Where Does My Shemoneh Esrei End? Part II

clip_image002_thumb.jpgQuestion #1: A proper ending

“Someone told me that I am not required to say the prayer Elokei, netzor leshoni meira at the end of Shemoneh Esrei. Is this a legitimate practice?”

Question #2: Responding in kind

“If I am reciting the Elokai netzor at the end of Shemoneh Esrei while the chazzan is already beginning the repetition, should I be reciting ‘Amen’ to his brachos?”

Question #3: What do I Say?

“I finished Shemoneh Esrei, said the pasuk Yi’he’yu leratzon, but am still standing in the place and position I assumed for Shemoneh Esrei. What may I answer at this point?”

Question #4: Do I Repeat the Whole Thing?

“I just finished Shemoneh Esrei, but I did not yet back up the three steps, and I realize that I forgot to say Yaaleh Veyavo. What do I do?”

Answer:

In Part I of this discussion, we began discussing the question about inserting special individual supplications into our private Shemoneh Esrei, and we learned that there are several places that one may do so. We also discovered that the prayer that begins with the words Elokai, netzor leshoni meira, “My G-d, protect my tongue from evil,” which we recite at the end of the Shemoneh Esrei, is intended to be a voluntary, personal prayer. Although it has now become a standard part of our daily prayer, it is intended to be an individual entreaty to which one is free to add, delete, or recite other supplications instead.

We also learned in last week’s article that the early authorities dispute whether one should recite the verse that begins with the words Yihyu leratzon (Tehillim 19:15) before one begins reciting one’s personal requests. Some authorities ruled that it is required to do so, some ruled that it is optional and some held that it is preferred not to recite the verse Yihyu leratzon until after one completes one’s supplications.

Most of the questions of our introduction relate to the rules of interrupting the prayer during the recital of these individual supplications. During the recital of the Shemoneh Esrei itself, I am not allowed to interrupt to answer any part of our prayer. Since these supplications, including the prayer Elokai, netzor, are not technically part of the Shemoneh Esrei, am I permitted to respond during their recital? Am I considered to still be reciting Shemoneh Esrei while I am saying these personal requests? And does it make a difference whether I have yet recited the verse Yihyu leratzon, since its recital officially ends the Shemoneh Esrei.

To sum up

In last week’s article, we learned that there is a dispute whether one may answer the responses to Kedushah, Kaddish, and Borchu after having completed the nineteen brachos of Shemoneh Esrei, but before one has said Yi’he’yu leratzon. There are three opinions:

(1) One may not insert anything including any personal supplication before one recites Yi’he’yu leratzon (Raavad and Rashba).

(2) One may insert a personal supplication, but one may not answer Kaddish or Kedushah (Rabbeinu Yonah, as understood by Divrei Chamudos and Pri Chodosh).

(3) One may even answer Kaddish or Kedushah (Rabbeinu Yonah, as understood by Rama).

How do we rule?

Among the early codifiers we find all three approaches quoted:

(1) The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 122:1, 2) and the Bach conclude, like the Rashba and Raavad, that one may not insert or recite anything prior to saying Yi’he’yu leratzon.

(2) The Divrei Chamudos rules that one may recite personal supplications before one says Yi’he’yu leratzon, but one may not answer Kedushah or Kaddish.

(3) The Rama permits even answering Kedushah or Kaddish before saying Yi’he’yu leratzon. This is the approach that the Mishnah Berurah (122:6) considers to be the primary one and it is also the way the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (18:15) rules. The Rama mentions that some communities had the custom of not reciting Yi’he’yu leratzon until after they completed saying Elokai Netzor and whatever other personal supplications the individual chose to recite.

After saying Yi’he’yu leratzon

Thus far, we have discussed what one should do prior to reciting the verse Yi’he’yu leratzon. Now we will begin discussing the laws that are effective after one recites this verse.

All authorities agree that once a person has recited the verse Yi’he’yu leratzon, he may add personal prayers to the extent that he wishes. Many authorities hold that it is preferable not to recite supplications when, as a result, one will be required to respond to Kedushah or Kaddish while (Rashba and Shulchan Aruch, as explained by Maamar Mordechai).

Amen during Elokai Netzor

At this point, we will address one of the other questions asked in our introduction:

“If I am reciting the Elokai Netzor at the end of Shemoneh Esrei while the chazzan is already beginning the repetition, should I be reciting ‘Amen’ to his brachos?”

If this person was following the custom mentioned by the Rama and had as yet not recited Yi’he’yu leratzon, then he may not respond “amen” to someone else’s bracha. Even if he has recited Yi’he’yu leratzon, it is unclear whether he may respond “amen” to brachos, as I will explain.

First, an introduction: In general, the different parts of the davening have varying status regarding which responses are permitted. For example, it is prohibited to interrupt in the middle of the Shemoneh Esrei, even to respond to Kaddish or Kedushah. On the other hand, the birchos kri’as shma, the blessings recited before and after we say the Shma, have less sanctity than does the Shemoneh Esrei. Therefore, according to accepted psak halacha, someone in the middle of reciting birchos kri’as shma may respond to Borchu, and to some of the responses of Kaddish and Kedushah. Specifically, he may answer amen, yehei shemei rabba… and the amen of da’amiran be’alma in Kaddish, and may answer Kodosh, kodosh, kodosh… and Baruch kevod Hashem mimkomo during Kedushah. In addition, he may answer amen to the brachos of Hakeil hakodosh and Shomei’a tefillah. He may not answer “amen” to any other bracha, to the other responses of Kaddish, or say Yimloch to Kedushah. (We should note that the above reflects the opinion of many rishonim and is the conclusion of the Shulchan Aruch, but it is not universally held.

The question at hand is: What is the status of davening after one has recited Yi’he’yu leratzon? May one answer Kedushah or say “amen” at this point? There are no allusions in Chazal to direct us what to do, but in a passage of Gemara discussing a different issue there is a oblique hint that may impact on this topic:

“If he erred and did not mention Rosh Chodesh [i.e., he neglected to say the passage of Yaaleh Veyavo, or neglected mention of Rosh Chodesh while reciting Yaaleh Veyavo] while reciting Avodah [i.e., the bracha of Shemoneh Esrei that begins with the word Retzei], then he returns to the bracha of Avodah. If he remembers during Hodaah [i.e., the bracha that begins with the word Modim], then he returns to the bracha of Avodah. If he remembers during Sim Shalom, then he returns to the bracha of Avodah. If he completed Sim Shalom [i.e., recited the closing bracha], then he returns to the beginning [of the Shemoneh Esrei]. Rav Papa, the son of Rav Acha bar Ada, explained that when it said, ‘If he completed, then he returns to the beginning [of the Shemoneh Esrei]’ it means that he uprooted his feet [i.e., he began to take three paces back, as we do prior to reciting Oseh Shalom]; but if he did not ‘uproot his feet’, he returns [only] to Avodah” (Brachos 29b).

The Gemara teaches that someone who forgot to say Yaaleh Veyavo at the appropriate place in Shemoneh Esrei must return to the words Retzei in order to say Yaaleh Veyavo. However, if he completed reciting the Shemoneh Esrei, then he repeats the entire Shemoneh Esrei. What is the definition of “completing the Shemoneh Esrei?

The Gemara presents three rules:

(1) If he took three paces back, he has completed the Shemoneh Esrei, and must start over again from the beginning.

(2) If he finished Shemoneh Esrei and whatever supplication he recites, then he must start over again from the beginning.

(3) If he is still reciting his supplications, he goes back only to Retzei (Brachos 29b).

We see from this Gemara that reciting the supplications at the end of davening is still considered to be part of the prayer. Does this mean that it has the same rules as being in the middle of the Shemoneh Esrei itself as far as interrupting his davening is concerned?

The rishonim discuss this issue. The Rashba (Shu”t Harashba 1:807; 7:405) rules that once one said Yi’he’yu leratzon, the laws of hefsek follow the rules of someone who is in the middle of reciting the birchos kri’as shma. Therefore, he may answer amen, yehei shemei rabba… and amen to da’amiran be’alma in Kaddish, and may answer Kodosh, kodosh, kodosh… and Baruch kevod Hashem mimkomo during Kedushah. In addition, he may answer amen to the brachos of Hakeil Hakodosh and Shomei’a Tefillah.

Answering Amen

May one answer “amen” to any other bracha once one has recited the verse Yi’he’yu leratzon? The Taz (Orach Chayim 122:1) notes what appears to be an inconsistency in the position of the Shulchan Aruch on this matter. To resolve this concern, he explains that there is a difference between someone who usually recites supplications after completing his Shemoneh Esrei, who should not recite amen, and someone who does so only occasionally, who should. Someone who recites supplications only occasionally may interrupt to answer amen once he says Yi’he’yu leratzon, since for him reciting Yi’he’yu leratzon is usually the end of his formal prayer.

However, this ruling would probably not affect us. Since today it is common practice to include Elokai Netzor or other supplications at the end of our daily tefillos, we would be considered still in Shemoneh Esrei, and as a result, we will not be permitted to respond “amen” at this point (Mishnah Berurah 122:1). However, other authorities rule that once one has said Yi’he’yu leratzon, one may even answer “amen” to all brachos (Aruch Hashulchan; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch).

After completing his supplications

Once someone has completed reciting his supplications and recited Yi’he’yu leratzon, he is considered to have finished davening completely, and he may now answer any responses that one should usually recite, including even to answer Boruch Hu uvaruch Shemo when hearing a bracha (Maamar Mordechai; Mishnah Berurah). This is true, even though he has as yet not backed up the three steps.

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 Netzor leshoni addition, and the personal supplications that different people recite may appear identical in words, but they are recited with 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.

 

Where Does My Shemoneh Esrei End? Part I

clip_image002_thumb.jpgQuestion #1: Slow on the draw

“The other day, I was finishing Shemoneh Esrei as the chazzan began Kedushah, but I had not yet recited the sentence beginning with the words Yi’he’yu Leratzon when the tzibur was already reciting Kodosh, kodosh, kodosh. Should I have answered Kedushah without having first said Yi’he’yu Leratzon?”

Question #2: A proper ending

“Someone told me that I am not required to say the prayer Elokei Netzor at the end of Shemoneh Esrei. Is this a legitimate practice? Why don’t the siddurim say this?”

Question #3: Responding in kind

“If I am reciting the Elokai Netzor at the end of Shemoneh Esrei while the chazzan is already beginning the repetition, should I be reciting ‘Amen’ to his brachos?”

Question #4: What do I Say?

“I finished Shemoneh Esrei, said the pasuk Yi’he’yu Leratzon, but am still standing in the place and position I assumed for Shemoneh Esrei. What may I answer at this point?”

Question #5: Do I Repeat the Whole Thing?

“I just finished Shemoneh Esrei but did not yet back up the three steps, and I realized that I forgot to say Yaaleh Veyavo. What do I do?”

Answer: Historical introduction

The Anshei Keneses Hagedolah, called in English The Men of the Great Assembly, were 120 great leaders of the Jewish people at the beginning of the Second Beis Hamikdash period and included such luminaries as Ezra, Mordechai, Daniel, and the last of the prophets, Chaggai, Zecharya and Malachi. To help us fulfill our daily obligation of praying, they authored the “amidah,” our main prayer. Since this prayer consisted, originally, of eighteen blessings we call it the “Shemoneh Esrei,”  a name which we also use when referring to the prayers of Shabbos, Yom Tov, and Rosh Chodesh Musaf, even though those tefillos are always only seven brachos (with the exception of Musaf of Rosh Hashanah, which is nine.) A nineteenth brocha, that begins with the word Velamalshinim (or, in the Edot Hamizrah version, Velaminim), was added later when the main Torah center was located in Yavneh after the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, about 400 years after the original Shemoneh Esrei had been written (Brachos 28b).

