should understand the concept of the thirteen attributes.

After the Jewish People sinned by worshiping the Eigel Hazahav, the Golden Calf, Hashem taught Moshe to use these thirteen attributes of His kindness to achieve absolution.

Rabbi Yochanan said: Were it not for the fact that the Torah itself wrote this, it would be impossible to say it. The Torah teaches that Hashem wrapped Himself in a talis like a chazzan and demonstrated to Moshe the order of prayer. Hashem told Moshe: “Whenever the Jews sin, they should perform this order and I will forgive them” (Rosh Hashanah 17b).

Rabbi Yochanan noted that the anthropomorphism of his own statement is rather shocking, and, without scriptural proof, we would refrain from repeating it. Nevertheless, the Torah compelled us to say that Hashem revealed to Moshe a means for pardoning our iniquities. According to the Maharal, Moshe asked Hashem to elucidate, to the extent that a human can comprehend, how Hashem deals with the world in mercy. Hashem did, indeed, enlighten Moshe, enabling him to implore for forgiveness for the Jewish people and teaching him how to lead the Jews in prayer (Chiddushei Agados, Rosh Hashanah 17b s.v. Melameid).

A Word about Attributes

What exactly are the thirteen attributes? For that matter, can we attribute personality characteristics to Hashem?

To quote Rabbeinu Bachyei: Although we no longer know how to beseech, nor do we properly understand the power of the Thirteen Attributes and how they connect to Hashem’s mercy, we still know that the attributes of mercy plead on our behalf, since this is what Hashem promised. Today, when we are without a kohein gadol to atone for our sins and without a mizbei’ach on which to offer korbanos and no Beis Hamikdash in which to pray, we have left only our prayers and these thirteen attributes (Kad Hakemach, Kippurim 2).

Who Knows Thirteen?

The Torah says: Hashem, Hashem, who is a merciful and gracious G-d, slow to anger, full of kindness and truth. He preserves kindness for thousands of generations by forgiving sins, whether they are intentional, rebellious or negligent; and He forgives (Shemos 34:6-7).

There are many opinions among the halachic authorities exactly how to calculate the thirteen merciful attributes of Hashem. The most commonly quoted approach is that of Rabbeinu Tam, who counts each of the three mentions of Hashem’s name at the beginning of the passage, Hashem, Hashem, and Keil, as a separate attribute.

However, it is important to note that the Arizal counted the thirteen merciful attributes in a different way. Whereas Rabbeinu Tam counted Hashem, Hashem, Keil as three difference attributes, the Arizal does not count the first two Names (Hashem, Hashem). Thus, the first attribute mentioned by the verse is Keil. To compensate for the loss of two attributes in the count of thirteen, the Arizal reaches thirteen by dividing the two phrases, erech apayim and notzeir chesed laalafim, each into two different attributes, whereas, according to Rabbeinu Tam’s count, each of these phrases counts only as one.

Micha’s Thirteen Attributes

The kabbalistic sources explain that the three verses of Micha that form the basic structure of tashlich also allude to the thirteen attributes of Hashem. For many years, I tried to figure out how the verses in Micha correspond to the thirteen attributes, until I discovered that this allusion follows the Arizal’s approach to the thirteen attributes. Many machzorim note this method of counting the thirteen attributes by placing the word from Moshe’s original prayer above the verse in Micha to which this attribute corresponds.

What do I do?

At this point, I want to return to the above-quoted Talmudic source that explains the power of the thirteen attributes, and note a very important point:

Hashem told Moshe: “Whenever the Jews sin, they should perform this order and I will forgive them.” The Hebrew word that I have translated as “perform” is ya’asu, which means that the Jews must do something, definitely more than just reading the words. If all that is required is to read these words, the Gemara should have said simply: They should read these words. Obviously, action, which always speaks louder than words, is required to fulfill these instructions and accomplish automatic atonement.

What did the Gemara mean?

Emulate Hashem

The commandment to emulate Hashem is the most important of the 613 mitzvos. To quote the Gemara: Just as Hashem is gracious and merciful, so should you become gracious and merciful (Shabbos 133b). When Hashem told Moshe: Whenever the Jews perform this order, I will forgive them. He meant that when we act towards one another with the same qualities of rachamim as does Hashem, He forgives us. Reciting the thirteen attributes of Hashem’s mercy is the first step towards making ourselves merciful, emulating Hashem’s ways. Ya’asu means that by emulating Hashem’s kindness and His tolerance, by accepting people who annoy and harm us, we become His G-dly People!

This sounds great in theory. What does it mean in practice?

Here are several examples, all taken from the sefer Tomer Devorah, to help us comprehend what our job is:

1. Whenever someone does something wrong (i.e., acts against Hashem’s wishes), at that very moment Hashem is providing all the needs of the offender. This is a tremendous amount of forbearance that Hashem demonstrates. Our mitzvah is to train ourselves to be equally accepting of those who annoy and wrong us.

2. We should appreciate the extent to which Hashem considers the Jews to be His People, and identify with the needs of each Jew on a corresponding level.

3. Hashem waits with infinite patience for the sinner to do teshuvah, always confident in a person’s ability to repent and change. While Hashem is waiting, He continues to provide the sinner with all his needs. Similarly, we should not stand on ceremony, waiting for someone who wronged us to apologize.

4. When a person does teshuvah after sinning, Hashem loves him more than He loved him before he sinned. As the Gemara states: In a place where ba’alei teshuvah stand, complete tzadikim are unable to stand. Therefore, if someone who has wronged me now wants to makes amends, I must befriend him and accept him at a greater level than I had previously.

All of these ideas are included when we observe the mitzvah of tashlich. We should read the verses and think how we can emulate Hashem’s kindness, by demonstrating the same degree of kindness to His creations.

Conclusion

There are so many beautiful lessons to learn from observing the ancient minhag of tashlich. We should be careful to observe this practice in the spirit of the day, and, by internalizing these lessons, may we and all Klal Yisrael merit a kesivah vachasimah tovah.

Between Yishtabach and Borchu

Since Az Yashir, which concludes pesukei dezimra, is in parshas Beshalach, this article about the conclusion of Pesukei Dezimra is most appropriate.

Question #1: Between Yishtabach and Kaddish

Avraham asks: “In the shullen in which I used to daven, during the aseres yemei teshuvah we always recited the chapter of tehillim,Shir hama’alos mima’amakim,’right after Yishtabach. Someone recently told me that the reason why I do not see this custom practiced any more is because it is a hefsek in the davening. Is this true?”

Question #2: Between Kaddish and Borchu

Yitzchak queries: “Because of my work schedule, I must daven at a very early minyan. At times, we begin davening when it is too early to put on talis and tefillin, so we put on talis and tefillin after Yishtabach. Someone told me that when we do this, we are creating a problem with reciting Kaddish after Yishtabach. Is this true? And if it is true, what should we do?”

Question #3: Between Borchu and Yotzeir

Yaakov inquires: “If I need to use the facilities during davening, may I recite the beracha of Asher Yatzar after answering Borchu, provided I have not yet begun to say the beracha of Yotzeir Or?”

Introduction: Pesukei Dezimra, Yishtabach and Borchu

All of the above questions deal with the same general issue: What are the laws about making an interruption, a hefsek, between completing the recital of Yishtabach and prior to reciting Birchos Kerias Shema, the blessings that are recited before and after the shema, which begin with the beracha of Yotzeir Or. Let me begin by explaining the reason why we recite Yishtabach in our davening.

The Mishnah recommends contemplation as an introduction to praying (Berachos 30b). This experience is reflected when we recite or sing the Pesukei Dezimra, literally, Verses of Song¸ prior to Borchu and Birchos Kerias Shema. To show how important this aspect of serving Hashem is, we find that the great tanna, Rabbi Yosi, yearned to receive the special reward granted to those who recite the Pesukei Dezimra daily (Shabbos 118b). Reciting Pesukei Dezimra properly helps elevate one’s entire tefillah to a completely different level. This has the potential to cause our prayer to soar!

Chazal established that we say two berachos, Baruch She’amar and Yishtabach, one before and one after Pesukei Dezimra. Baruch She’amar notes that we use the songs of David to praise Hashem. Since these two berachos are part of the Pesukei Dezimra introduction to our prayer, one may not converse from when he begins Baruch She’amar until after he completes the Shemoneh Esrei (Rif, Berachos 23a). This prohibition includes not interrupting between Yishtabach and the beracha of Yotzeir Or (Rabbeinu Yonah, ad locum, quoting a midrash).

The Tur (Orach Chayim 51), after citing this ruling, quotes the Talmud Yerushalmi that one who talks between Yishtabach and Yotzeir Or commits a sin serious enough that he loses the privilege of joining the Jewish army when it goes to war. According to halachah, prior to the Jewish army going into battle, a specially appointed kohen announces those who are exempt from warfare, which includes, according to this opinion, those who are concerned that their sins may cause them to become war casualties. The Jewish army is meant to be comprised of tzaddikim gemurim, the completely righteous, so that their merits will protect them on the battlefield. Those who are less righteous have no such guarantee, and the Torah therefore exempts them from fighting. Someone whose greatest sin is that he once spoke between Yishtabach and Yotzeir Or, and for which he has not performed full teshuvah, is too sinful a person to be allowed to serve in the Jewish army, out of concern that he might become a casualty.

Interrupting between Yishtabach and Borchu

As I mentioned above, the questions introducing this article all deal with the laws of interrupting between Yishtabach and the beginning of Birchos Kerias Shema. The details of these halachos are not discussed in the Gemara, and, therefore, in order to establish what are the rules related to them, the halachic authorities needed to compare these laws to those of Birchos Kerias Shema, which are discussed in the Gemara.

In general, it is prohibited to interrupt during Birchos Kerias Shema, although the Gemara mentions a few exceptions, including, at times, responding to a person’s greetings, so as not to offend him. The Rishonim dispute whether one may respond to Borchu, Kedusha, and Amen yehei shemei rabbah (in Kaddish) during Birchos Kerias Shema — the Maharam Rotenberg prohibited it, whereas his disciple, the Rosh, permitted it (Rosh, Berachos 2:5). The Maharam Rotenberg contended that these responses are prohibited during Birchos Kerias Shema because it is inappropriate to interrupt praise of Hashem in order to recite a different praise, even something as important as responding to Kaddish or Kedusha. The Rosh permitted this interruption because he held that responding appropriately to Hashem’s praises should not be treated more strictly than responding to the greeting of a person, which is permitted under certain circumstances.