Standardized versus subjective prayer

Tefillah includes both standardized and individualized prayers. This article will discuss both types of prayer.

People often ask why our prayers are so highly structured, rather than having each individual create his own prayer. This question is raised already by the early commentators, and there are a variety of excellent answers. One of the answers is that it is far more meaningful to pray using a text that was written by prophets and great Torah scholars. The Anshei Keneses Hagedolah, who authored the Shemoneh Esrei, included among its membership some of the greatest spiritual leaders of all history and also the last prophets of the Jewish people. An additional reason is that many, if not most, individuals have difficulty in structuring prayer properly, and therefore the Shemoneh Esrei facilitates the individual’s fulfilling the Torah’s mitzvah of prayer by providing him with a beautifully structured prayer (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 1:4).

Furthermore, our prayers are structured because of concern that when someone creates his own prayer he may request something that is harmful to a different individual or community, something that we do not want in our prayer (Kuzari 3:19). For example, someone might request that he receive a particular employment opportunity, but that prayer is harmful to another person. The Shemoneh Esrei is written in a way that it protects and beseeches on behalf of the entire Jewish community. We thereby link ourselves to the Jewish past, present and future each time we pray.

In addition, the halachos and etiquette of prayer require that one not supplicate without first praising Hashem, and that the prayer conclude with acknowledgement and thanks. When Moshe Rabbeinu begged Hashem to allow him to enter the Chosen Land, he introduced his entreaty with praise of Hashem. From this we derive that all prayer must be introduced with praise. We also learn that, after one makes his requests, he should close his prayer with thanks to Hashem. All these aspects of prayer are incorporated into the Shemoneh Esrei and may be forgotten by someone composing his own prayer.

When may I entreat?

There are several places in the organized prayer where one may include personal entreaties, such as during the brocha that begins with the words Shema koleinu (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 1:9). In addition to these different places in the Shemoneh Esrei, after one has completed Hamevarech es amo Yisroel bashalom, which is basically the end of Shemoneh Esrei, is an ideal place to add one’s own personal prayer requests. The Gemara (Brachos 16b-17a) lists many tefillos that different tanna’im and amoraim added in this place on a regular basis. Several of these prayers have been incorporated into different places in our davening – for example, the yehi ratzon prayer recited by Ashkenazim as the beginning of Rosh Chodesh bensching was originally the prayer that the amora Rav recited at the conclusion of his daily prayer.

Two of the prayers quoted in the Gemara Brachos form the basis of the prayer that begins with the words Elokai, netzor leshoni meira, “My G-d, protect my tongue from evil,” which has now become a standard part of our daily prayer. This prayer, customarily recited after Hamevarech es amo Yisrael bashalom and before taking three steps back to end the prayer, was not introduced by the Anshei Keneses Hagedolah, and, indeed, is not even halachically required. This prayer contains voluntary, personal entreaties that became standard practice. One is free to add to them, delete them, or recite other supplications instead.

The questions quoted as the introduction to our article relate to the laws that apply to the end of our daily prayer, the Shemoneh Esrei. Chazal established rules governing when we are permitted to interrupt different parts of our davening and for what purposes. Thus, there is discussion in the Mishnah and the Gemara concerning what comprises a legitimate reason to interrupt while reciting the blessings that surround the Shema or during Hallel. However, the status and laws germane to interrupting the supplications one recites at the end of the Shemoneh Esrei are not mentioned explicitly in the Mishnah or the Gemara. Rather, there is ample discussion germane to this issue among the rishonim and the later authorities. This article will provide background information that explains which rules are applied here, when they are applied and why.

Introducing and concluding our prayer

The Gemara (Brachos 4b and 9b) teaches that the Shemoneh Esrei must be introduced by quoting the following verse, Hashem, sefasei tiftach ufi yagid tehilasecha, “G-d, open my lips so that my mouth can recite Your praise” (Tehillim 51:17). The Shemoneh Esrei should be concluded with the verse Yi’he’yu leratzon imfrei fi vehegyon libi lifanecha, Hashem tzuri vego’ali, “The words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart should be acceptable before You, G-d, Who is my Rock and my Redeemer” (Tehillim 19:15). These two verses are considered an extension of the Shemoneh Esrei (tefillah arichta), a status that affects several halachos, some of which we will soon see.

Before or after Yi’he’yu Leratzon?

The first question we need to discuss is whether personal supplications recited after the completion of the Shemoneh Esrei should be included before one recites Yi’he’yu Leratzon or afterwards. When the Gemara rules that one should recite Yi’he’yu Leratzon after completing the Shemoneh Esrei, does this mean that one should recite this sentence before one recites personal requests?

This matter is debated by the rishonim. The Raavad prohibits uttering anything between the closing of the brocha, Hamevarech es amo Yisroel bashalom, and the recital of the verse Yi’he’yu Leratzon. In his opinion, reciting any supplication or praise at this point is a violation of the Gemara’s ruling, which implies that one must recite Yi’he’yu Leratzon immediately after completing the 19 brachos of the Shemoneh Esrei. This approach is quoted and accepted by the Rashba (Brachos 17a).

On the other hand, Rabbeinu Yonah (page 20a of the Rif, Brachos) notes that even in the middle of the Shemoneh Esrei one may insert personal supplications – therefore, inserting personal requests before Yi’he’yu Leratzon is also not a hefsek, an unacceptable interruption.

Yet a third opinion, that of the Vilna Gaon, is that it is preferable to recite supplications before reciting Yi’he’yu Leratzon.

What about Kedushah?

The later authorities discuss the following issue: According to the conclusion of Rabbeinu Yonah, who permits reciting personal supplications before one has recited Yi’he’yu Leratzon, may one also answer the responses to Kedushah, Kaddish, and Borchu before one has said this verse?

The Rama (Orach Chayim 122:1) rules that since one may insert personal requests before Yi’he’yu Leratzon, one may also answer Kedushah or Kaddish. Many disagree with the Rama concerning this point, contending that although inserting a prayer prior to reciting Yi’he’yu Leratzon does not constitute a hefsek, one may not insert praise at this point (Divrei Chamudos, Brachos 1:54; Pri Chodosh, Orach Chayim 122:1). Their position is that one may insert entreaties at many places in the Shemoneh Esrei, but adding anything else that is unauthorized, even praise, constitutes a hefsek. It is for this reason that someone in the middle of the Shemoneh Esrei may not answer Kedushah or the other important congregational responses.

The straightforward reading of the Tur agrees with the Rama’s understanding of the topic (Maamar Mordechai; Aruch Hashulchan 122:6; although we should note that the Bach did not understand the Tur this way.)

To sum up

Thus far, I have mentioned three approaches regarding what one may recite after having completed Hamevarech es amo Yisrael bashalom, but before one has said Yi’he’yu Leratzon.

(1) One may not insert anything (Raavad and Rashba).

(2) One may insert a personal supplication, but one may not answer Kaddish or Kedushah (Rabbeinu Yonah, as understood by Divrei Chamudos and Pri Chodosh).

(3) One may even answer Kaddish or Kedushah (Rabbeinu Yonah, as understood by Rama).

How do we rule?

Among the early codifiers we find all three approaches quoted:

(1) The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 122:1, 2) and the Bach conclude, like the Rashba and Raavad, that one may not insert or recite anything prior to saying Yi’he’yu Leratzon.

(2) The Divrei Chamudos rules that one may recite personal supplications before one says Yi’he’yu Leratzon, but one may not answer Kedushah or Kaddish.

(3) The Rama permits even answering Kedushah or Kaddish before saying Yi’he’yu Leratzon. This is the approach that the Mishnah Berurah (122:2) considers to be the primary one and it is also the way the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (18:15) rules.

The Rama mentions that some communities had the custom of not reciting Yi’he’yu Leratzon until after they completed saying Elokai Netzor and whatever other personal supplications the individual chose to recite. Notwithstanding this custom, many authorities suggest reciting Yi’he’yu Leratzon immediately after completing the words Hamevarech es amo Yisrael bashalom, since this procedure allows someone to answer Kedushah according to all opinions and avoids any halachic controversy (Divrei Chamudos; Magen Avraham). However, according to the opinion of the Gra, mentioned above, this is not the preferable way to add one’s personal supplications to the tefillah.

At this point, we can address the first question asked above:

“The other day, I was finishing Shemoneh Esrei as the chazzan began Kedushah, but I had not yet recited the sentence beginning the words Yi’he’yu Leratzon when the tzibur was already reciting Kodosh, kodosh, kodosh. Should I have answered Kedushah without having first said Yi’he’yu Leratzon?”

Most Ashkenazic authorities conclude that one who has not yet recited Yi’he’yu Leratzon may answer the first two responses of Kedushah, that is, Kodosh. kodosh, kodosh and Baruch kevod Hashem mimkomo. Sefardic authorities, who follow the ruling of the Rashba and the Shulchan Aruch, prohibit responding before saying Yi’he’yu Leratzon.

Notwithstanding that most Ashkenazic authorities conclude that one may answer the first two responses of Kedushah before one has said Yi’he’yu Leratzon, they still prefer that one recite Yi’he’yu Leratzon immediately after closing the brocha Hamevarech es amo Yisrael bashalom. Nevertheless, this last issue is still disputed, since the Gra rules that one should delay reciting Yi’he’yu Leratzon until one finishes one’s supplications. In other words, whatever one chooses to do, he will be right with the Jews.

For Part II of this article, click here.

 

What Is the Bracha Magen Avos and Should We Recite It on Yom Kippur?

Question #1: Where?

Where is the bracha of Magen Avos first mentioned?

Question #2: What?

What is the bracha Mei’ein Sheva?

Question #3: When?

On what occasions do we omit reciting the bracha Mei’ein Sheva?

Answer:

What is the Bracha Mei’ein Sheva?

The bracha Mei’ein Sheva is recited by the chazzan after we conclude the Friday night Shemoneh Esrei, immediately after the congregation recites together the pesukim of Vayechulu. (Although the term Shemoneh Esrei is technically an inaccurate description of the Shabbos davening since it has only seven, and not eighteen, brachos, I will refer to it as Shemoneh Esrei, since that is what it is usually called.) This bracha is called Mei’ein Sheva, literally, an abbreviation of the seven brachos, because it is a synopsis of the seven brachos that comprise the Shabbos tefillah. Some people refer to the bracha as Magen Avos; since this phrase appears at its beginning, it is a common colloquial way of referring to this bracha.

Why did Chazal institute the Bracha Mei’ein Sheva?

In ancient times, the shullen were often located outside the towns in which people lived, and walking home from shul alone at night was dangerous. Chazal therefore instituted this bracha after Shemoneh Esrei, thereby delaying the end of davening so that someone who arrived late would be able to complete his davening and return with everyone else and not be left to walk home alone (Rashi, Shabbos 24b; Mordechai, Shabbos #407; Ran; Meiri).

According to an alternative approach, the bracha Mei’ein Sheva is a form of repetition of the prayer. The individual who arrived late could listen to the chazzan’s recital of this bracha and thereby fulfill his responsibility, even though the chazzan recited only one bracha and the regular Shabbos tefillah is seven (Rav Natrunai Gaon, as explained by Gra, Orach Chayim 269:13).

Although our shullen are no longer located outside the cities, once Chazal established the recital of bracha Mei’ein Sheva, we continue with this practice. Even in the time of the Gemara, it was practiced in places where the shullen were located inside the cities, notwithstanding that there was no danger to walk home from shul alone (Meiri, Pesachim 100b; Ran [on Rif, Pesachim 20a]; Or Zarua, Hilchos Erev Shabbos #20; Kolbo #11, 35).