The poskim follow the opinion of the Rosh, concluding that one may answer the following responses while reciting Birchos Kerias Shema:

(1) Kaddish: One may answer “Amen, yehei shemei rabbah mevorach le’olam ule’almei almaya,” and one may also answer “Amen” to the Chazzan’s da’amiran be’alma (at the point that we end what is called chatzi-Kaddish). However, one may not respond to the other places in Kaddish (Chayei Adam 20:4).

(2) Borchu: One may answer “Boruch Hashem hamevorach la’olam va’ed.”This is true whether it is the Borchu that the chazzan recites before Birchos Kerias Shema morning and evening, or whether it is the Borchu that the person receiving an aliyah recites prior to the Torah reading of his aliyah (Magen Avraham 66:6).

(3) Kedusha: One may respond “Kodosh kodosh…”and “Boruch kevod Hashem mimkomo” in Kedusha, but one may not respond to the other parts of Kedusha we traditionally say, even the sentence beginning Yimloch (Ateres Zekeinim).

(4) Amen to berachos: One may respond “Amen” to the berachos of Ha’Keil Hakadosh and Shema Koleinu (Rema 66:3), but not to other berachos.

Thundering applause

The poskim also dispute whether one should recite the berachos on lightning or thunder while in the middle of Birchos Kerias Shema. The Magen Avraham (66:5) rules that one should, whereas the Bechor Shor (Berachos 13a) disagrees, contending that one should not interrupt one praise of Hashem with another. The Chayei Adam reaches a compromise, ruling that one should recite the beracha on lightning or thunder if he is between the berachos of Kerias Shema, but not when he is in the middle of reciting one of the berachos. The dispute between the Magen Avraham and the Bechor Shor remains unresolved (Mishnah Berurah 66:19), and, therefore, someone who hears thunder while in the middle of Birchos Kerias Shema may choose whether to recite the beracha or not.

Between Yishtabach and Borchu

Now that we understand the accepted halachah concerning interrupting Birchos Kerias Shema, we can discuss the laws that apply between Yishtabach and Borchu. We should note that the interval between the completion of Yishtabach and the beginning of Yotzeir Or can be subdivided into three points:

(A) Between Yishtabach and Kaddish.

(B) Between Kaddish and Borchu.

(C) Between Borchu and beginning the beracha of Yotzeir Or.

Although one might think that Birchos Kerias Shema do not start until one begins reciting the words of the beracha, the early authorities rule that once one has said or responded to Borchu it is considered that he is already in Birchos Kerias Shema (Sefer Haminhag, quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 57; Rema 54:3). Thus, one may not interrupt once one has recited Borchu, except for the list of four items mentioned above.

What interruptions are permitted?

Notwithstanding the fact that it is prohibited to speak between Yishtabach and Borchu, interrupting at this point is less severe than between Baruch She’amar and Yishtabach or during Birchos Kerias Shema. Therefore, under certain circumstances, some interruptions are permitted. For example, if one needs to recite a beracha, it is better to do so after completing Yishtabach before answering (or saying) Borchu than during the Pesukei Dezimra. For this reason, someone who did not have tzitzis or tefillin available before davening, and they become available during Pesukei Dezimra, should put them on immediately after Yishtabach and recite the berachos on them.

The authorities discuss several other instances of interruptions and whether they are permitted between Yishtabach and Borchu, even though none of these interruptions is permitted during Birchos Kerias Shema. All of the permitted interruptions qualify either as tzorchei mitzvah, mitzvah requirements, or community needs. To quote the Tur (Orach Chayim 54): “One may not interrupt between Yishtabach and Yotzeir if it is not for community needs or for someone who needs to be supported from charity.” Thus, the Tur rules that, even though it is prohibited to talk after Yishtabach, one is permitted to make an appeal for charity at this point. Although, as we will soon see, this position is not universally agreed upon, there were other early authorities who held this way (Rav AmramGaon, quoted by Tur; Beis Yosef quoting Kolbo #4).  The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 54:3) quotes this opinion, although he considers it to be a minority view (see also Hagahos Maimoniyos 7:70). In many places, it was customary to extend this leniency to include requesting personal assistance for other needs, as we will see shortly.

It is certainly permitted to recite the beracha upon hearing thunder between Yishtabach and Yotzeir, and most authorities permit one to recite Asher Yatzar at this point (Mishnah Berurah 51:8; however, see Chayei Adam [20:3], who prefers that one not recite Asher Yatzar until after Shemoneh Esrei).

At this point, we can answer one of the questions we raised at the beginning of this article: “If I need to use the facilities during davening, may I recite the beracha of Asher Yatzar after answering Borchu, provided I have not begun to say the beracha of Yotzeir Or?”

The answer is that one may recite Asher Yatzar before answering Borchu, but if one has already answered Borchu, he should wait until after Shemoneh Esrei before reciting it.

Before Kaddish or after?

In a situation when one may interrupt after Yishtabach, is it better to interrupt before reciting Kaddish, or after Kaddish and before Borchu? This exact question is discussed at length by the Darchei Moshe, the Rema’s commentary on the Tur (Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 54:1):

“The custom is to make a mishebeirach for the ill between Yishtabach and Yotzeir; and occasionally, someone cries out [at this point in the davening to call attention to the need] to bring someone to justice, and these are considered mitzvah needs. (The Rema codifies this last practice in his comments to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 54:3.) However, I do not understand why the custom is to do so before Kaddish, and then after the interruption to recite Kaddish. Since this Kaddish refers back to Pesukei Dezimra, as I will explain in Chapter 55, we should not interrupt before it. Furthermore, one following this practice no longer has a basis to recite Kaddish afterwards, since it now no longer concludes the Pesukei Dezimra.” The Rema then quotes the Kolbo (6), who says that if one did, indeed, interrupt between Yishtabach and Kaddish, then one should say Borchu without Kaddish. The Kolbo suggests another option for someone who interrupted after Yishtabach — he should recite three or more pesukim of tehillim and then say Kaddish.

On the basis of this Kolbo, the Rema, with the agreement of other talmidei chachamim, changed the practice in his city and made a mishebeirach after Kaddish. However, he subsequently retracted this decision, because he found a more authoritative source that followed the original practice of interrupting before Kaddish rather than afterwards. The Or Zarua quoted a teshuvas ha’geonim that someone who began davening without a talis should stop after Yishtabach, recite the beracha, and put on the talis. However, if the community had already begun Kaddish, he should not recite the beracha. Thus, we see that if one needs to interrupt at this point in the davening, it is better to do so before Kaddish than afterwards. The Rema continues that this position is in line with the kabbalistic works that hold that one should not interrupt between Kaddish and Borchu. (By the way, the Rema himself was heavily steeped in Kabbalah, and authored a work on the topic.)

The Rema then concludes that it is best to avoid any interruption at all, and he cites that, in Prague, they had stopped all interruptions after Yishtabach. In a place where the custom is to interrupt, the Rema concludes that the best procedure is to interrupt after Yishtabach and before Kaddish. However, the chazzan should not interrupt between Yishtabach and Kaddish (Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 54:1; Rema, Orach Chayim 54:3).

At this point we can now answer Yitzchak’s question that we mentioned above:

“Because of my work schedule, I must daven at a very early minyan. At times, we begin davening when it is too early to put on talis and tefillin, so we put on talis and tefillin after Yishtabach. Someone told me that when we do this, we are creating a problem with reciting Kaddish. Is this true? And if it is true, what should we do?

The Rema concludes that everyone else should put on talis and tefillin after Yishtabach but the chazzan should put on talis and tefillin before Yishtabach so as not to interrupt between Yishtabach and Kaddish.

Kaddish before Musaf

There is a very interesting side point that results from this above-quoted Rema:

In a place where the rabbi delivers a sermon prior to Musaf, the custom is to do so before Kaddish. Is there any problem with reciting Kaddish before Musaf, although there is now a huge interruption between the recital of Ashrei and the Kaddish?

Whether the chazzan may immediately recite Kaddish should depend on the above-cited dispute between rishonim. Just as the Kolbo ruled that the chazzan may not recite Kaddish once he interrupted, unless he recites a few verses prior to saying Kaddish, here too, he would be required to recite a few verses prior to reciting Kaddish. According to the Or Zarua, an interruption after the recital of the verses of Ashrei does not pose any problem with saying Kaddish afterward.

Az Yashir after Yishtabach?!

Prior to addressing the final remaining question, we need to discuss a curiosity. The last Biblical passage cited as part of Pesukei Dezimra is Az Yashir, the Shiras Hayam that the Jewish people sang as praise to Hashem, after witnessing the miracles at the crossing of the Red Sea, the Yam Suf. The Tur (51) and the Avudraham explain that this passage is included immediately before Yishtabach because it contains fifteen mentions of Hashem’s holy Name, thus corresponding to the fifteen praises of Hashem that are stated in Yishtabach.

Others cite a different, but similar, idea: We complete Pesukei Dezimra with Shiras Hayam because the four-lettered name of Hashem is mentioned eighteen times between the words Vayehi Be’ashmores (that precede Az Yashir in the Torah) until the end of the Shiras Hayam. This adds up to a total of 72 lettersof Hashem’s name and, thereby, represents a very high level of kedusha (Beis Yosef, 51, explaining Orchos Chayim; he also explains why we begin from Az Yashir and not from Vayehi Be’ashmores).

By the way, these two allusions are not conflicting, but complementary. One explains Az Yashir as the introduction to Yishtabach, and the other makes it a representative of the entire Pesukei Dezimra that serves as an introduction to the Shemoneh Esrei.

Notwithstanding the fact that it is now standard practice to include Az Yashir, the earliest versions of Pesukei Dezimra did not include any recital of Az Yashir, and others recited it after Yishtabach. For example, the Rambam’s Seder Hatefillos (located at the end of Sefer Ahavah in his Yad Hachazakah) places Az Yashir after the recital of Yishtabach.

With this introduction, we can now address the question asked above:

“In the shullen in which I used to daven, during the aseres yemei teshuvah we always recited the chapter of tehillimShir hama’alos mima’amakim’ right after Yishtabach. Someone recently told me that the reason why I do not see this custom practiced any more is because it is a hefsek in the davening. Is this true?”

Here is the background: The Magen Avraham (54:2) quotes the Arizalthat during the aseres yemei teshuvah one should add Shir hama’alos mima’amakim after Yishtabach. The Magen Avraham then asks why this is not considered a hefsek. In response to this concern, the Dagul Meirevavah notes the Rambam’s placement of Az Yashir after Yishtabach; thus, it is curious to understand what was bothering the Magen Avraham. (One could also mention the Tur and others, who noted the custom of making charity and other communal appeals after Yishtabach, as proof that reciting Shir hama’alos should not be considered an interruption.)

Presumably, the Magen Avraham feels that adding Az Yashir is not a hefsek, since this is a praise of Hashem, which is the same theme as the entire Pesukei Dezimra. We may, therefore, add other praises to Pesukei Dezimra. However, Shir hama’alos is being added as a supplication, and the Magen Avraham considers this to be an interruption. And, although the Tur and the Rema mention a custom of interrupting for communal or mitzvah needs, today the prevalent practice is to not interrupt, as the Rema himself preferred. We could then conclude that although one may add quotations and passages from Tanach that praise Hashem both to the Pesukei Dezimra and immediately afterwards, one should not add passages that are being used as supplication, and that this is the reason why some did not observe the practice of reciting Shir hama’alos mima’amakim after Yishtabach. However, those who do maintain this practice are following the custom of the Arizal, and should continue to do so.

Conclusion

The Ramban (Commentary to Shemos 13:16) explains: “All that Hashem desires from this world is that Man should thank Him for creating him, focus on His praise when he prays, and that the community pray together with concentration. Mankind should gather together and thank the Lord who created them, announcing: We are your creations!

May I Eat before I Daven?

As the Gemara teaches, the source in this week’s parsha teaches that Yaakov introduced the Maariv prayers…

Question #1: Reuven calls me: I have not been well, and I need to eat something shortly after awaking. On weekdays, I go to shul to daven when I wake up and I can wait to eat until after davening, but I do not have this option on Shabbos. What should I do?

Question #2: Ahuva asks: It is difficult for me to wait for Kiddush until my husband returns from shul. May I eat something before he arrives home?

Question #3: Someone told me that a woman may not eat in the morning before she davens, but I remember being taught in Bais Yaakov that we may eat once we say the morning berachos. Is my memory faulty?

Answer:

The Gemara (Berachos 10b) states: “What do we derive from the verse, You may not eat over blood (Vayikra 19:26)? That you may not eat (in the morning) before you have prayed for your ‘blood’… The verse states, in reference to someone who eats and drinks prior to praying: You have thrown me behind your body (Melachim 1 14:9). Do not read your body (in Hebrew gavecha), but your arrogance (gai’echa). The Holy One said: After this person has indulged in his own pride (by eating or drinking), only then does he accept upon himself the dominion of heaven!?”

The halacha that results from this Gemara is codified by all authorities. To quote the Rambam: “It is prohibited to taste anything or to perform work from halachic daybreak until one has prayed shacharis” (Hilchos Tefillah 6:4).

Would you like tea or coffee?

Although all poskim prohibit eating and drinking before morning davening, we find early authorities who permit drinking water before davening, since this is not considered an act of conceit (Rosh, quoting the Avi Ha’ezri; the Beis Yosef cites authorities who disagree, but rules like the Avi HaEzri). Most later authorities permit drinking tea or coffee, contending that this, also, is considered like drinking water, but the poskim dispute whether one may add sugar to the beverage. The Mishnah Berurah and others prohibit this, whereas the Aruch Hashulchan and other later authorities permit it. They are disputing whether adding sugar to the beverage promotes it to a forbidden beverage, or whether it is still considered water that one may imbibe before davening.

Hunger

The Rambam rules that someone who is hungry or thirsty should eat or drink before he davens, so that he can daven properly (Hilchos Tefillah 5:2).

Similarly, some authorities contend that, for medical reasons, anything may be eaten or drunk before davening. They explain that the Gemara prohibited only eating or drinking that demonstrate conceit, whereas whatever is done for medical reasons is, by definition, not considered arrogant (Beis Yosef, quoting Mahari Abohav). The Shulchan Aruch accepts this as normative halacha (Orach Chayim 89:3).

I will be hungry!

What is the halacha if someone is, as yet, not hungry, but he knows that he will be so hungry by the end of davening that it will distract him from davening properly. Is he permitted to eat before davening? This question impacts directly on Reuven’s question.

The answer to this question appears to lie in the following Talmudic discussion (Berachos 28b):

“Rav Avya was weak and, as a result, did not attend Rav Yosef’s lecture that took place before musaf. The next day, when Rav Avya arrived in the Yeshiva, Abayei saw Rav Avya and was concerned that Rav Yosef may have taken offense at Rav Avya’s absence. Therefore, Abayei asked Rav Avya why he had failed to attend the previous day’s lecture. After which the following conversation transpired:

Abayei: Why did the master (addressing Rav Avya) not attend the lecture?

Rav Avya: I was not feeling well and was unable to attend.

Abayei: Why did you not eat something first and then come?

Rav Avya: Does the master (now referring to Abayei) not hold like Rav Huna who prohibits eating before davening musaf?

Abayei: You should have davened musaf privately, eaten something and then come to shul.

We see, from Abayei’s retort, that someone who is weak should daven first and then eat, even if this means that he davens without a minyan. Based on this passage, several noted authorities rule that someone who will not be able to wait until after davening, and cannot find an early minyan with which to daven, should daven privately (beyechidus), eat and then attend shul in order to hear the Torah reading and fulfill the mitzvos of answering Kaddish and Kedusha (Ba’er Heiteiv 89:11; Biur Halacha 289; Da’as Torah 289 quoting Zechor Le’avraham; Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:28 at end of teshuvah). Thus, it seems that we can positively answer Reuven’s question: If he cannot wait until davening is over to eat, he should daven be’yechidus, make Kiddush and eat something, and then come to shul to answer Borchu, Kedusha, Kaddish and hear keriyas hatorah.

May a woman eat before Kiddush?

Once someone becomes obligated to recite Kiddush, he cannot eat or drink anything before reciting Kiddush. Let us now discuss Ahuva’s question: It is difficult for me to wait for Kiddush until my husband returns from shul. May I eat something before he arrives home?

Of course, Ahuva could recite Kiddush herself. To fulfill the mitzvah of Kiddush, she needs to eat something that fulfills the requirement of Kiddush bimkom seudah¸ a topic we will discuss a different time. However, Ahuva does not want to recite Kiddush, or does not want to eat something to accompany the Kiddush. Is there a halachic solution to permit her to eat or drink before Kiddush?

There are some authorities who suggest approaches to permit Ahuva to eat or drink before Kiddush. Here is one approach:

Although most authorities obligate a woman to recite the daytime Kiddush and prohibit her from eating before she recites Kiddush (Tosafos Shabbos 286:4, 289:3; Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 289:1; Mishnah Berurah 289:6), this is not a universally held position. One early authority (Maharam Halavah, Pesachim 106, quoting Rashba) contends that women are absolved of the requirement to recite daytime Kiddush.  The reason is that the daytime Kiddush is not an extension of the mitzvah of evening Kiddush, but is to demonstrate that the meal is in honor of Shabbos, and this requirement does not devolve upon women.

Although this approach is not halachically accepted, some authorities allow a woman to rely on this opinion, under extenuating circumstances, to eat before reciting morning Kiddush (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 4:28:3).

When does a married woman become obligated to make Kiddush?

Rav Moshe Feinstein presents a different reason to permit a married woman to eat before Kiddush. He contends that since a married woman is required to eat the Shabbos meal with her husband, she does not become responsible to make Kiddush until it is time for the two of them to eat the Shabbos meal together, meaning after davening (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:101\2). In Rav Moshe’s opinion, she is not yet obligated to make Kiddush, since the time for her meal has not yet arrived.

The Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah (Chapter 52, note 46), in the name of Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach, disagrees with this opinion. Firstly, Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach is unconvinced that she is halachically required to eat her meal with her husband. Furthermore, even assuming that she is, he disagrees that this permits her to eat before Kiddush.

If we do not follow the lenient approaches mentioned, when does a woman become obligated to recite Kiddush and is therefore no longer permitted to drink tea, coffee, and water? The Acharonim debate this issue, but explaining their positions requires explaining a different topic:

What must a woman pray?

All authorities require a woman to daven daily, but there is a dispute whether she is required to recite the full shemoneh esrei (I will call this the “Ramban’s opinion”), or whether she fulfills her requirement by reciting a simple prayer, such as the morning beracha that closes with the words Gomel chasadim tovim le’amo Yisrael (I will refer to this as the “Magen Avraham’s opinion”).

When may she eat?

According to the Ramban’s opinion that a woman is required to recite the full shemoneh esrei, she may not eat in the morning without first davening (see the previous discussion), whereas, according to the Magen Avraham’s opinion that she fulfills her requirement once she has recited a simple prayer or morning berachos, she may eat once she has recited these tefillos.

Some authorities rule that a woman becomes obligated to hear Kiddush as soon as she recites berachos, since she has now fulfilled her requirement to daven, and she may therefore begin eating her meals. According to this opinion, now that she has recited morning berachos, she may not eat or drink without first making Kiddush (Tosafos Shabbos 286:4, 289:3). This approach contends that, before she recites morning berachos, she may drink water, tea or coffee, but after she recites morning berachos she may not drink even these beverages without first reciting Kiddush.

There is another view, that contends that a woman can follow the same approach that men follow, and may drink water, tea or coffee, even after she recited berachos before she has davened (Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 289:4 as understood by Halichos Beisah page 204).

At this point we can address the third question I raised above:

“Someone told me that a woman may not eat in the morning before she davens, but I remember being taught in Bais Yaakov that we may eat, once we say the morning berachos. Is my memory faulty?”

Many authorities contend that, although a woman should daven shemoneh esrei every morning, she may rely on the opinion of the Magen Avraham in regard to eating. Therefore, she may eat after reciting morning berachos. In many institutions, this approach was preferred, since it accomplishes that the tefillah that the girls recite is a much better prayer, and they learn how to daven properly. However, this does not necessarily tell us what she should do on Shabbos morning, and I refer you back to the earlier discussion about this issue.

Conclusion

Rav Hirsch, in his commentary to the story of Kayin and Hevel in Parshas Bereishis (4:3), makes the following observation: “Two people can bring identical offerings and recite the same prayers and yet appear unequal in the eyes of G-d. This is made clear in connection with the offerings of these brothers. Scripture does not say: ‘G-d turned to the offering by Hevel, but to the offering by Kayin He did not turn.’ Rather, it says: ‘G-d turned to Hevel and his offering, but to Kayin and his offering He did not turn.’ The difference lay in the personalities of the offerers, not in their offerings. Kayin was unacceptable, hence, his offering was unacceptable. Hevel, on the other hand, was pleasing, hence, his offering was pleasing.”

The same is true regarding prayer: the Shemoneh Esrei itself, the Elokai netzor leshoni addition, and the personal supplications that different people recite may appear identical in words, but they are recited with individual emotion, devotion and commitment. Tefillah should be with total devotion in order to improve ourselves, to enable us to fulfill our role in Hashem’s world.

May I Daven in English?