Mei’ein Sheva instead of Kiddush

Yet another reason is presented why Chazal introduced Mei’ein Sheva. In ancient times, there were occasions when it was difficult to obtain wine for Kiddush Friday night, and Mei’ein Sheva was instituted as a substitute for reciting Kiddush (Yerushalmi, Brachos 8:1 and Pesachim 10:2. This passage of Talmud Yerushalmi is quoted by Tosafos, Pesachim 106b s.v. Mekadeish).

Why do we not recite Mei’ein Sheva on weekdays?

If the reason for reciting Mei’ein Sheva was out of concern that someone delayed might be placed in danger because he would need to return home by himself, why did Chazal not introduce a similar prayer after weeknight maariv, in order to make sure that this delayed individual would not be placed in danger?

The Rishonim raise this question, explaining that in the era when Mei’ein Sheva was established, someone who realized that he was delayed would not have gone outside the city to the shul on a weekday, but would have come home directly and davened at home. On Shabbos and Yom Tov, however, he would not have wanted to miss the davening in shul.

Do we recite Mei’ein Sheva on Yom Tov?

The Gemara rules that the prayer Mei’ein Sheva was instituted only on Friday evening, and not on Yom Tov evenings that did not fall on Fridays (Shabbos 24b). Why was Mei’ein Sheva not said on Yom Tov? Was there no concern of someone arriving late to shul on Yom Tov eve?

In the writings of the Rishonim, I found several answers to this question. One approach is that, although the concern that someone may be left behind may have equally existed on Yom Tov, since the more common situation was on Shabbos, Chazal did not include Yom Tov in the takkanah (see Meiri, Shabbos 24b).

Another approach is that, on Yom Tov eve, people were careful to arrive on time for davening, and there was no concern about individuals arriving late for shul and remaining alone (Mordechai, Pesachim #611).

Yet a third approach is that there are kabbalistic reasons why this danger was a concern only on Shabbos, even when it falls on Yom Tov, but not on a weekday Yom Tov (Kolbo #35).

Based on a statement of the Talmud Yerushalmi that the reason for Mei’ein Sheva was not because of the dangers of walking home alone, but because wine was not always available, some later commentaries present yet a fourth reason why the takkanah was established only for Shabbos and not for Yom Tov. Since most authorities hold that Kiddush on Yom Tov is not required min haTorah (Maggid Mishnah, Hilchos Shabbos 29:18), Chazal did not create a takkanah whose only reason would be to make sure that one fulfills a mitzvah that is miderabbanan (Marei Kohen, Pesachim 117b).

Reciting Mei’ein Sheva when Yom Tov falls on Friday

Do we recite the bracha Mei’ein Sheva when Yom Tov falls on Friday? The reason for reciting Mei’ein Sheva on a regular Shabbos was because people would work late on Friday afternoon, and therefore arrive late to shul Friday evening. However, when Friday was Yom Tov, there would be no reason for someone to be delayed. Nevertheless, the poskim rule that we should recite Mei’ein Sheva even when Yom Tov falls on Friday, notwithstanding the fact that the reason for the takkanah does not apply (Kolbo #52).

Thirteenth century zeal

Actually, the question regarding recital of Mei’ein Sheva when Yom Tov falls on Friday resulted in a very heated dispute during the era of the Rishonim. In the time of the Rivash, Rabbi Amram ben Meroam, a frequent correspondent of the Rivash, sent him the following shaylah:

Reuven was the chazzan for the Friday night davening on a Shabbos that immediately followed Yom Tov. He began reciting Mei’ein Sheva, when Shimon reprimanded him, contending that one should not recite this bracha when Shabbos follows Yom Tov; since no one was working on Friday, the reason for the takkanah did not apply. Levi then got involved, saying that it is accepted that one does recite Mei’ein Sheva on Friday night following a Yom Tov. The shul then burst into a cacophony of voices, with Shimon’s and Reuven’s backers screaming at one another. Finally, Shimon shouted that Reuven was desecrating Hashem’s holy Name since he was willing to recite a bracha in vain, and that if he did, Shimon would declare him to be in cherem, excommunicated! Reuven did recite the bracha Mei’ein Sheva and a day later opened his door to find Shimon and twenty of his backers there to notify him that he had been excommunicated! The Rivash was asked to rule on whether Reuven was indeed in cherem because of Shimon’s declaration that he had recited a bracha in vain, or, perhaps, Shimon should be placed in cherem for excommunicating someone without proper cause.

The Rivash ruled that Shimon was mistaken and that one should recite Mei’ein Sheva when Shabbos follows Yom Tov. Therefore, he concluded that Reuven, who followed the correct halachah, could completely ignore the cherem placed on him. However, he also concluded that since Shimon thought he was acting correctly, it is inappropriate to excommunicate him for his actions (Shu’t HaRivash #34).

Yom Tov falls on Shabbos

When Yom Tov falls on Shabbos, do we mention Yom Tov in the bracha Mei’ein Sheva?

The Gemara rules that when Yom Tov falls on Shabbos, the chazzan makes no mention of Yom Tov since on Yom Tov we do not recite this bracha (Shabbos 24b).

Reciting Mei’ein Sheva on Shabbos Yom Kippur

Do we recite Mei’ein Sheva when Shabbos falls on Yom Kippur? Logically, there is a strong reason that we should not, since no one arrives that late to shul on Kol Nidrei night. Furthermore, the many piyutim recited allow ample time for someone to finish davening and not be left behind. Nevertheless, the poskim rule that we recite Mei’ein Sheva when Yom Kippur falls on Shabbos (Kolbo #70).

Conclusion

The entire law of the bracha Magen Avos teaches a lesson of paramount importance in the powers of our traditions and the respect we show Chazal. The establishment of this bracha takes us back to a period of time thousands of years ago, and a set of circumstances when shullen were all located outside a town’s boundaries. Yet, we continue to observe this mitzvah every Friday night, notwithstanding the fact that the reason for its establishment no longer exists and especially in a world where change has become a constant phenomenon, and opinions become obsolete almost more quickly than they come into style. Chazal’s wisdom is timeless and eternal, giving the Jewish people a stability that the nations, as a whole, and every individual crave.  One way of fulfilling our mission to be “a light unto the nations” is through following the words of Chazal, knowing that they are relevant in all times and all places.

Is It Time for Maariv?

sunset

Question #1:

When is the correct time to daven maariv?

Question #2:

Why is there no repetition of shmoneh esrei for maariv?

Question #3:

Must women daven maariv?

Introduction:

In citing the source for our three daily prayers, the Gemara quotes two approaches. Rabbi Yosi ben Chanina explains that our three daily prayers were founded by our forefathers: Avraham instituting shacharis, Yitzchak mincha, and Yaakov maariv. The source that Yaakov introduced maariv is in the second verse of parshas Vayeitzei, where it says vayifga bamakom and the Gemara explains the word vayifga to mean he prayed. The Gemara also cites Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s statement that shacharis and mincha were established by the Anshei Keneses HaGedolah (the great leaders of Klal Yisrael who lived during the time of the building and the beginning of the Second Beis Hamikdash) to correspond to the offerings that were brought every morning and afternoon in the Beis Hamikdash (see Bamidbar 28:1-8), whereas maariv corresponds to the burning of the remaining parts of these offerings that transpired at night (Brachos 26b).

What we call “maariv” actually fulfills three different mitzvos, and the above-quoted Gemara is referring to only one of these mitzvos, the part called the tefillah, which are the prayers we recite as shmoneh esrei. (The avos did not establish the shmoneh esrei, but the concept that one should daven three times a day. The text of the shmoneh esrei was written by the Anshei Keneses HaGedolah.)

The other two mitzvos that we fulfill when we pray maariv are kriyas shma, whose recital is required min haTorah every morning and night (Brachos 2a), and the birchos kriyas shma, which Chazal instituted to surround the shma with brachos (Mishnah Brachos 11a). These brachos together with the shma constitute the part of the davening between borchu and the shmoneh esrei. (Ashkenazim in chutz la’aretz also add another bracha that begins with the words Baruch Hashem LeOlam between the birchos kriyas shma and the kaddish that precedes the shmoneh esrei.)

Although we are very familiar with how we recite the order of the different parts of maariv, we should be aware that, at the time of the Gemara, this order was a topic of dispute between Rabbi Yochanan, whose opinion we follow, and Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, who contended that the shmoneh esrei of maariv should be recited before shma and the birchos kriyas shma, so that one recites shma closer to the time one retires (Brachos 4b).

Why is there no maariv repetition?

As a preamble to answering this question, let us examine a famous event that occurred shortly after the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, after the main Sanhedrin and its associated yeshiva had been forced to evacuate Yerushalayim and reestablish itself in the city of Yavneh. To understand this anecdote properly, we must realize the historical context that the Beis Hamikdash, which had been the central focus of all organized Torah life, had been recently destroyed, and there was concern whether an organized Jewish community could maintain itself without the Beis Hamikdash.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, then a young student in the yeshiva, posed the following query: Is maariv (referring to the tefillah part) reshus, usually translated as “optional,” or is it required? First he brought his inquiry to the great scholar Rabbi Yehoshua, the rebbe of Rabbi Akiva, who ruled that tefillas arvis reshus. Afterwards, Rabbi Shimon shared his question with Rabban Gamliel, who was the rosh yeshiva and the head of the Sanhedrin, who responded tefillas arvis chovah, the maariv prayer is required.

Rabbi Shimon noted that he had previously heard Rabbi Yehoshua’s opinion to the contrary, to which Rabban Gamliel responded that Rabbi Shimon should wait until all the scholars had arrived in the Beis Hamedrash. After the students entered the Beis Hamedrash, Rabbi Shimon repeated his inquiry, and Rabban Gamliel immediately answered tefillas arvis chovah. Rabban Gamliel then asked whether anyone disputed this, to which Rabbi Yehoshua responded in the negative. Rabban Gamliel challenged Rabbi Yehoshua, announcing that it had been reported that Rabbi Yehoshua had ruled that tefillas arvis reshus. Rabban Gamliel then ordered Rabbi Yehoshua to arise so that they could hear the testimony that he had indeed ruled maariv to be only reshus. Rabbi Yehoshua acknowledged that he had indeed ruled this way. Rabban Gamliel then continued the lecture, without granting Rabbi Yehoshua permission to sit down.

This continued for a short while, until the students objected to Rabban Gamliel’s highhanded treatment of Rabbi Yehoshua. The lecture was stopped, and the decision was reached to remove Rabban Gamliel from his position as rosh yeshiva and as head of the Sanhedrin, and to install Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah in his stead. Eventually, all understood that although the consensus was that Rabban Gamliel was wrong for his strong tactics, his motives were completely sincere. He had been ruling with an iron fist to maintain a central authority for Torah in Klal Yisrael, out of concern that in the absence of such strong authority, the centrality of Torah leadership over Klal Yisrael may dissipate. Eventually, Rabban Gamliel was returned to his position with Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah serving as rosh yeshiva and the head of the Sanhedrin one week in four (Brachos 27b- 28a).

Is Maariv Optional?

Ultimately, the halachic conclusion is that maariv is a reshus. Is maariv really optional? Can one decide every night if he wants to skip maariv?

The Rishonim already note a ruling that appears to contravene the statement that maariv is optional. Someone who missed maariv must recite a makeup prayer, called a tefillas tashlumim, after the next morning’s shacharis. However, this ruling appears to contradict the statement that tefillas arvis reshus. If maariv is optional, why must one make up the missed prayer?

In response to this question, Tosafos explains that when the Gemara states that maariv is reshus, it does not mean that it is optional, but that it is less obligatory than other requirements. For example, should one need to choose between fulfilling two different mitzvos in a situation where one cannot fulfill both of them, maariv is pushed aside (Tosafos, Brachos 26a s.v. Ta’ah). In all other circumstances, one is obligated to recite maariv.