The end of parshas Noach teaches about the beginning of languages…

Question #1:

I received the following e-mail question from Verna Acular:

I much prefer to pray in English, since reading the siddur in Hebrew provides me with no emotional connection to G-d. I was told to read the Hebrew even though I cannot comprehend it; yet, other people I know were told that they could pray in English. Which approach is correct?

Question #2:

Bella, a middle-aged new immigrant from Central Europe, struggles to ask the rabbi:

Hungarian is the only language that I can read and understand. Someone told me that, now that I am living in the United States, I cannot pray in Hungarian, but must learn to read either English or Hebrew. Is this so? I am really too old to learn a new language.

Question #3:

Bracha Acharona asked me the following:

I heard that some authorities rule that if one recited a bracha in Japanese before eating, one should not recite the bracha again, even if one does not understand a word of Japanese; yet, if one bensched in Japanese, one would be required to bensch again. Is there indeed a difference between the brachos recited before and after eating?

Those That Can and Those That Cannot

The Mishnah (Sotah 32a) supplies a rather long list of mitzvos that are fulfilled only when recited in Hebrew and those that are fulfilled when recited in any language. For example, one cannot fulfill the requirements of chalitzah (see Devarim 25:7-10), duchening (see Bamidbar 6:24-26), and the narration that accompanies bikkurim (see Devarim 26:5-11), unless one recites the exact Hebrew words that the Torah cites. On the other hand, other mitzvos, including the reciting of shema, prayer (including shemoneh esrei), and birkas hamazon (bensching) can be fulfilled by translating the relevant passages into a language that one understands. Indeed, the Gemara (Brachos 40b) records an instance in which an individual named Binyomin the Shepherd bensched in Aramaic, and Rav ruled that he had fulfilled his requirement. The Gemara explains the reason why some mitzvos may be fulfilled in translation, but not others, on the basis of several intricate interpretations from various verses.

Which is preferable?

Having established that one may pray in a vernacular, the first question on which we will focus is whether it is preferable or perhaps even essential for someone who does not understand Hebrew to pray in a language that he understands, or whether it is preferred to pray in Hebrew, even though it is not understood.

Tosafos’ opinion

From Tosafos (Sotah op. cit.) we see that someone who does not understand Hebrew and recites a prayer, shema, or bensching in Hebrew does not fulfill the mitzvah. Tosafos asks why the Mishnah omits hearing megillah from its list of mitzvos that may be fulfilled in any language. Tosafos answers that the mitzvah of megillah is qualitatively different from all the other mitzvos mentioned in this Mishnah, because one who does not understand Hebrew fulfills the mitzvah of megillah in Hebrew. Tosafos clearly understands that someone who prays, bensches or reads shema in a language he does not understand does not fulfill the mitzvah, even if the language is Hebrew, and the Mishnah is listing mitzvos that someone who doesn’t understand Hebrew will fulfill only in the vernacular. Thus, according to Tosafos’ opinion, Verna should be reciting her prayers in English, and Bella should recite them in Hungarian.

Hebrew for the Hungarians

Although Tosafos holds this way, later authorities reject this conclusion. The Keren Orah notes that, according to Tosafos, someone who does not understand Hebrew will be unable to fulfill the mitzvos of bensching and davening if he does not have a siddur handy with a translation in a language that he understands. The Keren Orah cites other early authorities who answered Tosafos’ question (why Megillah is not cited in the Mishnah) in a different way, and he concludes that one who prayed, bensched or read shema in Hebrew fulfills the mitzvah, even if he does not understand Hebrew, providing that he knew that he was about to fulfill the mitzvah.

Quoting other authorities, the Mishnah Berurah (62:2), rules that someone who does not understand Hebrew should preferably daven, bensch and recite shema in Hebrew.

What does veshinantam mean?

The Mishnah Berurah adds an additional reason to recite shema in Hebrew; there are several words in shema that are difficult to translate, or whose meaning is unclear. For example, the word veshinantam may often be translated as and you shall teach them, but this translation does not express the full meaning of the word. The word for teach them in Hebrew is velimad’tem, which is used in the second parsha of shema. The word veshinantam means teaching students until they know the Torah thoroughly, and simply translating this word as and you shall teach them does not explain the word adequately.

This difference in meaning is reflected in Targum Onkeles, where velimadtem is translated vesalfun, whereas veshinantam is translated u’sesaninun, which comes from the Aramaic root that is equivalent to the Hebrew veshinantam. Thus, Aramaic possesses two different verbs, one of which means to teach and the other meaning to teach until known thoroughly, whereas English lacks a short way of expressing the latter idea.

I have heard it suggested that one may alleviate this problem of reciting shema in English by translating the word veshinantam with the entire clause you shall teach it to your sons until they know it thoroughly. This approach should seemingly resolve the concern raised by the Mishnah Berurah, although I am unaware of an English translation that renders the word veshinantam in this way.

Other hard translations

Whether or not one can translate veshinantam accurately, the Mishnah Berurah questions how one will translate the word es, since it has no equivalent in most languages. He further notes that the word totafos, which refers to the tefillin worn on the head,is also difficult to translate. However, when we recite these words in Hebrew, we avoid the need to know the exact translation, since we are using the words the Torah itself used. The Mishnah Berurah feels that, for the same reasons, someone who can read but does not understand Hebrew should recite kiddush, bensching, davening and his other brachos in Hebrew.

Although the Mishnah Berurah does not mention this predicament, a problem similar to the one he raises concerns the translation of the Name of G-d. When reciting a bracha or any of the above-mentioned requirements in a different language, one must be careful to translate this Name accurately (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:40:27). Rav Moshe Feinstein notes this problem in the context of the anecdote I mentioned above about Binyomin the Shepherd, who bensched in Aramaic. The Gemara records that Binyomin referred to G-d as Rachmana. In a teshuvah on the subject, Rav Moshe notes that although the word Rachmana obviously derives from the same source as the word rachum, mercy, one would not fulfill the requirement of reciting a bracha by substituting the word rachum for Hashem’s Name. Thus, Rav Moshe asks, how could Binyomin the Shepherd have fulfilled his bracha by reciting the translation of the word rachum?

Rav Moshe answers that although the source of the word Rachmana and the word rachum are the same, Rachmana is the translation of G-d’s Name in Aramaic, and therefore it is used in Aramaic prayers and blessings. However, rachum is not a translation of G-d, but an attribute of G-d, and its recital in a bracha is not adequate.

We thus realize that someone translating Hashem’s Name into any language must be careful to do so accurately.

Is “G-d” correct?

I have seen two common ways of translating the Name of Hashem into English, one as Lord and the other as G-d. Translating His Name as Lord is based on the meaning of the Name Adnus as Adon hakol, the Lord of all, which is the basic understanding one is required to have when reciting His Name. However, I have noticed that some recent translations now transliterate the Name in English as Hashem. This is not an accurate translation, and a person reciting the bracha this way will not fulfill his responsibility. I strongly suggest that the publishers not do this, since they are performing a disservice for people using their translation.

The position of the Sefer Chassidim

Notwithstanding that the Mishnah Berurah prefers that someone who does not understand Hebrew daven, bensch, and recite shema in Hebrew, the Sefer Chassidim (#588) advises, “A G-d-fearing man or woman who does not understand Hebrew who asks, tell them to learn the prayers in the language that they understand. Prayer can be recited only with the understanding of the heart, and if the heart does not understand what the mouth expresses, nothing is accomplished. For this reason, it is best to pray in a language one understands.

He states this even more clearly in a different passage (#785).

It is better for a person to pray and recite shema and brachos in a language that he comprehends, rather than pray in Hebrew and not understand… It is for this reason that the Talmud, both in Bavel and in Eretz Yisrael, was written in Aramaic, so that even the unlettered can understand the mitzvos.

The Sefer Chassidim’s position is subsequently quoted by the Magen Avraham (101:5), who also cites this approach in the name of the Asarah Ma’amaros of the Rama miFanu.

The Yad Efrayim’s approach

The Yad Efrayim quotes the Magen Avraham (who ruled as the Sefer Chassidim), but contends that one should recite the tefillah in Hebrew. To quote him: In our days, when there is no one who can translate the Hebrew accurately, one should rebuke anyone who follows a lenient route and prays in the vernacular. Rather, one should not separate himself from the community that reads the prayer in Hebrew, and one fulfills the mitzvah even if he does not understand. Someone concerned about the issues raised by Sefer Chassidim should learn enough basic understanding of Hebrew to know what he is asking. Although he does not understand every word, this is not a concern… If he does not want to learn Hebrew, he should pray in Hebrew with the community, and afterwards read the prayer in translation.

Thus, the Yad Efrayim is a strong advocate of praying only in Hebrew, and he is presumably one of the authorities upon whom the Mishnah Berurah based his ruling.

At this point, we can return to Verna’s question:

I much prefer to pray in English, since reading the siddur provides me with no emotional connection to G-d. I was told to read the Hebrew, even though I cannot comprehend it; yet, other people I know were told that they could pray in English. Which approach is correct?

Verna has been told to follow the ruling of the Yad Efrayim and the Mishnah Berurah, which is the most commonly, followed approach today. The “other people” that Verna mentions were instructed to follow the approach of the Magen Avraham and the Sefer Chassidim. It is also possible that the “other people” cannot read Hebrew properly. Someone who cannot read Hebrew has no choice but to recite prayers in the best translation that he/she can find.

Is this the language of the country?

At this point, I would like to address Bella’s predicament:

Hungarian is the only language that I read and understand. Someone told me that, now that I am living in the United States, I cannot pray in Hungarian, but must learn to read either English or Hebrew. Is this so?

What is the halacha if someone does not understand the language of the country in which he/she lives? Can one fulfill the mitzvos of shema, brachos and davening by reciting these prayers in his native language, notwithstanding the fact that few people in his new country comprehend this language?

Although this may seem surprising, the Bi’ur Halacha rules that one fulfills the mitzvos in a vernacular only when this is the language that is commonly understood in the country in which he is currently located. The Bi’ur Halacha based his ruling on a statement of the Ritva (in the beginning of his notes to the Rif on Nedarim), who implies that halacha recognizes something as a language only in the time and place that a people has chosen to make this into their spoken vernacular.

Following this approach, one who recites a bracha in America in a language that most Americans do not understand is required to recite the bracha again. Bella was indeed told the position of the Bi’ur Halacha that one cannot fulfill the mitzvah of praying in the United States in Hungarian or any other language that is not commonly understood, other than Hebrew.

Rav Gustman’s position

Other authorities dispute the Bi’ur Halacha’s conclusion, demonstrating that this concern of the Ritva refers only to a slang or code, but not to a proper language (Kuntrisei Shiurim of Rav Gustman, Nedarim page 11; and others). This means that if someone prayed or recited a bracha in something that is not considered a true language, he would not fulfill his mitzvah and would be required to recite the prayer or bracha again. However, although most Americans do not understand Hungarian, this is a bona fide language, and Bella fulfills the mitzvah by davening in Hungarian. Rav Gustman writes that he told many Russian baalei teshuvah that they could pray in Russian when they were living in Israel or the United States, even though Russian is not understood by most people in either country. He acknowledges that, according to the Bi’ur Halacha, this would not fulfill the mitzvah.

Must one understand the foreign language?

At this point, we will address Bracha’s brachos question:

I heard that some authorities rule that if one recited a bracha in Japanese before eating, one should not recite the bracha again, even if one does not know a word of Japanese; yet if one bensched in Japanese, one would be required to bensch again. Is there indeed a difference between a bracha before eating and one after?

According to Tosafos, someone can fulfill reciting the brachos before eating, Hallel and Kiddush even in a secular language that one does not understand. Tosafos contends that we see from the Mishnah that these mitzvos have a difference in halacha with bensching, davening and shema, where one fulfills the mitzvah only in a language that one understands.

Do we follow Tosafos’ opinion?

Although the Magen Avraham (introduction to Orach Chayim 62) rules in accordance with this Tosafos, most later commentaries do not (Keren Orah and Rav Elazar Landau on Sotah ad loc.; Bi’ur Halacha 62 s.v. Yachol; Aruch Hashulchan 62:3). Several authorities state that they do not understand Tosafos’ position that there is a difference between shema, shemoneh esrei and birkas hamazon, which can only be recited in a language one understands, and Kiddush, Hallel, birkas hamitzvos and brachos before eating, which Tosafos rules one may recite even in a language that one does not comprehend.

I suggest the following explanation of Tosafos’ view: The drasha of Chazal states that one fulfills shema only in a language that one understands. This is logical, because shema is accepting the yoke of Heaven, and how can one do this without comprehending the words? The same idea applies to the shemoneh esrei — how can one pray if he does not understand what he is saying? Birkas hamazon is also a very high level of thanks, and what type of acknowledgement is it, if one does not know the meaning of the words he is saying? However, one can praise in a language that he does not understand, as evidenced by the fact that chazzanim or choirs may sing beautiful praise, although they do not necessarily comprehend every word. Similarly, as long as one knows that kiddush sanctifies Shabbos, he fulfills the mitzvah, even if he does not understand the words.

Conclusion

Some people, who cannot read Hebrew at all, have no choice but to pray in the language that they can read and understand. However, anyone who can should accept the challenge of studying the prayers a bit at a time, thereby gradually developing both fluency and comprehension. In the interim, they can read the translation of each paragraph first, and then read the Hebrew, which will help them develop a full understanding of the prayers as Chazal wrote and organized them.

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!

Do Clothes Make the Man?

Question #1: Robes?

“May I daven wearing a robe?”

Question #2: Tied Up

“Must I wear a necktie when I daven?”

“Is there a halachic basis for wearing a gartel?”

Question #3: Belted?

Answer:

Since the beginning of parshas Tolados discusses how Yitzchak and Rivkah davened for children, it provides an opportunity to discuss the laws of proper attire for prayer.

The Rambam lists five essential requirements for prayer and eight non-essential ones. An essential requirement is one that, if it cannot be fulfilled, one may not daven, even if this means that one will miss davening as a result. A non-essential requirement is that, if it cannot be fulfilled, one may and should daven anyway.

One of the non-essential requirements is to be attired properly when davening (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 5:5). A passage of Gemara (Shabbos 10a) that teaches this lesson quotes the verse, Hikon likras Elokecha Yisroel, Prepare to meet your G-d, Yisroel” (Amos 4:12), as a source for this law. As an example, the Gemara mentions that Rabbah, the son of Rav Huna, would put on fine boots before he prayed (Rashi). The Bach (Orach Chayim 91) notes that this implies that Rabbah usually wore simpler footgear. Rabbah knew that were he to meet dignitaries, he would not wear his usual, simpler footwear, and, therefore, wearing it in the presence of the King when he is davening would also be inappropriate. In a similar vein, a different passage of Gemara (Brochos 30b) records that Rav Yehudah would put on nice clothes before he davened. Since the Gemara cites the pasuk in Amos as a source for the requirement of dressing appropriately when one davens, this concept is sometimes referred to with the word of this pasuk, hikon.

Like a servant

The Gemara in Shabbos cited above also mentions another factor to determine how one dresses when davening — one should not overdress for tefillah. For example, Rav would remove his outer garment and fold his hands over his chest before he davened, explaining that one should daven as a servant appears before his master. (Apparently, the overgarment was not a dress jacket as we are familiar with, but something very fancy, perhaps similar to the gold-embroidered glima that the Rishon Letzion wears.)

Other amora’im decided what was considered overdressed, in accordance with the situation of the world at large. Rav Ashi reported that Rav Kahana prepared himself for prayer depending on whether matters in the world were “at peace” or not: “When there were difficulties in the world, he would throw off his outer garment and clasp his hands over his heart as a servant stands to beg from his master. When there was peace in the world, he would dress in fine clothes and pray.”

The Bach (Orach Chayim 91) explains that, although we see that some of the amora’im did not wear their fanciest garments when they davened, they certainly dressed with appropriate clothing.

Weekdays versus Shabbos

The Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chayim 91:2) notes that, in his day, there were those who did not wear the fancy outer garment for davening on weekdays, since the world was in a time of difficulty, but that they did wear it on Shabbos and Yom Tov. On these holy days, one should not even allude to difficulties, since doing so spoils the atmosphere and sanctity of the day.

Special clothes

At this point, we could ask a question: Since we realize that one should dress for davening as if he is standing before the King, should one not purchase special garments to be worn only when he davens? Someone honored with an audience before a human king would certainly acquire special garments for the occasion!

The point is well taken, and, indeed, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 98:4) mentions a practice of special garments that are worn only for tefillah. It is worthwhile to quote him verbatim: “It is appropriate to have nice-looking garments designated for prayer, similar to the kohanim’s special garments. However, not every man can afford this expense.” Thus, his conclusion is that it is a nice idea to have special garments for davening, but it is not always possible for everyone.

All prayers?

Do the rules of hikon apply to all of our prayers?

One would think that, since in all our prayers and blessings we are talking directly to Hashem, we should fulfill the mitzvah of hikon whenever we recite any prayers, blessings or, perhaps, even while reciting Tehillim. However, the authorities prove from the Gemara that this is not halachically required.

The Mishnah (Shabbos 9b) states that if someone began eating a meal without having yet davened mincha, he is not required to interrupt his meal to daven (assuming that there will be sufficient time to daven afterwards). The Gemara asks, “At what point is it considered that he began his meal such that he is not required to interrupt it?” The Gemara answers that, once he unfastened his belt in order to be able to eat comfortably, it is considered that he began the meal, and he may delay davening until he completes eating. In this discussion, the Gemara mentions that hikon requires that one daven with a fastened belt. Yet, since he opens his belt in order to eat comfortably, we see that the brochos before eating were recited with an open belt, notwithstanding that this is considered inappropriate attire for davening. Thus, a distinction is made between davening, which requires a higher level of attire, and brochos, which do not (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim Chapter 91). When davening shemoneh esrei one must stand as if one is in the presence of the King (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 91:1; Mishnah Berurah 74:24). Although we are always in His presence, we are not required to dress in such a proper way when reciting other prayers and blessings.

Belts

Based on this discussion, the early authorities discuss whether one is required to wear a belt and a hat while davening. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 91:1) explains that one should wear a nicer belt, which he calls an eizor, when davening. This is the source for those who put on a gartel, a special belt, prior to davening. The Magen Avraham qualifies this ruling of the Shulchan Aruch, contending that one who does not usually wear a belt is not required to put one on in order to daven. Someone who usually wears a belt as part of his clothing is required to have his belt on and closed when he davens. The Mishnah Berurah (91:4) cites the approach of the Magen Avraham as the normative halacha, but he adds that it is, nevertheless, considered exemplary conduct to put on a belt when davening, even if someone does not usually wear one.

Head covering

Is one required to wear a hat when davening?

The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 5:5), followed by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 91:5), mention that Torah scholars and their disciples should have a full head covering when they daven. To quote the Rambam: “All chachamim and their disciples are careful not to pray without their head atufim,” a word meaning that their heads are covered in a respectful way. The Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chayim 91:6) writes that, in his country, one may not daven without a hat, since no one walked in the street without one. It would seem that he would agree that in a place where it is common for people to walk in the street without a hat that one may daven wearing only a yarmulke or similar head covering.

Review

Thus, we have a general direction for appropriate davening attire. One should dress as one would be attired when meeting someone prominent. If times are peaceful, one should even consider “dressing up” for the davening; but when times aredifficult, one should dress appropriately, but not fancily. At this point, let us examine some specific halachic questions about proper attire.

Barefoot

Based on halachic sources, the rishonim discuss whether one may daven barefoot. Their conclusion is that one may not pray barefoot, except on Tisha B’Av and Yom Kippur (Tosafos, Shabbos op. cit.). The Bach adds that people should not daven wearing footwear that leaves their ankles exposed. One could argue that this depends on what is considered appropriate footwear in the place where you are living. This is based on a statement of the Aruch Hashulchan that if people do not wear respectable footgear, or walk barefoot in the place where you are, you are not required to don nice footgear in order to daven, but one should still not daven barefoot, even when that is common in your location (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 91:5).

Work Clothes

May one daven midday and midweek in the rough clothes required for the work that one does to earn a living?

Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach discusses a person who works wearing shorts or other garments that one would not wear when visiting a respected individual. He rules that one should not daven this way (Halichos Shlomoh, Tefillah 2:15).

One can actually find a Talmudic source for this ruling. In a different context, the Gemara (Shabbos 114a) states that one should not serve one’s master his meal while wearing the same clothes used while cooking his meals. The clothes used to cook are presumably food-stained and sweaty; a respected master expects to be served by a waiter or servant wearing clean and smart-looking clothes.

Pajamas and robes

May one daven wearing pajamas, bathrobes or similar attire?

Since it is inappropriate to appear in front of respected people wearing pajamas, one should not daven that way either. I note that in one contemporary source, I saw that he ruled that someone who is ill may daven wearing pajamas (Tefillah Kehilchasah Chapter 7, footnote 78). Personally, I would suggest putting on nicer clothing on top of the pajamas in order to daven, if not too ill or weak to do so.