The Rif answers the question in a different way. He explains that indeed maariv is technically not obligatory. However, someone who decided to recite maariv makes it obligatory on himself and must pray correctly, even if he needs to pray a makeup.

Must a Woman Daven Maariv?

Does any other halachic distinction result from this difference of opinion between Tosafos and the Rif? It seems that a difference results regarding whether, according to those authorities who rule that women are obligated to daven shacharis and mincha daily, a woman must also daven maariv daily. According to Tosafos, who contends that maariv is obligatory, a woman should be required to daven maariv daily. This ruling is stated by the Aruch Hashulchan (106:7). However, other authorities rule that women are not obligated to daven maariv since they never accepted it as a responsibility (Graz 106:2; Mishnah Berurah 106:4; cf. Magen Avraham 299:16). This approach reflects the opinion of the Rif that although maariv was originally reshus, since men daven maariv regularly, they must continue to do so, but women, who for the most part do not regularly daven maariv, are exempt from doing so (see Shach, Yoreh Deah 375:14).

Why should Yaakov lose out?

This previous discussion should arouse a question in every one of our readers. Since Yaakov Avinu introduced tefillas maariv, why is it treated “second rate” – why is maariv reshus, and only the tefillos founded by Avraham and Yitzchak are obligatory?

Why is Maariv Different?

To answer this question, let us revert to our previous discussion – where I noted that there were two approaches, one contending that the daily prayers were instituted by our forefathers, and the other maintaining that the prayers were created to correspond to the daily offerings. According to both of these approaches, we can explain why maariv is treated somewhat differently from shacharis and mincha.

According to the interpretation that the forefathers instituted the daily prayers, although Yaakov was the first to daven maariv, he had not intended to daven so late in the day, but Hashem caused the sun to set suddenly, giving Yaakov no choice but to daven after nightfall. Since this davening was performed not as Yaakov’s first choice, but because he had no other option, the prayer instituted this way is reshus (Pnei Yehoshua, Brachos 26b s.v. Mihu).

According to the approach that our prayers correspond to the daily offerings, shacharis and mincha each represent the daily korban tamid that was offered in the Beis Hamikdash. Maariv represents the remaining parts of the daily tamid that were burnt the following night on the mizbei’ach. As such, since this step in the processing of the korban is non-essential, the prayer is also not required (Rashi to Shabbos 9b s.v. Lemaan).

Repetition of Maariv

With this background, we can now answer the question we raised above: Why does maariv not include a chazzan‘s repetition of shmoneh esrei, as is done for both shacharis and mincha. The answer is that although today maariv is obligatory, it is not the same level of requirement as are shacharis and mincha. Since everyone is required to daven shacharis and mincha, Chazal were concerned that unlettered individuals would be unable to fulfill the mitzvah. Chazal therefore instituted the repetition of the tefillah so that those unable to daven otherwise can fulfill their requirement by listening to the chazzan‘s prayer. However, since maariv is reshus, Chazal were less concerned that the unlettered would be unable to fulfill this responsibility and therefore they did not institute a repetition.

When Do We Daven Maariv?

Having established that maariv is indeed obligatory, our next question is: When is the earliest time that one may begin maariv? Indeed, although the Mishnah establishes times for the other prayers, it leaves the time for maariv fairly vague. The accepted halachah is that once the time for davening mincha is over, one may daven maariv (Tosafos, Brachos 2a).

So now we need to resolve: Until when can one daven mincha?

The Mishnah records a dispute between the Tana’im regarding this question. According to the Sages, one is allowed to daven mincha until “the evening,” while according to Rabbi Yehudah, the last time for mincha is “plag hamincha,” which I will soon explain. The dispute between them is dependent on how late one may offer the afternoon korban tamid. According to Rabbi Yehudah, one may offer it only until plag hamincha; whereas according to the Sages, one may offer it until evening (Brachos 26b).

So we now know. According to Rabbi Yehudah, one may daven mincha until plag hamincha, and maariv after plag hamincha, whereas the Sages contend that one may daven mincha until “evening,” and maariv afterwards.

When is Evening?

Of course, now we need to find out when is “evening,” when is plag hamincha, and whether we rule like the Sages or like Rabbi Yehudah.

The authorities dispute whether “evening” here means shortly before tzeis hakochavim, nightfall (see Rama 233:1 and Mishnah Berurah #14) or whether it means sunset (Rabbeinu Yonah; authorities cited by Shaarei Tziyun 233:18). According to the first approach, the Sages hold that one may daven mincha until nightfall but one may not daven maariv until after nightfall. According to the second approach, one may not daven mincha after sunset but one may daven maariv then.

When is Plag Hamincha?

Rabbi Yehudah ruled that the latest time to daven mincha is a point in time called plag hamincha. When is plag hamincha? According to the most commonly accepted interpretation, plag hamincha is calculated by dividing the time between sunrise and sunset into 48 “quarter-hour” segments. The point of time that is five of those segments prior to sunset is plag hamincha. Obviously, each segment will not be exactly fifteen minutes, but will vary according to the length of the day. An easier way to express this is to say that plag hamincha is 1 1/4 “halachic hours” (in Hebrew, sha’os zemaniyos) before sunset, where a “halachic hour” is defined as a twelfth of the time between sunrise and sunset. (There are other authorities who calculate the halachic hours and plag hamincha from halachic dawn, alos hashachar, until nightfall, tzeis hakochavim. In their opinion, plag hamincha is considerably later in the day than it is according to the first opinion quoted.)

Do We Rule like the Sages or like Rabbi Yehudah?

Now that we have discussed the dispute between the Sages and Rabbi Yehudah, we need to know how we rule so that we can determine when is the latest time for mincha and the earliest time for maariv. Most disputes in the Gemara are resolved either by the Gemara itself or by the early halachic authorities. However, in regard to this dispute, the Gemara states something unusual — that one can choose which opinion he wants to follow (Brachos 27a). One wishing to daven maariv after plag hamincha, following the opinion of Rabbi Yehudah, may do so, and one who would rather recite mincha after plag hamincha may follow the opinion of the Sages and do so.

Now our question is:

How consistent must I be? May I follow Rabbi Yehudah’s approach one day and the Sages approach on a different day? What about on the same day – may I daven mincha after plag hamincha following the Sages, and then daven maariv before sunset following Rabbi Yehudah?

Most Rishonim rule that one must consistently follow one of these two opinions. In other words, if one decides to daven maariv before sunset following Rabbi Yehudah, then he must be consistent and always daven mincha before plag. Once he follows Rabbi Yehudah’s ruling in this matter, he may no longer daven mincha after plag — to do so is contradictory (Rabbeinu Yonah, Brachos 18b, s.v. D’avad; Rosh, Brachos 4:3; Tur, Beis Yosef, and Shulchan Aruch 233). Being inconsistent is referred to as following a path that is tarti desasri ahadadi, two approaches that contradict one another, since neither Rabbi Yehudah nor the Sages approve of what he is doing, albeit for different reasons.

Some authorities permit one to follow Rabbi Yehudah on one day and the Sages on a different day, providing one is consistent on the same day by davening mincha after plag and maariv before sunset (Hashlamah and Mordechai, both quoted by Beis Yosef 233).

Notwithstanding this discussion, the frequent practice was to daven mincha and maariv together after plag hamincha, which appears to be inconsistent according to all opinions. Nevertheless, the poskim acknowledge that this was commonly done and suggest different reasons why this practice was accepted, or at least tolerated. Some explain that if this approach was not accepted, many communities would be unable to consistently have a regular minyan, or people would not daven maariv since they would not wait in shul until the later time to daven maariv. As a result, for the sake of tefillah betzibur many authorities allowed the tarti desasri but ruled that someone who davened mincha after plag and is davening maariv privately (beyechidus) must wait until nightfall to daven maariv (Magen Avraham 233:7).

We should note that, according to the accepted halachah, one who davens maariv before nightfall, should recite the full shma over again after nightfall (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 235:1). This is for two different reasons. Firstly, although Rabbi Yehudah ruled that the cutoff time between mincha and maariv is plag hamincha, this is only germane to the shmoneh esrei parts of our davening, whose timing is dependent on the daily tamid offerings as mentioned above. However, the mitzvah of reading shma must be fulfilled at the time people retire for the evening, as the Torah says beshachbecha, and few people retire for the evening before it gets dark. Since the time for reciting the evening shma is when most people might consider it bedtime, one cannot not fulfill this mitzvah until nightfall according to most opinions. (However, see Rabbeinu Tam, quoted by Tosafos, Brachos 2a.)

Secondly, the requirements of davening at a specific time and reciting the birchos kriyas shma are rabbinic in nature rather than Torah mandated, which allows some leniency. However, regarding the Torah requirement of reading the shma, we should follow the stricter approach and recite it again after it is definitely nightfall.

I’ll share one anecdote to show how far we should be concerned that one recites shma after it is dark. One gadol I knew from the previous generation, who established his community in America, was concerned that baalei batim would not recite shma after dark, and thus not fulfill the mitzvah min haTorah properly. He also knew that if the break between mincha and maariv was too long, many would not attend shul regularly. He thus established in his community that they began mincha after sunset, followed by a fifteen minute shiur and then maariv so that people would daven maariv in its correct time. In other words, he decided that the entire community should daven mincha at a time that he himself considered non-optimal according to some poskim, in order to guarantee that everyone recite shma properly in its proper time! Although this approach is certainly not the most accepted, we should all be aware of the many considerations

Contemporarily, most communities have many minyanim scheduled both for mincha and for maariv. An individual can, therefore, with a small amount of planning, daven in a way that he avoids any question of davening tarti desasri.

Must I Repeat My Tefillah?

clip_image002_thumb.jpgQuestion #1: First among equals!?

Why is the first beracha of Shemoneh Esrei, which is called Birkas Avos, different from all the other berachos of Shemoneh Esrei?

Question #2: Wanderings of the mind

Mutti Kulis* calls me with the following predicament:

Despite my best intentions, my mind sometimes wanders during davening, although I really wish I could focus always on building my relationship with Hashem. I recently discovered that the Mishnah Berurah rules that someone saying Shemoneh Esrei who realizes that he recited the first beracha without kavanah should refrain from proceeding until the chazzan’s repetition, and be very attentive to the chazzan’s davening. I tried this once, but did not find this solution practical. The Mishnah Berurah‘s suggestion also does not help my wife, who davens at home. Although I am trying hard to think of the meaning of the words of the first beracha of Shemoneh Esrei, is there a different way to resolve the predicament should I discover at some time in the future that I recited this beracha without kavanah?

Answer:

We should certainly always be careful to think of the meaning of the words every time we praise Hashem. We should be even more concerned when reciting our daily prayers, since they are called avodah shebeleiv, service of the heart, which means our emotional attachment to Hashem. Tefillah means talking directly to Hashem. When davening we should at least be as attentive as we are when engaging in a casual conversation with a friend. Even one who does not know the meaning of every word should pray realizing that he/she is speaking to Hashem. The purpose of prayer is to communicate directly to Hashem, and it is rather obvious that davening inattentively does not achieve its purpose.

To quote the Shulchan Aruch: A person who is praying must focus on the meaning of the words that he is saying and imagine that he is facing the Divine Presence. One must do away with all distracting thoughts so that his focus is undisturbed. One should ponder how he would be attentive and choose his words carefully if he was speaking to a king of flesh and blood; certainly before the King of all kings, the Holy One, blessed is He (Orach Chayim 98:1).

Yet we all know that, unfortunately, we often are unmindful during our davening. The Gemara itself notes that it is inherently human to become distracted during prayer (Yerushalmi, Berachos 2:4; Rosh Hashanah 16b and Bava Basra 164b as explained by Rabbeinu Tam). The question that this article will discuss is: Under what circumstances must one pray again because one was inattentive.

The Uniqueness of Birkas Avos

Although one might think that all the berachos of Shemoneh Esrei should be treated equally, they are not. The first beracha, called “Birkas Avos,” has a very special role to play. In reference to the promises that Avraham receives at the beginning of this week’s parsha, the Gemara comments:

Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said, “when the Torah states, ‘and I will make you into a great nation’ (Bereishis 12:2) this refers to when we say in our prayer, ‘Elokei Avraham’ [The G-d of Avraham]; ‘and I will bless you’ – this refers to when we say, ‘Elokei Yitzchak’; ‘and I will make your name great’ – this refers to when we say, ‘Elokei Yaakov.’ Perhaps the conclusion of the beracha should include all three forefathers? However, the Torah says, ‘and you will be the blessing’ – the conclusion of the beracha mentions only Avraham, not the others” (Pesachim 117b). Therefore, the first beracha of Shemoneh Esrei closes with the words Magen Avraham, that Hashem protected Avraham. We see that much of the structure of Birkas Avos is derived from the beginning words of our parsha.

Kavanah and Birkas Avos

The Gemara teaches: Someone who is praying must be attentive to the entire prayer. If he is unable to pay attention to the entire prayer, then he should focus minimally on at least one of the berachos. Rabbi Chiya quoting Rav Safra in the name of one of the scholars of Rebbe’s yeshiva explained that the beracha requiring attentiveness is Avos (Berachos 34b). Rashi explains that since Avos is the first beracha, failure to concentrate during its recital reveals that the individual is not really interested in davening, in which case it does not constitute a service. However, someone becoming preoccupied by his thoughts after the first beracha does not demonstrate that he did not want to daven, but simply that humans can easily be distracted.

Another reason why attentiveness during Birkas Avos is essential is that Shemoneh Esrei begins with a blessing that focuses on Hashem‘s greatness, which is the entire purpose of prayer. If this blessing was recited without kavanah, one has failed to pray, thus requiring its repetition (Bach, Orach Chayim 101; Mishnah Berurah 101:3).

Should I not daven?

If the entire purpose of prayer is to focus on Hashem‘s greatness, what should someone do if he realizes that because of circumstances beyond his control, he cannot possibly be attentive when he prays? On the one hand, the mitzvah requires him to pray properly, yet this is impossible to achieve.

The Gemara rules that he is exempt from prayer.

Someone whose thoughts are unsettled should not pray… Rabbi Chanina did not pray on a day that he had gotten angry… One who returns from a trip should not pray for three days (Eruvin 65a). Rashi explains that because of the exhaustion of the trip he is not settled enough to pray properly until three days have passed. The Rambam codifies this: Any prayer recited inattentively is not a prayer. Someone who prayed without thinking must repeat the prayer attentively. If he finds that he is distracted, it is forbidden for him to pray until he composes himself. For this reason, someone returning from traveling who is exhausted or distressed may not pray until he composes himself. Our Sages said a person should wait three days until he is rested and calm, and only then should he pray (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 4:15). Thus, we see that someone who cannot have kavanah because of extenuating circumstances, such as illness or exhaustion, is exempt from davening.

Similarly, we find this recorded in another early halachic source, the Semag**: A person should assess himself. If he is able to focus his prayer at least in Birkas Avos, then he should pray. If he is unable to focus this much, then he should not pray (Positive Mitzvah #19).

Beyond our poor power to add or detract

The Shulchan Aruch modifies this conclusion, ruling as follows:

A person should not pray in a place where something will distract him and not at a time when he is distracted. However, now we are not that meticulous about this because we do not concentrate that well in our prayers (Orach Chayim 98:2).

Nevertheless, the Shulchan Aruch still rules that one must have a minimum amount of kavanah to fulfill the mitzvah of praying. To quote him: One who prays must be attentive to all the berachos. If he cannot do so, he should at least focus on the beracha of Avos. And if he was inattentive to Avos, even if he recited the rest of the berachos with kavanah, he should repeat the prayer (Orach Chayim 101:1).

Is it a prayer if it lacked kavanah?

This takes us to a new question. What is the halacha if a person realizes after the fact that he recited the first beracha of Shemoneh Esrei without any kavanah?

The following Talmudic passage discusses our question:

Rabbi Yochanan said: I saw Rabbi Yannai pray, and then pray again (Berachos 30b). Why did Rabbi Yannai pray twice in quick succession? Rabbi Yirmiyah explained that Rabbi Yannai presumably had not prayed the first prayer with proper kavanah, and therefore repeated it. Although the Gemara ultimately rejects Rabbi Yirmiyah’s interpretation of Rabbi Yannai’s actions, the point is still halachically valid: Someone who davened without kavanah should repeat the Tefillah. This regulation is codified as follows: If a person prayed without any kavanah when reciting the first beracha, he should repeat his prayers (Hagahos Ashri, Berachos, end of Chapter 5).

Will I be repeating davening forever?

This ruling may lead to the following predicament: If someone davened the first time without kavanah, perhaps he will daven again without kavanah. What will have been accomplished with the second davening? It is because of this concern that the above rule is adapted in the following statement:

One who davens and did not focus on his prayer, if he knows that he can pray again and focus, he should repeat the prayer, and if not, he should not repeat the prayer (Sefer Hamitzvos Katan***, Mitzvah #11).

This last opinion is expanded by the Tur and, in turn, by the Rama (Orach Chayim 101), who rule that should someone fail to have kavanah during the beracha of Avos, one should not repeat one’s prayer, because of the likelihood that he will not have kavanah the second time around either.

This does not absolve us of the requirement to daven with kavanah, but merely explains that someone who davened without kavanah should not repeat the davening, since there is a good chance that the second davening will be no improvement over the first. For this reason, the Chayei Adam (34:2) rules that we do not repeat the Shemoneh Esrei. However he notes that if the person realizes prior to reciting the name of Hashem at the end of Avos that he did not daven with kavanah, he should return to the words Elokei Avraham and repeat most of the beracha. In this instance, since the beracha was not yet completed, he should attempt to recite the beracha with proper kavanah.

We cannot concentrate, we cannot hallow…

At this point, let us discuss Mutti’s predicament. “Despite my best intentions, my mind sometimes wanders during davening, although I really wish I could focus always on building my relationship with Hashem. I recently discovered that the Mishnah Berurah rules that someone saying Shemoneh Esrei who realizes that he recited the first beracha without kavanah should refrain from proceeding until the chazzan’s repetition, and be very attentive to the chazzan’s davening. I tried this once, but did not find this solution practical. The Mishnah Berurah‘s suggestion also does not help my wife, who davens at home. Although I am trying hard to think of the meaning of the words of the first beracha of Shemoneh Esrei, is there a different way to resolve the predicament should I discover at some time in the future that I recited this beracha without kavanah?”

Mutti is referring to the following point:

The Mishnah Berurah (in Bi’ur Halacha 101:1 s.v. Veha’idna) asks what should one do if, after completing the beracha of Avos, he realizes that he recited the first beracha without kavanah? How can he continue davening if he did not fulfill his mitzvah of praying?

The Mishnah Berurah is assuming that without kavanah the Tefillah had no purpose at all. He therefore feels that the person who is in the middle of davening and realizes that he recited the first beracha without kavanah faces a conundrum. He may not continue davening because this davening is purposeless, and at the same time he may not repeat the beracha he has already recited because of concern that the repeated beracha will also be said without kavanah. The Mishnah Berurah therefore suggests that someone in this predicament should wait until the chazzan repeats the Shemoneh Esrei and have in mind to fulfill his prayer requirement by paying careful attention to the chazzan’s words.

Notwithstanding this analysis, the Mishnah Berurah notes that the Chayei Adam implies that once one has completed the first beracha of Shemoneh Esrei and realizes that he did not have kavanah, he may continue reciting Shemoneh Esrei. The question is why? The answer appears to be that although one is required to pray with kavanah, a prayer recited without kavanah does not have the status of a beracha recited in vain, and the remaining Tefillah is still considered a Tefillah.

Beyond our poor power…

In explanation of this last point, the Kehilos Yaakov (Berachos #26) explains that there are two distinct responsibilities, one to recite prayers and the other to pray with kavanah. One who prayed without kavanah fulfilled one mitzvah but not the other. Therefore, the prayer recited without kavanah is not in vain, and even fulfills a mitzvah, but does not fulfill the greater mitzvah of praying with kavanah.

Rav Elyashiv (published in Madrich Hakashrus Glatt, Volume 20, pg. 143) objects to this approach, contending that we do not find anywhere that there are two distinct different mitzvos involved in prayer. He therefore suggests an alternative approach: someone who prayed without kavanah fulfilled one’s responsibility to daven, but the importance of praying with kavanah allows one who can do so to pray again. Rav Elyashiv compares this to praying a voluntary prayer, a tefilas nedavah. In the time of the Gemara when people usually prayed with kavanah, one who prayed without kavanah was strongly advised to repeat the prayer, this time with kavanah. The Tur and Rama are explaining that when there is a good chance that the subsequent prayer will also be without proper kavanah, one should not pray a second time, because the voluntary prayer is only in order to pray with kavanah, which we cannot guarantee will result.

Praying when unsettled

However, both the Kehilas Yaakov and Rav Elyashiv’s approaches are difficult to sustain in light of the following passage of Gemara, which we mentioned above:

Someone whose thoughts are unsettled should not pray… Rabbi Chanina did not pray on a day that he had gotten angry… One who returns from a trip should not pray for three days (Eruvin 65a).

According to both the Kehilas Yaakov and Rav Elyashiv, how can the Gemara rule that someone who is unsettled should not pray? One who fails to pray abrogates the mitzvah of prayer, which they hold one fulfills even if the prayer lacks kavanah? The above Gemara implies that there is no point to pray if he will not have kavanah.

These unsuccessful prayers shall not be berachos in vain

Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach (Halichos Shelomoh, Tefillah I pg. 99) presents a different approach that explains the Chayei Adam‘s ruling beautifully. Indeed, one who prayed without the minimum kavanah did not fulfill the mitzvah of Tefillah. However, these berachos are still praises to Hashem and are therefore not considered to be in vain, notwithstanding that one did not fulfill the mitzvah of Tefillah. According to this analysis, reciting Shemoneh Esrei without any kavanah at all did not fulfill the mitzvah of Tefillah, but the nineteen berachos recited were all “kosher” berachos.

Rav Shelomoh Zalman rallies support to his approach from the fact that we train children to daven, knowing full well that they are not going to have kavanah. If indeed this is considered a beracha levatalah, how could we do this?

He therefore concludes that although a prayer without kavanah does not fulfill the mitzvah of Tefillah, it is nevertheless a valid beracha. It will count towards one’s requirement to recite 100 berachos every day, which would certainly not be so if the beracha was in vain.

Now, what happens if someone finds himself in Mutti’s predicament? After completing the first beracha of Shemoneh Esrei, he realizes that he failed to have kavanah. The poskim rule that he should not repeat the davening. However, following the ruling implied by the Chayei Adam, he may continue his Tefillah and the berachos do not have the status of berachos levatalah, notwithstanding that he will not fulfill the mitzvah of Tefillah.

Although the Kehilos Yaakov and Rav Elyashiv proposed different approaches to resolve the question at hand, they also agree with the conclusion that Mutti may complete his Tefillah.

Conclusion

Certainly, one should do whatever one can to make sure to pay attention to the meaning of the words of one’s Tefillah, and particularly to the first beracha of Shemoneh Esrei. Nevertheless, according to the Kehilos Yaakov, Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach, one who failed to have kavanah on his first beracha may continue with his Tefillah.

* The name has been changed to protect his privacy.