As far as davening while wearing a robe, it would appear that this depends on the type of robe in question. If it is a bathrobe that you would only wear in the house, you should not daven attired this way (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 91:6). However, I see no problem davening while wearing a smoking jacket or a fancy robe.

Short sleeves

Is a man permitted to daven wearing a short-sleeved shirt and no jacket over it?

I was once asked this question, when I was on a visit to the Miami area. I answered that this depends on whether an attorney would enter a courtroom dressed this way. At the time, I was told that in Dade County (where Miami is located), it is acceptable for an attorney to represent a client in court without wearing a jacket.

Subsequently, I found that this question is disputed by some late authorities. Rav Ovadyah Hadaya, in his Shu”t Yaskil Avdi, ruled that one may not daven wearing short sleeves, since this is not considered a respectable way to dress when meeting dignitaries. However, Rav Ovadya Yosef disagreed, ruling that one may daven this way (Shu”t Yechaveh Daas 4:8).

Winter clothes

May one daven wearing winter clothes, which you would not usually wear in the presence of a respected person?

One may wear these garments when it is cold, since one would greet a respected person outdoors dressed this way (see Halichos Shlomoh, Tefillah 2:18).

Gloves

May one daven wearing gloves?

The Bach writes that one should not daven while wearing gloves.  However, Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach explained that the Bach was referring to work gloves, since one would not greet a respected person without taking them off. If it is cold where you are, you may daven wearing winter gloves, since you would also greet a respected person this way (see Mishnah Berurah 91:12 and Halichos Shlomoh, Tefillah 2:18, ftn 29).

Neckties

Is a man required to wear a necktie when he davens?

According to what we have seen, the rule is that the attire for davening should be the way people dress in your location when visiting a respected individual. If, in your place, this would not be done without wearing a necktie, one should wear one when davening. If this is not expected where you are, it is not required.

Dirty clothes

There are also early sources that imply that one’s clothes must be reasonably clean when one davens (Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 53:10; Rema, Orach Chayim 53:25). This is certainly a problem if the clothes have an objectionable odor.

One of the examples mentioned by the early halachic authorities is an interesting situation. In a certain town, the chazzan, who apparently led services during the week as well as on Shabbos, also worked as the town shocheit, a very common practice in earlier times. (There is even a term used for this position, a shovshatz, which stands for shocheit ubodeik, sheliach tzibur, referring to all the roles in which this individual served the community.)

In this particular town, the shocheit apparently had the habit of showing up to mincha and maariv wearing the same clothes he had worn to shecht earlier that day. The people complained both about the physical appearance of his clothing and the odor that emanated from them. The Kolbo, a rishon, ruled that the shovshatz should be advised to change his clothes to cleaner ones before he arrives in shul to lead the services. If, after being warned to do so, he ignores the admonition, this provides grounds for dismissal (quoted in Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 53:10).

Wearing clothes respectfully

Not only should one wear respectable clothes when davening, but one should be careful to wear them in the proper way. For example, Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach rules that someone should not daven with a jacket draped over his shoulders, since one does not speak to prominent people attired in that fashion (Halichos Shlomoh, Tefillah 2:15).

Hands over heart

Proper davening requires more than just proper clothing. When the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 5:4) discusses these laws, he adds the following: “He should place his hands folded right over left on top of his heart and stand like a servant in front of his master in awe, fear and trepidation. He certainly should not place his hands on his hips because this appears haughty.” While davening, one should cast his eyes downward and think of the Might of Hashem and the lowliness of man. One should think: “How can I, poor and despised, come to approach the King of Kings?” (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 95:5).

Right over left

The Shulchan Aruch quotes the Rambam’s statement that the right hand should be bent over the left hand and both on his heart. Although the Rambam mentions placing one’s right hand over one’s left, there does not appear to be a Talmudic source for this. The Darchei Moshe (Orach Chayim 95) explains that there is a kabbalistic reason for this practice, in that it alludes to the midas harachamim, symbolized by the right hand, being stronger than the midas hadin, symbolized by the left. Some authorities add that one should have one’s right thumb inside his left hand or a similar position whereby the fingers are coiled inside one another. Later authorities note that this particular position should be assumed only when it is a time of difficulty (Graz, Orach Chayim 91:6; Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 91:7).

The Magen Avraham (95:2) comments that the hands over the heart and related positioning depend on how servants stand to supplicate in a particular place. Therefore, the Mishnah Berurah concludes that one should stand in the position that, in your location, a servant would assume when beseeching his master.

Versus tefillah betzibur

What is the halacha if changing into appropriate clothes for tefillah will cause him to miss davening together with the tzibur? Which takes priority, the mitzvah of hikon or tefillah betzibur?

If he can find a later minyan with which to daven, he should wait until he has a chance to change. However, if he will not be able to daven with a later minyan, the mitzvah of hikon does not override the mitzvah of davening with a minyan (Halichos Shlomoh, Tefillah 2:15).

Conclusion

The power of tefillah is very great. 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. Remember that we are actually speaking to Hashem, and that we are trying to build a relationship with Him. Through tefillah, one can save lives, bring people closer to Hashem, and overturn harsh decrees. We are required to believe in this power. One should not think, “Who am I to daven to Hashem?” Rather, we must reinforce the concept that Hashem wants our tefillos, and He listens to them!

The Kuzari notes that 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. When we recognize that tefillah is so valuable, we must certainly realize that it must be treated as a special time, and our attire when we daven should reflect this. Let us hope that Hashem will accept our tefillos together with those of Klal Yisroel!

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.

 

Where Should I Pray

Certainly, both Bilaam’s desire to destroy the shullen of the Jews, and Pinchas’s praying that the plague end (see Tehillim 106:30), makes this a befitting week to discuss:

Where Should I Pray

Question #1: My Shul or my Minyan?

“Is it more important to daven with a minyan or to daven in shul?”

Question #2: Minyan-less

“I work nights, and by the time I am finished in the morning, there is no minyan with which I can daven. There is a shul near my workplace, but no minyan that accommodates my schedule. Should I go there to daven bi’yechidus?”

Question #3: The Shul I Don’t Attend

“From a halachic perspective, does it make any difference in which shul I daven?”

Question #4: Davening Privately

Davening with a minyan disturbs my learning schedule. May I therefore daven bi’yechidus?”

Introduction

As we will soon see, there are many halachos that determine the preferred location for prayer. Among other issues, I will be discussing the following questions:

What constitutes davening with a minyan?

Should one pray in a shul even when there is no minyan?

Is there a preference as to which shul one should attend?

With a minyan

The Gemara and authorities laud the advantages of praying with a minyan:

“The Holy One, blessed is He, said: ‘Whoever is involved in Torah and chesed and prays with the tzibur, I treat him as if he redeemed Me and My children from the nations of the earth’” (Brachos 8a).

“The prayers of the community are always listened to. Even when there are sinners among them, the prayers of the community are never viewed by Hashem with disfavor. Therefore, a person should always join with the community, and he should not pray by himself any time that he can pray with the tzibur. A person should always wake up early and go to shul, and should always attend shul in the evening, because prayer is not heard at all times, except when recited in a shul. One who has a shul in his city but does not daven there is called a bad neighbor” (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 8:1).

Segulah for longevity

In the merit of praying daily with a minyan, there is a segulah for living a long productive life, as we see from the following passage of Gemara:

They told Rabbi Yochanan: “There are old men in Bavel.” He responded with astonishment, noting that the Torah promises longevity only for those who keep the Torah carefully while living in Eretz Yisroel, but not for those who live in chutz la’aretz, including Bavel. When they told Rabbi Yochanan that these older people were wont to come to shul early and to stay late, he understood that they lived long in the merit of this mitzvah (Brachos 8a).

What constitutes tefillah betzibur?

Davening with a minyan means that one begins the shemoneh esrei at the same time that the tzibur does (Mishnah Berurah 90:28). One who arrives in shul late and therefore begins shemoneh esrei later than the minyan does, fulfills the mitzvah of davening in shul, but does not fulfill the mitzvah of davening with a minyan. If possible, he should attend a later minyan, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of davening with a minyan and in order to make sure that his prayers are heard.

Conflicts with my learning

Someone whose learning will be disturbed by his attending regular minyanim is still required to daven with a minyan (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:27; cf., however, Eimek Brocha, page 7). In the above responsum, Rav Moshe Feinstein does recognize one exception to this rule: Someone who learns in a place where there is no minyan davening is not required to interrupt his learning in order to daven at the same time as a minyan. This ruling will be explained shortly.

How far?

How far is someone required to travel in order to be able to daven with a minyan? This depends on whether he is at home or on the road. If he is at home, he is required to travel at least up to 18-24 minutes in order to be able to daven with a minyan (see Pri Chodosh, Orach Chayim 163:28 and Biur Halachah ad locum s.v. berichuk; however, cf. Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 112:6, quoting Shu”t Beis Yaakov #35, who rules more leniently.) In his above-referenced responsum, Rav Moshe suggests that one might be required to travel even more than this to join a minyan.

I wrote 18-24 minutes because of a dispute among early halachic authorities. This dispute is dependent on how one understands a passage of Gemara (Pesachim 95), and discussing these details is beyond the scope of our current article.

On the road

If someone is on the road and there is a minyan that is not in the direction that he is going, he is required to travel up to 18-24 minutes out of his way in order to daven with a minyan (see Pesachim 46a, as explained by Rashi and Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 90:16). On the other hand, if he is traveling and knows that there is a minyan ahead of him, such that traveling to attend the minyan does not take him out of his way, then the halachah is more stringent. He is required to travel up to 72-96 minutes in order to participate in a minyan.

Davening at the time of the tzibur

If someone cannot daven together with a minyan, there is a halachic preference to daven at the same time that the tzibur davens, even though the individual is not davening in the same place where the tzibur is located. In other words, although his prayer will not qualify as tefillah betzibur, the fact that the tzibur is davening at the same time as this individual assists the acceptance of his tefillah. When someone davens with the tzibur, his prayer is always heard, even when his kavanah is subpar. (Of course, the better his kavanah, the more the tefillah is heard and responded to.) Davening at the same time as the tzibur, but in a different place, is considered to be on a somewhat lower level (Tosafos, Avodah Zarah 4b s.v. keivan; see also Machatzis Hashekel 90:17, quoting Shelah Hakodesh).

Rabbi Yitzchak and Rav Nachman

In this context, we are going to eavesdrop on a conversation that transpired between two great gedolim of the time of the Gemara, the great amora’im, Rabbi Yitzchak and Rav Nachman. (Both of these scholars were so well-known that they are usually referred to by their first names. Rav Nachman’s full name was actually Rav Nachman bar Yaakov [Tosafos, Bava Basra 46b s.v. Shalach], and the Rabbi Yitzchak referred to was probably Rabbi Yitzchak bar Pinchas [see Taanis 5a], but it might have been Rabbi Yitzchak bar Acha [see Brachos 27a and Rashi, Pesachim 114a].)