** The author of this last statement is one of the Baalei Tosafos, Rabbi Moshe of Coucy, in his magnum opus, the Sefer Mitzvos Hagadol, which is usually called by its Hebrew acronym Semag. Although this work is not used today as one of the primary sources in deciding halacha, for a period of several hundred years this was one of the main, if not the primary source for halacha among Ashkenazic Jewry. Among the proofs that demonstrate this is the huge number of early commentaries written on it, and that it is one of the sources in halacha footnotes in the margin of the Gemara by the annotator Ein Mishpat. Although in the course of time, the Rosh and the Tur (and then later the Rama) supplanted the Semag as the main halachic source for Ashkenazi Jewry, it is still quoted extensively by the Beis Yosef and later commentaries.

*** Shortly after the Semag authored his work, which encompasses all the halachos that the Gemara teaches, organized according to the 613 mitzvos, a different Baal Tosafos, Rav Yitzchak of Corveille, authored a briefer work that summarizes the halachos of the mitzvos that we can practice during the time of the churban when living outside of Eretz Yisrael. His work is called Sefer Hamitzvos Katan and is usually referred by the acronym Semak to distinguish it from the monumental work of the Semag.

For What May I Pray?

Question #1:

“Rabbi, this is a very unfortunate and painful question. My grandfather is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and no longer recognizes us. Should we continue to pray that he recover?”

Question #2:

I received this question as an e-mail:

“Dear Rav: I have an extended family member who is, unfortunately, involved in spreading non-Torah ideas. Recently, he was diagnosed with cancer. May I pray for his recovery, knowing that if he recovers he will probably continue to influence people away from Torah?”

Question #3:

“I am a baal teshuvah. May I pray that my non-observant family members find their way to Torah?”

Introduction:

All three questions above revolve around the same halachic issue: The Mishnah (Brachos 54a) and the Gemara (Brachos 60a) rule that one may not recite a prayer in vain. The Mishnah rules that, for this reason, one may not pray for something that has already happened. The Mishnah’s example is that someone who hears of a tragedy occurring in a place where he has family should not pray that this tragedy did not affect them.

What else is included under the heading of a prayer in vain? Does praying for someone to recover from a medical condition that appears to be non-reversible qualify as praying in vain? Am I permitted to pray that something miraculous occur? Analyzing the issues involved not only provides a clear halachic perspective on our daily mitzvah to pray to Hashem, but also clarifies some important hashkafah issues.

The Sefer Chassidim

The earliest source that analyzes the questions I mentioned above is the Sefer Chassidim (#794):

“A person may not pray for something that is impossible under normal circumstances, for, although the Holy One, Blessed is He, could make it happen, one is not permitted to request something that is beyond the natural order of the world. It is therefore forbidden to pray that Hashem perform a miracle that changes the way the world normally functions.”

We see that we are not permitted to pray that Hashem perform miracles in order to influence and intervene in human matters. (We should note that some authorities contend that a person who has reached an elevated level of faith is permitted to pray for a miracle, but this subject is beyond the scope of this article.) It would seem to me that praying for the recovery of someone suffering from Alzheimer’s to the extent that he does not recognize his closest family members would qualify, according to the Sefer Chassidim, as a tefillas shav. Similarly, I have been told by highly reliable sources that the Chafetz Chayim did not pray for a refuah sheleimah for those smitten by cancer, since in his day the disease was incurable. (Today, when faced with an “incurable” cancer, one may pray that the researchers discover a cure quickly.) I know of great tzaddikim who, when asked to pray for people with incurable ailments, pray that Hashem treat the patient with mercy. One may also pray that the person’s condition not get worse (see Tosafos, Bechoros 38b s.v. Vesimaneich).

We will now examine a different case to see if it is considered a prayer in vain.

Chizkiyahu’s Prayer

Chizkiyahu, who was one of the most righteous and scholarly kings of all time, was severely ill and racked by pain when Yeshayahu the Prophet visited him. Yeshayahu had been commanded by Hashem to notify Chizkiyahu that he (Chizkiyahu) should inform his household of his final wishes, and that, furthermore, he would not merit Olam Haba. When Chizkiyahu asked why he was being punished so severely, Yeshayahu answered him, “Because you did not marry.”

To this, Chizkiyahu responded that he had not married because he knew through ruach hakodesh that he would have a son who would be very evil and cause many others to sin. His decision to remain single was completely for the sake of heaven — it was a tremendous personal sacrifice, made expressly to decrease the number of evildoers in the world. Notwithstanding his intention to increase Hashem’s honor, Yeshayahu told Chizkiyahu that he had no right to overrule the Torah’s commandment (Nefesh HaChayim 1:22). Yeshayahu explained that it is not our place to get involved in the secret ways in which Hashem runs His world – our job is merely to obey and fulfill His commandments, and Hashem does what He sees fit.

At this point, Chizkiyahu asked to marry Yeshayahu’s daughter, hoping that their combined merits might overturn the Divine decree that Chizkiyahu’s child would be evil. To this request, Yeshayahu responded: “It is too late. There is already a Divine decree that you will die.”

Chizkiyahu retorted: “Close up your prophecy and be gone! I have a mesorah from my grandfather, David HaMelech, that even if a sharp sword rests upon your neck, it is still not too late to pray” (Brachos 10a).

At this point, Chizkiyahu turned to the wall in prayer, and his prayers were heard. He was granted fifteen more years of life (Melachim II 20:1-6).

Analysis of the Dispute

We see that there was a halachic dispute between Yeshayahu and Chizkiyahu as to whether praying that a prophecy not be fulfilled is considered a prayer in vain. Yeshayahu may have held that since he had already received a prophetic verdict regarding Chizkiyahu’s prognosis, praying for a different outcome constituted a prayer in vain (see Tosafos, Moed Katan, 21a s.v. De’i). Alternatively, he may have held that this prophecy had the status of a gzar din she’yeish imo shavua, a heavenly decree accompanied by a heavenly oath, which can only be annulled by a prayer of the public (Rosh Hashanah 18a). Chizkiyahu held that the prophecy did not preclude the possibility that his prayer could be successful. Indeed, his prayer was answered. Thus, we see that although one may not pray for something that is clearly miraculous, one may pray for something that defies a prophecy, particularly if the prophecy is about a punishment, and the person has done teshuvah for the evil for which he was to be punished (Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 10:4).

Praying for Sinners

At this point, I would like to address the second of our opening questions: May I pray for the recovery of someone who influences people to turn away from Torah? Although this may not seem as if it qualifies as a tefillas shav, we will soon see that it indeed may be.

Again, to answer this question, I will turn to a ruling of the Sefer Chassidim (#688):

“One should not pray for the recovery of someone who caused people to sin and is now ill. The same approach should be followed regarding someone who prevents the community from performing mitzvos. In addition, one should not pray that someone who caused many others to sin do teshuvah, if some of those people [those that he caused to sin] have already died, because the prayer will not help.”

The last part of this ruling seems a bit unusual. Why is the halachah whether I may pray for him dependent on whether some of the people that he influenced are dead?

The commentaries explain that this ruling of the Sefer Chassidim is based on the following Gemara:

Kol hamachati es harabim, ein maspikin beyado laasos teshuvah, whoever causes the public to sin is not given any opportunity to do teshuvah (Yoma 87a).

The Gemara explains that it is intolerable that the one who caused others to sin reach gan eden, while those whom he led into transgression languish in gehennom. To avoid this happening, Hashem will not assist someone to do teshuvah if the person caused the public to transgress.

The Sefer Chassidim rules that as long as all the misguided followers live, Hashem will assist their leader to do teshuvah, since his followers might join him on the proper path. Once some of his followers have died and have arrived in gehennom, Hashem will not assist him to teshuvah. It is therefore inappropriate at this point to pray that he find his way to Torah, since praying is asking Hashem to help, and Hashem will not help in this situation. However, the Sefer Chassidim adds: “One may pray that he stop causing others to sin.”

Only if he qualifies as an Intentional Sinner

Although the Sefer Chassidim prohibits praying that this evil leader do teshuvah, he attaches an important factor to this decision: “If he is influencing them because he is a shogeig [someone who violates the Torah because of ignorance, error or negligence – that is, he does not realize how grievous a sin he is committing], then one may pray that he recover from his illness.” The example that the Sefer Chassidim chooses for someone who is deemed to be shogeig is someone who has no tzadik, no righteous individual, near him to influence him as to how to return to Torah. “However, if he was reproved appropriately by a tzadik and ignored the reproof, he is considered to be someone who violates halachah intentionally.”

Based on the Sefer Chassidim, we can answer the second question raised above: “I have an extended family member, who is, unfortunately, involved in spreading non-Torah ideas. Recently, he was diagnosed with cancer. May I pray for his recovery, knowing that if he recovers, he will continue to influence people away from Torah?”

The answer is: if the family member qualifies as a shogeig, I can pray that he recover. If he qualifies as a meizid, one who is sinning intentionally, not only should I not pray that he recover, but, if some of those whom he influenced have died, I may not pray that he do teshuvah, according to the Sefer Chassidim, although this may be permitted according to others. In all instances, I can pray that he stop influencing people in a harmful way.

An Alternative Reading of the Text

It is important to note that our editions quote the Gemara (Yoma 87a) that is the basis of the Sefer Chassidim’s ruling with a slight textual variation that has profound halachic significance. Our version reads kol hamachati es harabim, kimat ein maspikin beyado laasos teshuvah, which translates as whoever causes the public to sin will be given almost no opportunity to do teshuvah. The text quoted by the Sefer Chassidim omits the word “kimat.” According to our text, it should be perfectly fine to pray that this evildoer do teshuvah, even though some of his followers have already died. Although Hashem will not provide him with the usual measure of assistance that He gives to help people do teshuvah, the person may still merit some assistance in his endeavors.

Praying that my Friend do Teshuvah

Rav Yonah Landsofer, a great halachic authority and kabbalist of early Seventeenth Century Prague, was asked the following question: A Jewish resident of Izmir, Turkey, had left the Jewish community and converted to a different religion, taking with him his young son. Could they pray that this apostate do teshuvah and return to Judaism? In his volume of responsa called Shu”t Me’il Tzedakah (#7), Rav Landsofer addresses this issue, first asking whether such a prayer qualifies as a tefillah in vain.

All is from Heaven, except…

The Me’il Tzedakah notes that Hashem declared that everything is under His control except for yiras shamayim, fear of Heaven, which He deliberately chose not to control so that people could earn reward – otherwise, there would be no reward and punishment in the world. To quote the Gemara:

“It is declared before each child is born whether it will be strong or weak, wise or foolish, wealthy or poor. But, it is not declared whether it will be evil or righteous, because everything is in Hashem’s hands, except for an individual’s fear of Heaven (Niddah 16b).”

Thus, the possibility exists that praying for a sinner to repent qualifies as a prayer in vain, since Hashem already decided that He would not interfere in man’s decisions.

So, we need to decide whether requesting that Hashem influence someone do to teshuvah means asking Hashem to do something that He has chosen not to do, which is the definition of a prayer in vain.

Removing one’s Free Choice

Notwithstanding the Gemara’s statement that it is not predetermined what direction in life a person will choose, the Me’il Tzedakah notes that Hashem may, and indeed does, take away free choice from people when He feels it is necessary. Among the several proofs he rallies to this conclusion is the verse in Mishlei (21:1), “The heart of a king is in the hands of Hashem,” which means that a king loses some of his free choice, although he does not realize it. (Isn’t it amazing how many people are eager to become president of the United States, although it means that they will lose some of their free choice!) Thus, praying that Hashem influence someone to do teshuvah does not qualify as a prayer in vain, even if I were to be praying that Hashem take away the person’s free choice in the process. Certainly, praying that he be exposed to positive influences that would encourage his involvement and return to Judaism does not constitute a tefillas shav. However, this might involve a different halachic issue:

A Second Reason

Based on this background, the Me’il Tzedakah asks whether praying that someone do teshuvah may not be correct for a different reason: Hashem has chosen to allow man to decide whether he should do good or evil, and my praying for someone to do teshuvah may be interfering with Hashem’s realm. He questions whether a person should ask Hashem for matters that do not affect him personally, since this may be getting involved in “the secrets of Hashem.” In other words, one should pray for things that affect one’s self, but whether someone else merits honoring Hashem is Hashem’s domain, and not a place for prayer.

For sure, a person should pray that Hashem help him keep the mitzvos — we have many such prayers. But, may one pray that someone else do teshuvah?

Rabbi Meir and Beruria

The Me’il Tzedakah notes that this discussion will depend on how we understand the famous dispute between Rabbi Meir and his wife, Beruria.

There was a group of troublemakers in Rabbi Meir’s neighborhood who were causing him great distress, and Rabbi Meir wanted to pray that they die. His wife, Beruria, said to him: “Why do you feel this way? Because the verse [Tehillim 104:35] says that chata’im should cease from the world? However [noted Beruria], the verse does not say chote’im, which clearly means sinners, but says chata’im, which can be interpreted to mean that which causes sin (that is, their yetzer hora). Furthermore (proceeded Beruria with her lesson), the continuing part of the verse reads, uresha’im od einam, and the evildoers no longer exist — if the sinners are destroyed, then there is no need for the verse to repeat itself and say that there are no evildoers. Instead, you should pray that they do teshuvah.” Indeed, Rabbi Meir prayed for them to do teshuvah, and they repented (Brachos 10a).

The Me’il Tzedakah contends that the troublemakers disturbing Rabbi Meir did so because they did not know Torah; had they known Torah, they would have behaved differently. In other words, they were not inherently evil, but misinformed, and it was, therefore, appropriate to pray that they discover the proper approach to Yiddishkeit, which would help them keep mitzvos. This is not considered a prayer in vain, since the people were inherently sincere, and would have sought to be yirei shamayim, had they known what that was.

The Me’il Tzedakah also offers another possibility for praying that Rabbi Meir’s adversaries do teshuvah, the fact that this takes away their free choice notwithstanding: because he was praying to help himself – after all, he was suffering from them, and therefore, he was entitled to pray that they do teshuvah to relieve his own suffering. This is not considered mixing into Hashem’s affairs, but praying for something that affects me.

In the context of this discussion, I think it is important to note that Rav Hirsch, in his commentary to Tehillim, explains the difference between chote’im and chata’im differently. Chote’im means people who sin occasionally, and this is something that will always be. Chata’im means those for whom sinning is part of their character. Dovid HaMelech is declaring that there should be no more people who sin, not as an occasional error or temptation, but as part of their lifestyle or temperament.

Chazon Ish’s approach

At this point, I should like to note that the Chazon Ish appears to disagree with the way the Me’il Tzedakah explains that Hashem does not decree whether someone do teshuvah. The Chazon Ish writes that, indeed, Hashem does not influence whether a person becomes a yarei shamayim or whether he does teshuvah unless someone prays on his or her behalf. However, when one person prays for another that another person do teshuvah, Hashem will help (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim page 256). Therefore, when one prays for another person whose behavior affects an innocent party, such as a sinful adult caring for an innocent child, Hashem will help in the child’s merit.

Praying for the Apostate

At this point, the Me’il Tzedakah returns to his original question: may one pray that someone who has chosen to live an evil life return to the Jewish fold? The Me’il Tzedakah presents two reasons why one may.

1. A parent may daven for his child to do teshuvah, because the parent suffers greatly; therefore, the parent is davening to Hashem, asking Him to alleviate his own suffering, which is permitted. Therefore, this apostate’s parents could pray for his return.

2. In the case at hand, the apostate had taken his son with him — a young child who would be raised bereft of contact with the Jewish community. One who feels anguish for the Shechinah because this young child will be raised outside of Yiddishkeit could pray for the child’s return. And if the most obvious way to return this child to Yiddishkeit would be through his father’s return, then one may pray that Hashem bring the father back to Yiddishkeit. This is not a prayer in vain, since sometimes Hashem will force someone to do teshuvah — as explained above.

The Eye of a Needle

The Me’il Tzedakah then quotes a prayer that he found, which he says was written with tremendous accuracy.  The prayer is for a chazzan to say privately prior to leading services on a fast day, similar to the prayers that our chazzanim recite prior to musaf on Yomim Nora’im. In these prayers, the chazzan notes that even the most stubborn evildoers occasionally feel remorse or doubt about what they are doing. The chazzan then asks Hashem to accept this sense of remorse as if these people are attempting the first steps toward teshuvah. If they are attempting to do teshuvah, then they will merit tremendous Divine assistance to repent, as we are aware of from the following, frequently-quoted Midrash.

“Hashem said to Israel: ‘My sons, merely open for me an opening to do teshuvah as large as the eye of a needle, and I will expand for you openings wide enough that wagons can drive through'” (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 5:2).

The Me’il Tzedakah rallies proof that this is an acceptable prayer from the following Midrash:

“A person who sees a place where an idol was destroyed should recite the brocha: ‘She’akar avodas kochavim mei’artzeinu.’ He should then add: May it be Your will, Hashem Elokeinu, that you uproot it (idolatry) from all places, and bring back the hearts of those who worship it to serve You with a full heart.'”

The Midrash then asks: “Is this not considered praying on behalf of evildoers?” Rabbi Yochanan answered, “There is hope for the greatest sinners.”

The Me’il Tzedakah explains this Midrash to mean that even the greatest sinners may be returned to service of Hashem, and that it is always appropriate to pray that someone find his way back to Hashem. (He notes that his approach seems to disagree somewhat with that of the Sefer Chassidim.) Even the apostate who left the Jewish community of Izmir occasionally doubts the correctness of his new path, and one can pray that Hashem view this as a desire to do teshuvah and open the gates for him, helping him in his return.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, we see that both the Sefer Chassidim and the Me’il Tzedakah conclude that, under most circumstances, someone who feels tremendous grief over the evildoing of certain individuals may pray that Hashem do whatever is necessary to bring them to teshuvah.

Proper Prayer Rejoinders, or To Brich or not to Brich

Yaakov, a relative newcomer to Yiddishkeit, visited a new community and davened each prayer at a different shul. He noticed that in each shul, the responses to Kaddish were different, which he found surprising. His rabbi explained to him the background.

When hearing Kaddish, we say “Amen” at several places in addition to saying the very important “Amen, y’hei shmei rabba mevorach le’olam ule’almei almaya”. (The poskim dispute whether one should also add “yisbarach to this sentence, the Shulchan Aruch [Orach Chayim 56:3] ruling that one should, and the Gr”a ruling that one should not.) In addition, Ashkenazim respond to the words, shmei dekudsha brich hu, His holy name, blessed is He, by repeating the Chazan’s words brich hu. (Nusach Sefard and Sefardim say Amen at this point.) However, most people do not realize how late this response of brich hu came into practice and also are not familiar with the halachos regarding it; many times one may not recite this response as it constitutes an interruption. The goal of this article is to explain both the historical background of brich hu, and when we should and should not recite it. We will also discuss when to respond to the other responses of the Kaddish.

The Gemara (Brachos 3a; Sotah 49a) mentions Kaddish and lays special emphasis on responding Amen, y’hei shmei rabba mevorach le’olam ule’almei almaya with fervent feeling. The poskim accentuate the importance of not talking while someone is reciting Kaddish. One should pay careful attention to the recital of the Kaddish and know to which praise of Hashem one is responding (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 56:1).

CHRONICLE OF A RESPONSE

What exactly is brich hu?

The words brich hu, are Aramaic for “blessed be He,” and are a repetition of two of the words of the Kaddish just said by the chazzan at that point viyis’halal shmei dekudsha brich hu li’eila min kal birchasa ve’shirasa… da’amiran be’alma ve’imru amen, exalted be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He Who shall be praised… beyond all blessing and song… that are declared in the world. And respond: Amen.

When did responding brich hu become a standard part of davening? Surprising as this may seem, no early poskim mention a custom of responding with just these two words. The custom started about four hundred years ago when it was not unusual to find people responding at this point of Kaddish with a refrain similar to the one we recite. The Taz (Orach Chayim 56:3) reports a practice to accentuate the praise of Hashem by joining the Chazzan at the point when he reaches the words shmei dekudsha, His holy name, by accompanying him when he recites the three words brich hu li’eila, which means that the Congregation recited words that translate as Blessed is He above. The Taz condemns this practice harshly since these three words may imply an unintended blasphemous statement — that Hashem is blessed only above, but not below. Therefore, the Taz rules that one should continue by reciting the subsequent three words, thus resulting in the following praise, brich hu li’eila min kal birchasa, which translates as Blessed is He above all blessing. This clarifies one’s intent and removes any concern about blasphemy. However, contemporary Ashkenazic practice does not recite this elongated response, but instead reduces the response to the two words, brich hu, blessed be He, which also accomplishes praising Hashem with no hint of blasphemy. Some Hassidic circles indeed follow the advice of the Taz and recite brich hu li’eila min kal birchasa.

This explains the origin of the custom to recite brich hu to Kaddish. What we still do not know is when we may not recite it. Explaining these halachos requires some introduction.

BARUCH HU UVARUCH SHEMO

The response brich hu is similar to our response Baruch Hu uvaruch shemo, blessed is He and blessed is His name, which we recite upon hearing Hashem’s name articulated as part of a bracha. The first halachic authority to mention this practice is the Rosh about 800 years ago. The Tur (Orach Chayim 124) states, “I heard from my father [the Rosh] that every time he heard a bracha he would say Baruch Hu uvaruch shemo. He based this practice on the pasuk that states, “When I call Hashem’s name, bring forth greatness to our G-d” (Devorim 32:3), thus upon hearing Hashem’s name, one should add a praise of one’s own. The Rosh added another halachic source for this practice based on the following translation of the pasuk, “Remember a tzadik for blessing” (Mishlei 10:7). This verse teaches that even when mentioning the name of a righteous human being one should bless him; if so, one should certainly bless Hashem when mentioning His name.

Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 124:5) rules that one should respond Baruch Hu uvaruch shemo whenever one hears a bracha. Nevertheless, one may not answer this refrain during birchos keriyas shma or during pesukei dezimra (Magen Avraham 124:9; Mishnah Berurah 124:21). Why not?

WHAT RESPONSES ARE PERMITTED WHILE RECITING THE BIRCHOS KERIYAS SHMA?

The part of davening following Borchu until the shmoneh esrei is called the birchos keriyas shma, because it consists of the brachos established by the Anshei Keneses HaGedolah (the leaders of the Jewish people in the era of Ezra, Mordechai and Esther, during the period prior to and the beginning of the second Beis HaMikdash) before and after reciting Shma. The Mishnah (Brachos 13a) teaches that although usually one may not interrupt these brachos, certain circumstances warrant disrupting them. For example, one may greet an unfamiliar person if one suspects that the person may become angry if one does not welcome him (Bach and Magen Avraham, Orach Chayim 66:2).

However, there is one place during this part of the davening that is so important that one should not interrupt unless it is a life-threatening emergency. This is while saying the pesukim of Shma Yisroel and Baruch shem kovod malchuso li’olam va’ed (Shulchan Aruch 66:1).

==It is not clear cut what the halacha is regarding responses to davening while one is davening. The Rishonim dispute whether one may respond to Borchu, to Kedusha, and Amen yehei shmei rabba to Kaddish during the birchos keriyas shma. The Rosh (Berachos 2:5) disputes with his rebbe, the Maharam Rotenberg, who prohibited this practice. Those who prohibited this practice contended that one may not interrupt the brachos of keriyas shma for the sake of a different praise, such as responding to Kaddish or Kedusha. Those who permitted held that responding appropriately to Hashem’s praises is no worse than responding to the greeting of a person, which is permitted under certain circumstances, as mentioned above.