The conversation

Rabbi Yitzchak said to Rav Nachman: “Why did the master not come to shul to pray?” Rav Nachman replied, “I was unable.” Rabbi Yitzchak said to him: “Then you should have gathered ten people with whom to daven.” Rav Nachman responded that he found this difficult to arrange (tericha li milsa). Rabbi Yitzchak then advised, “The master should have instructed the sheliach tzibur to inform him when the tzibur is davening.” To this, Rav Nachman replied, “Is this so important?” Rabbi Yitzchak then quoted Rabbi Yochanan who, in turn, had cited Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai about the importance of davening at the time when the tzibur davens (Brachos 7b-8a).

This passage of Gemara teaches that the highest priority is to daven with a minyan in shul. The second choice, when one cannot daven with a minyan in shul, is to daven with a minyan that is not meeting in shul. Although there are advantages to the minyan in shul (see Mirkeves Hamishneh, Hilchos Tefillah, Chapter 8), davening with a minyan outside of shul is far preferred to davening without a minyan.

The third choice, when one cannot daven with a minyan at all, is to daven at the time that the minyan is davening in shul. The Rema (Orach Chayim 90:9) mentions that those who live in a place where there is no daily minyan should daven at the time that the tzibur davens. This demonstrates that the advantage of davening at the time that the tzibur davens is not limited to a tzibur that is within walking distance. The same rule is true for someone who is traveling – he should try to daven at the time that the tzibur is davening (Magen Avraham ad locum).

Exceptions

The Shelah Hakodesh mentions that there is an exception to this rule, meaning that there is a situation where one must daven bi’yechidus, and he should not daven at the time that the minyan is davening. If the minyan is davening maariv before it is fully dark, he should not daven at the same time that they are, since they have a heter to daven before it gets dark, but he does not. In this instance, he should wait until tzeis hakochavim, definite nightfall, before he davens (quoted by Magen Avraham).

Other poskim mention another instance in which one is not required to daven at the same time that the tzibur does, but can daven when it is convenient for him. If the tzibur davens shacharis later than he would like to, and he wants to be able to begin learning, he may daven before they do, in order to be able to begin his uninterrupted learning afterwards (Be’er Heiteiv). This ruling teaches that there is a difference between davening with a minyan and davening at the time that the minyan davens. As we mentioned before, the requirement to daven with a minyan supersedes his own desire to daven at a time that accommodates his own learning schedule. However, assuming that one cannot daven with the minyan anyway, but could, in theory, daven at the time that the minyan davens, he is not required to daven at their time, when his learning schedule is better accommodated in a different way.

Arranging a minyan

The Gemara mentioned that Rav Nachman did not arrange his own minyan because tericha milsa, it was difficult to arrange. Had it not been difficult to arrange, he certainly would have arranged a minyan. Thus, the halachah is that if someone cannot make it to the shul’s minyan, he is required to arrange his own minyan, unless it is a tircha to do so.

Tircha for whom?

What does it mean that it is a tircha to arrange the minyan? The Machatzis Hashekel cites a dispute among the rishonim whether this means that it is a tircha for the individual who cannot come to shul to make the arrangements that he have a minyan, or that the concern is that it is a tircha for the people to assemble especially for him (Semag). There would be an interesting difference in practical halachah that results from this dispute. According to the first opinion, in the days of Rav Nachman this would have required someone to go door to door or to look in the street for people to form a minyan for him. Today, when one could let one’s fingers do the walking, it would presumably not be considered a tircha to arrange a minyan. On the other hand, according to the second opinion, asking people to come especially to your house to form a minyan certainly involves a tircha for them. By the way, the words of our text of the Gemara, tericha li milsa, imply the first way of understanding the topic. Either way, someone who has this question should refer it to his rav or posek.

In shul

Until now, we have discussed davening either with a minyan or at the same time as a minyan davens. Aside from the importance of tefillah betzibur, it is also important to daven in shul, even when there is no minyan there. The Gemara (Brachos 6a) teaches: “Abba Binyamin says ‘a person’s prayers are answered only in shul, as the verse states, lishmo’a el harinah ve’el hatefillah,to hear the song and the prayer” (Melachim I 8:28). As Rashi explains, rinah means prayers in shul where the community as a whole recites praises of Hashem with beautiful song.

This statement of the Gemara surfaces another time in mesechta Brachos (8a), in this occasion in the name of Rabbi Yochanan, and it is quoted in the halachic works of the three major early halachic authorities, the Rif, the Rambam and the Rosh and by all later poskim. When the Tur (Orach Chayim 90) quotes this halachah, he states that a person should always daven in a shul with a minyan. However, Rabbeinu Yonah cites, in the name of the Geonim, that even if he needs to daven at a time when there is no minyan, he should still daven in a shul, since it is a place designated for the public to daven (Beis Yosef).

The Shulchan Aruch combines the conclusions of the last two discussions as follows: “A person should always try to daven in shul with a minyan. If an extenuating circumstance prevents his attending shul, then he should daven at the time that the tzibur does. And if this is also not possible and he must daven by himself, he should still daven in a shul.” (Orach Chayim 90:9). The Magen Avraham cites illness or weakness as reasons why someone missed the minyan in shul. He also notes that it is preferable to daven with a minyan at home, rather than daven at the time the tzibur is davening, but without a minyan. Again, this is based on the Gemara that we saw above.

Beis midrash versus shul

The Gemara teaches that the great scholars, Rav Ami and Rav Asi, davened in the place where they studied Torah, notwithstanding the fact that there were thirty shullen in their city (Brachos 8a, 30b). Thus, we see that davening in the beis midrash where one usually learns is more valuable than davening in shul. Among the early halachic authorities, we find two interpretations of this practice.

  • Rabbeinu Yonah explains that someone whose full time occupation is studying Torah (toraso umnaso) should daven in a beis midrash rather than in a shul, even at the expense of not being able to daven with a minyan. Alternatively, since he spends his entire day learning in one place without interruption, he should not waste potential learning time by leaving his home for shul (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim, Chapter 90).
  • The Rambam disagrees and rules that he should daven with a minyan. According to his understanding, it appears that the Gemara is teaching that a Torah scholar should daven in a beis midrash with a minyan, and does not need to attend the shul’s minyan. The Rosh follows a similar approach, concluding that the Torah scholar who would not have a minyan where he learns should go to shul to daven for several reasons, including that others will learn from his example and not daven with a minyan (Shu”t HaRosh, cited by Tur Orach Chayim chapter 90).

Choosing between shuls

When one has a choice of shullen in which to daven, does halachah provide a priority as to which one he should choose? Indeed it does, mentioning three rules to follow.

Regular shul

One should preferably have a shul which one attends regularly (Mishnah Berurah 90:28).

Farther shul

Rabbi Yochanan said that he learned from a widow how one should earn reward for mitzvos by walking a greater distance. She would come daily from a different neighborhood to pray in the beis midrash of Rabbi Yochanan (obviously, in the women’s section). Rabbi Yochanan asked her, rhetorically, “Is there no shul in your neighborhood?” to which she answered, “Do I not get extra reward for walking to the farther shul?” (Sotah 22a). We find that Rabbi Yochanan reiterated this lesson in a different passage of Gemara, where he ruled that it is not an advantage to live next to a shul, since one thereby loses the merit of walking a greater distance to shul (Bava Metzia 107a). From both passages, we see that one should try to daven at a shul that involves a farther walk, in order to gain extra merit.

Larger minyan

The halachah is recorded that one should daven in the shul where more people are attending davening (Mishnah Berurah 90:28). This is because of the concept called Berov am hadras Melech (Mishlei 14:28): the more people that participate in a mitzvah, the greater is the honor for Hashem.

Conclusion

The power of tefillah is very great. Through tefillah one can save lives, bring people closer to Hashem and overturn harsh decrees. We have to believe in this power. One should not think, “Who am I to daven to Hashem?” Rather, we must continually drive home the concept that Hashem wants our tefillos and He listens to them! 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 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. As the Kuzari notes, every day should have three very high points — the three times that we daven. Certainly, one should do whatever one can to make sure to pay attention to the meaning of the words of one’s Tefillah. We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these three prayers. Let us hope that Hashem will accept our tefillos together with those of Klal Yisrael!

 

Slowly Positioned

Since our parsha shares with us Yaakov’s Avinu’s prayer prior to his confrontation with Eisav, I thought it appropriate to discuss some laws of tefillah.

Slowly Positioned

Question #1: Why windows?

Why does a shul have windows? Does this not create a distraction that one should avoid?

Question #2: A ruined davening!

When traveling, is it better to daven inside the ruins of a building or to pray outdoors?

Question #3: Strange title!

What does the title of this article have to do with its topic?

Answer:

At the beginning of parshas Vayishlach, the Torah teaches that one of the ways that Yaakov prepared for his encounter with Eisav was through prayer. This provides ample reason to discuss some of the laws regarding tefillah.

In Chapter 5 of Hilchos Tefillah, the Rambam discusses many important aspects of prayer that he terms “non-essential components,” meaning that if they were not done, one has still fulfilled his mitzvah to pray. Furthermore, someone unable to fulfill these laws is required to daven without observing them.

Correct location

The Rambam groups many of these rules under a heading he calls “the proper location in which to pray” (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 5:6). We can organize these laws into the following mnemonic heading:

Set place

One should have a set place where he davens.

Low

When standing to daven shemoneh esrei, one should stand in a low place. Certainly, one should not pray while standing on top of something.

Outdoors

One should not daven outdoors.

Wall

When praying, one should face a wall.

Lodging

One should not pray in a destroyed building, called, in Hebrew, a churvah.

Yerushalayim

In the room where one is davening, some windows or doors should face Yerushalayim and should be open.

As I mentioned above, these are all categorized as non-essential components of prayer. This means that although meeting these requirements is important, circumstances may dictate that one daven without observing them. We will now discuss the details of these six categories.

Set place

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 exceedingly righteous and a disciple of Avraham Avinu (Brachos 6b). This passage of Gemara is subsequently quoted verbatim by the Rif and the Rosh, and its conclusion is quoted by all the halachic authorities.

What does the Gemara mean when it says one should pray in an “established place”? This is disputed by the rishonim. Rabbeinu Yonah explains that the main thrust here is that one should pray in a place that is specially set aside for prayer, such as a shul. On the occasions when one cannot daven in shul and one must pray at home, he should have a set place at home where he prays. This should be a place where he will not be disturbed (see Magen Avraham 90:33). However, Rabbeinu Yonah rules that there is no requirement to daven in the same place in shul, which is usually referred to as a makom kavua, since the entire shul is established for prayer. Furthermore, according to Rabbeinu Yonah, it does not seem to make any difference which shul one attends, since one is, in any event, davening in a place that has been established for prayer. According to this approach, the reason why one who establishes a place for his prayer is promised such special rewards is because he was always careful to daven in a shul. On this basis, many rishonim note that someone who is unable to join the tzibur should still opt to daven in a shul, rather than at home (Rabbeinu Manoach, Hilchos Tefillah 5:6, based on Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 8:1).

However, other rishonim have a different interpretation of “a set place” to pray. For example, the Rosh contends that even in a shul, one should have a set place where he prays. Rabbeinu Manoach explains that someone who has several shullen in his neighborhood from which to choose should not randomly daven at different ones. He implies that one should always daven in the same shul, and that this is included in the Gemara’s recommendation that one “establish a place for one’s prayer.” If we combine these two approaches, to be rewarded with the special brocha, it is insufficient for one always to be careful to daven in shul – one also must be careful to daven in the same place, in the same shul, at all times. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 90:19) concludes that one should always have a set place to daven, whether at home or in shul. By the way, this law applies equally to women – a woman should have a set place in the house, out of the way of household traffic, where she can daven undisturbed.

Low

Daven from a low place

From the well-known words of Tehillim (130:1) Mima’amakim kerasicha Hashem, “from the depths I call out to You, Hashem,” the Gemara (Brachos 10b) derives that whenever one prays, one should endeavor to do so from a low place. For this reason, in many old shullen, the place from which the chazzan davened was somewhat sunk into the floor. This is also hinted at in the words of the Gemara (Brachos 34a) when it says that the chazzan is yoreid lifnei hateivah, descends when he leads the services.

There are two reasons why one should not stand on something while praying (Mahari Abohav, quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 90):

  1. Acting this way shows a degree of haughtiness.
  2. It is distracting to do so, because the person is afraid he may fall.

Because of the second reason, the Mahari Abohav prohibits davening while standing atop furniture, even when it is less than three tefachim high, which is a subject of dispute. The Rema and the Elyah Rabbah (90:1), follow the approach of the Mahari Abohav and prohibit praying even while standing atop something lower than three tefachim. On the other hand, the Bach, the Taz and the Pri Chodosh permit this, although the Pri Chodosh qualifies that this is permitted only if the person himself will not be distracted because he is standing on something.

Under extenuating circumstances, or if the chazzan wants to daven from an elevated surface so that people can hear him, one may daven from atop a piece of furniture, as long as one is in a secure position (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 90, quoting several authorities).

Outdoors

One of the scholars of the Gemara, Rav Kahana, declared that praying in an exposed agricultural area is viewed as being an act of chutzpah (Brachos 34b). Based on this Gemara, the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch rule that one should not pray in an open area, such as a field (Orach Chayim 90:5).

Why is praying in a field considered arrogant? Rashi explains because praying in a secluded place is more conducive to humility and being in awe of G-d. This is explained by the Mahari Abohav (quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 90) as meaning that, inherently, man should be inhibited about talking to G-d, and this should manifest itself in wanting to pray in a place where one has privacy. One who davens where there is nowhere to hide implies that his relationship with G-d is chummy.

An alternative explanation why it is considered chutzpah-dik to pray outdoors is that one who does so implies that, although there are distractions outdoors, he is confident that his concentration will not be affected. This attitude implies arrogance (Magen Avraham 90:6, in his explanation of Tosafos, Brachos 34b s.v. Chatzif).

The dispute how to explain this law has halachic ramifications. For example, may one, lechatchilah, daven outdoors in a place where he will not be disturbed?

According to the Magen Avraham’s reason, this is permitted, whereas according to the Mahari Abohav, it is prohibited when he has somewhere else to daven.

According to both approaches, one may pray under the heavens, provided that he is in an area surrounded by walls, even if there is no roof (Shaarei Teshuvah 90:1, quoting Batei Kehunah, Birkei Yosef, and Mizbach Adamah).

Yitzchak in a field

The commentaries (Tosafos, Levush, Bach) ask: If the Gemara rules that it is arrogant to daven outdoors, why did Yitzchak daven in an open field (Bereishis 24:63, see Rashi)? There are many different answers to this question. According to the Bach (Orach Chayim 90), Yitzchak davened between the trees, and this is considered similar to praying in an enclosed, unroofed area. Others explain that since he was praying on Har Hamoriah, the same holy place where the Beis Hamikdash would ultimately be built, this is not considered the same as davening in an open field (Tosafos, Brachos 34b s.v. Chatzif). A third approach is that Yitzchak davened in a place where no one would disturb him (Tosafos, second answer). This last answer implies that it is permitted to daven outdoors in a place where one will not be disturbed, which, as I mentioned above, corresponds only to the second opinion in the dispute as to why one should not daven outdoors. Some later authorities prohibit praying outdoors even in an area where one will not be disturbed, because they rule according to the other reason, that of the Mahari Abohav (Mishnah Berurah, 90:11).

The Magen Avraham (90:6) rules that the halachic assumption is that travelers may daven outdoors. The Mishnah Berurah (90:11) writes that if they have an option to daven under trees, that is preferable.

Wall

The verse in Melachim II 20:2 emphasizes that Chizkiyahu, the king of Yehudah, turned to the wall to pray. Based on this, the Gemara (Brachos 5b) derives that one should not pray with something intervening between himself and a wall. The Gemara’s example is that one should not pray facing a bed. Tosafos (s.v. Shelo) explains that this law does not apply to davening facing a piece of furniture that is not regularly moved, such as a bookcase (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 90:21; cf., however, Taz 90:5, who explains this idea in a different way).

Why did Chazal advise that one not pray with something intervening between himself and the wall? The Rambam explains that this is so that one not daven facing something that will distract him (quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 90). For this reason, it does not apply to something being used to help one daven, such as a shtender, table or desk (Taz, Orach Chayim 90:5). It is also permitted to daven facing something lower than 10 tefachim or less wide than four tefachim (Rabbeinu Manoach, Hilchos Tefillah 5:6; Rema 90:21, quoting Avudraham), although there are authorities who disagree with this (Pri Chodosh; Maamar Mordechai 90:25). It is also permitted to pray facing people (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 90:21 and 98:4).

Since the Rambam rules that this law is in the category of things that are preferred but not vital, one who davened facing a bed has fulfilled his mitzvah. Furthermore, one who has nowhere to daven other than facing a bed or some other piece of furniture may do so. The Taz (90:5) rules that if the only convenient place to create a minyan requires davening with something intervening before the wall, one may do so. He contends that since the reason not to have something intervening is only to avoid distraction, one may disregard this problem when it is the best option. The Mishnah Berurah (90:63) rules according to this Taz.

Lodging

One should not pray in a churvah, a partially destroyed building. In the context of this halachah, the Gemara (Brachos 3a) presents the following anecdote. Rabbi Yosi said: Once, when I was traveling, I entered one of the wrecked hovels of Yerushalayim to pray. Eliyahu, may he be remembered for good, arrived and remained at the door of the hovel to protect me, until I completed my prayer. When I completed my prayer, I greeted him as one greets one’s teacher…

Eliyahu proceeded to ask Rabbi Yosi why he had entered a destroyed remnant of a building. Rabbi Yosi replied that he had entered in order to pray in a place that he would not be distracted by other travelers. Eliyahu answered him that he should have recited an abbreviated prayer, rather than enter a churvah to pray!

The Gemara proceeds to explain that there are three reasons why one should not enter a churvah.

Someone might suspect him of using the ruins for sinful activity.

The building might collapse.

Evil spirits might be there.

The Gemara (Brachos 3a-3b) explains that all three reasons are valid, and then elaborates on when some of the reasons apply, but not others. The halachic conclusion is that when there are at least two people and the structure looks stable, none of the three reasons apply, and they may enter the churvah. Therefore, a married couple may enter ruins that look stable, since none of the reasons apply (Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 90: 8). Also, one may enter a churvah in a case of life-threatening emergency, such as when it is the only place available to provide necessary shelter from the elements.

We should note that all three reasons mentioned for not entering a churvah have nothing to do with praying. A person alone may not enter ruins unless there is a life-threatening emergency, such as the need to rescue people from an imminent building collapse.

Outdoors or in a churvah?

If someone has two options for davening, outdoors or in a churvah, where should he daven? We see from the conversation between Eliyahu and Rabbi Yosi that it is better to daven outdoors than in a ruin (Magen Avraham 90:7).

Yerushalayim

When praying in a room, some windows or doors should face Yerushalayim and should be open, as implied by the verse in Daniel (6:11): “He had windows open, facing Jerusalem, in the upper story of his house and, three times a day… he prayed to Hashem.” From this verse, the Gemara (Brachos 31a) and the Rambam derive that one should pray in a building that contains windows. It is interesting to note that the Kesef Mishneh quotes a responsum of the Rambam that the requirement that there be windows applies only to someone davening at home, but not to a shul. However, the custom is to have windows in a shul. The later authorities note that this 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).

We should note that there appears to be a dispute among early authorities as to whether the primary reason that one should pray in a room with windows is so that one can see the heavens, or whether it is so that one look in the direction of Yerushalayim (see Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 90:4). This question will be discussed shortly.

Windows or outdoors?

What should a person do if he has two places in which he could daven, one outdoors and the other indoors in a room without windows. Since the Gemara states that it is a chutzpah to daven outdoors, the Pri Megadim rules that someone with this choice should pray indoors, in the building without windows (Eishel Avraham 90:4). This ruling is subsequently followed by the Mishnah Berurah (90:10).

Twelve windows

There is a practice that a shul has twelve windows. This is based on a Zohar (parshas Pekudei), which is quoted by the Beis Yosef (90) and the Shulchan Aruch (90:4), who says that “it is good” to have 12 windows. As long as at least one of these windows faces Yerushalayim, it does not matter in what the direction the other windows face (Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 90:4; Mishnah Berurah 90:9). Some windows or doors that face Yerushalayim should be open (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 90:4).

This ruling prompts the following question of the Magen Avraham (90:4): Why should a shul have windows? After all, one is supposed to daven by looking downward, to avoid distraction. 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. The Machatzis Hashekel explains, differently, that one is not supposed to look out the windows. He explains that the reason for the windows is so that one realizes that, wherever he is, the tefillah travels first to Yerushalayim and then to heaven.

Conclusion

Having studied many of the laws about proper positioning in davening, let us also use the above mnemonic to realize that we should always daven slowly and meaningfully. Understanding how much concern Chazal placed in the relatively 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.

 

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