The poskim conclude that one may answer the following responses while reciting the birchos keriyas shma:

A. “Amen, y’hei shmei rabba mevorach le’olam ule’almei almaya” in Kaddish.

B. “Amen” to the Chazzan’s da’amiran be’alma in Kaddish, but not at the other places in Kaddish (Chayei Odom 20:4).

C. One answers “Boruch Hashem hamevorach la’olam va’ed” to Borchu, whether the Borchu before birchos keriyas shma or the one that precedes an aliyah (Magen Avraham 66:6).

D. “Kodosh kodosh…” and “Boruch kvod Hashem mimkomo” in Kedusha. However one should not respond to the other parts of Kedusha we traditionally say, even the sentence beginning Yimloch (Ateres Zekeinim).

E. “Amen” to the brachos of Ha’Keil Hakadosh and to Shma Koleinu (Rama 66:3).

F. The words “Modim anachnu Loch” recited in response to the Chazan’s saying Modim in the repetition of Shmoneh Esrei (Rabbeinu Yonah, Brachos 7b; Mishna Berurah 66:20).

HALLEL AND MEGILLAH

The Gemara (Brachos 14a) discusses whether the same rules that apply to interrupting the birchos keriyas shma also apply to the full Hallel and recital of the Megillah. The Gemara questions whether the rules governing the birchos keriyas shma should be stricter than those for Hallel and Megillah, since the requirement to recite keriyas shma is min haTorah, whereas the mitzvos of Hallel and Megillah are only rabbinic in origin. Alternatively, the Gemara suggests that since both Hallel and Megillah publicize miraculous events, perhaps the rules of interrupting them should be stricter. The Gemara concludes that we should treat the rules of birchos keriyas shma Hallel and Megillah the same. Thus, all the responses listed above are recited when one is in the middle of Birchos keriyas shma, Hallel, or hearing the Megillah.

The poskim debate whether someone holding in the middle of the birchos keriyas shma may respond amen when he hears someone recite the brachos before or after an aliyah. Magen Avraham (66:6) rules that one should recite Amen to these brachos, whereas the Pri Megadim questions this practice. The Mishna Berurah (66:18) concludes that he may recite amen if he is between two of the brachos, such as he has just completed “Yotzeir HaMeoros” or “HaMaariv Aravim.”

This dispute is based on an interesting story. Someone was once delayed in davening, and was in the middle of the birchos keriyas shma when he was called up to the Torah for an aliyah. May he recite the brachos on the Torah even though it is an interruption in the middle of birchos keriyas shma?

The Sefer HaManhig ruled that he should accept the aliyah and recite the brachos (Tur 66). Not accepting an aliyah when one is called to the Torah is an insult to Hashem’s honor, and certainly Hashem deserves at least as much honor as the honored individual discussed earlier. Therefore reciting the brachos has the same status as greeting a person who deserves honor and may be recited during the birchos keriyas shma. The Magen Avraham apparently holds that answering amen to these brachos has the same halachic status as the Sefer HaManhig’s aliyah case and therefore one should recite this amen even in the middle of birchos keriyas shma. The Pri Megadim disputes with the Magen Avraham feeling that this amen is no different from amen to any other bracha.

However, the Rashba (Shu”t HaRashba 1:185) disagrees with the Sefer HaManhig’s conclusion, ruling that someone in the middle of this part of davening who is called to the Torah should not go up, but someone else should take his aliyah instead (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 66). The Shulchan Aruch (66:4) follows the latter opinion, whereas most other opinions rule that he should take the aliyah and recite the brachos, but be careful not to interrupt in any other way (Magen Avraham 66:8).

A THUNDERING BRACHA

The poskim also dispute whether he may recite the bracha on thunder while in the middle of birchos keriyas shma. Magen Avraham 66:5 rules that one should, whereas the Bechor Shor (Brachos 13a) disagrees, contending that one should interrupt one praise of Hashem, the Shma, with another, the bracha on thunder. The Chayei Odom reaches a compromise, ruling that one should recite the bracha if he is between the brachos of keriyas shma, but not in the middle of a bracha. This last dispute remains unresolved (Mishna Berurah 66:19). Thus, if someone hears thunder while reciting Hallel or the birchos keriyas shma, or reading or hearing the Megillah, it is his choice whether to recite the bracha or not. He might want to ask his posek in advance what to do.

Although usually one should recite the bracha Asher Yatzar immediately after washing one’s hands when leaving the lavatory (see Shulchan Aruch 165:1), one should not recite it during birchos keriyas shma but should postpone its recital until after Shmoneh Esrei (Mishna Berurah 66:23). The same policy should follow during Hallel or Megillah; he should wait to recite Asher Yatzar until after Hallel and Megillah and their concluding brachos are completed.

The poskim dispute whether one may recite amen to a different bracha that one hears when he is between two brachos of birchos keriyas shma. Some contend that he may recite amen after hearing any bracha, since he is currently between brachos (Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 66:7). Others contend that he may only recite amen to the bracha that he just recited, such as he heard the end of the bracha from the chazzan or from a different individual (Chayei Odom 20:4).

TALIS AND TEFILLIN

What if someone did not have talis and tefillin available before davening, and they become available during birchos keriyas shma? May he recite a bracha prior to donning them or does the bracha qualify as a hefsek during the brachos?

The Rishonim debate this issue. Rashi’s rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchak the son of Rabbi Yehudah indeed recited the bracha before donning both his talis and his tefillin, and brought proof to his actions from the Gemara (Brachos 14b):

The great Amora Rav once began reciting keriyas shma and its brachos without having tefillin. Immediately after he completed Shma, his messenger brought him the tefillin, so Rav immediately donned the tefillin prior to reciting Shmoneh Esrei, and presumably recited the bracha before putting on the tefillin even though he was in the middle of the birchos keriyas shma.

Similarly, Rabbi Yitzchak the son of Rabbi Yehudah reasoned that in a similar situation when he first received talis and tefillin immediately before Shmoneh Esrei he reasoned that he should recite the bracha before donning either one. Tosafos (ad loc.) however disagrees with Rabbi Yitzchak the son of Rabbi Yehudah, reasoning that one is required to wear tefillin while davening and therefore donning them is a requirement of the tefillah. As such the bracha before also is not an interruption. However, one is not required to wear a talis during davening, and therefore the bracha before donning it should not preempt the laws of hefsek.

How do we conclude?

The Shulchan Aruch (66:2) rules like Rabbi Yitzchak the son of Rabbi Yehudah that he should recite both the bracha on the talis and the bracha on the tefillin; this is the practice of the Sefardim. The Rama rules like Tosafos that he should only recite the bracha on the tefillin but not on the talis.

WHAT RESPONSES ARE PERMITTED DURING PESUKEI DEZIMRA?

The Anshei Keneses HaGedolah established that one should recite daily praises written by Dovid HaMelech at the beginning of davening (Zohar, Parshas Terumah). We introduce these passages of praise, Pesukei Dezimra, with the bracha of Baruch She’amar and conclude them with the bracha of Yishtabach. The bracha of Yishtabach does not begin with a bracha begins it is linked directly to the bracha of Baruch She’amar. Because these two brachos are linked, one may not interrupt between the two brachos for anything that is not part of the davening. For this reason, it is strictly forbidden to talk during the Pesukei Dezimra (Tosafos, Brachos 46a s.v. kol; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 51:4). Similarly, it is forbidden to answer Baruch Hu uvaruch shemo during this part of davening (Magen Avraham 124:9; Mishna Berurah 124:21). Although it is appropriate to praise Hashem this way when His name is mentioned, one does not interrupt praising Him to do so.

Some poskim contend that interrupting Pesukei Dezimra is halachically equivalent to interrupting the birchos keriyas shma; according to this opinion, one who hears a bracha from someone else during Pesukei Dezimra may not answer Amen to the bracha (Mishkenos Yaakov #68). Other poskim contend that one may answer Amen to any bracha while in the middle of Pesukei Dezimra, and even while in the middle of the bracha of Baruch She’amar (Magen Avraham 51:3). The consensus is that although it is clearly forbidden to talk during the Pesukei Dezimra, answering Amen to any bracha is permitted. Furthermore if someone needs to recite Asher Yatzar, or to recite the bracha on thunder or lightning, one may do so during Pesukei Dezimra and one may certainly answer the responses listed above in Kaddish, Borchu and Kedusha during this part of davening (Mishna Berurah 51:8. Nevertheless, Chayei Odom [20:3] rules that one should not recite Asher Yatzar until after Shmoneh Esrei.). However, reciting brich hu during Pesukei Dezimra is similar to reciting Baruch Hu uvaruch shemo and constitutes an interruption during Pesukei Dezimra. Thus, although many people are unaware of this halacha, someone in the middle of Pesukei Dezimra when the chazzan begins reciting Kaddish may not answer brich hu to the Kaddish or to the amen at the beginning of Kaddish. On the other hand, although he should answer Amen, y’hei shmei rabba mevorach le’olam ule’almei almaya and the amen at da’amiran be’alma. He may answer amen to the bracha of Yishtabach.

AFTER YISHTABACH

One may not interrupt between completing Yishtabach and beginning the next part of the tefillah (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 51:4), although if one needs to recite a bracha it is better to do so after completing Yishtabach before answering (or saying) Borchu then during the Pesukei Dezimra. For this reason, if someone did not have tzitzis or tefillin available before davening, and they become available during davening (or if he must begin davening when it is too early to recite a bracha on them) he should put them on immediately after Yishtabach and then recite the brachos on them. Better to recite these brachos between Yishtabach and Borchu (or the beginning of the next bracha) then to do so afterwards.

WHEN MAY ONE NOT SAY BRICH HU

We have seen that although it is a mitzvah to recite baruch hu uvaruch shemo upon hearing Hashem’s name said as part of a bracha, one may only say it in a place where one may interrupt. One may not say these words when one is in the middle of Pesukei Dezimra and certainly not once he has begun the brachos after Borchu. Brich hu, which is of later origin, should be treated the same way. Therefore, one may not recite this refrain when one is in the middle of Pesukei Dezimra or in the middle of birchos keriyas shma. Thus someone who is lagging behind the tzibur and has not yet completed Yishtabach when the Chazan begins the Kaddish should answer Amen Yehei Shma Rabba..., and the amen at the completion of the Kaddish, but should not recite “Brich hu.” In addition, since the Amen at the end of “shmei rabba” (and in Nusach Sfard after “meshichei”) is only custom, he should not recite these either while in the middle of Pesukei Dezimra and certainly not while in the middle of the birchos keriyas shma.

APPRECIATING KADDISH

For the many years Reb Zalman Estolin spent as a slave laborer in Soviet Siberia, he obviously had no minyan, nor any opportunity to answer Amen, y’hei shmei rabba. Upon his redemption from the Soviet Union, he moved to Eretz Yisroel as an old, ill man. The very first morning in Eretz Yisroel, he arose early to walk to shul on his crutches, full with the excitement that he would be davening with a minyan for the first time in decades!

Two hours after davening should have been over, Reb Zalman had not yet returned to his host’s home. The concerned family sent someone to look for the older man, and discovered him sitting in the shul. When asked why he was still there, Reb Zalman answered, “When my minyan ended, another began. And then another. I just could not bear to miss the opportunity to recite Amen, y’hei shmei rabba one more time.” (Just One Word by Esther Stern.)

We should always be zocheh to recite Amen, y’hei shmei rabba with this type of enthusiasm!

Pesukei Dezimra: Fulfilling Hashem’s Only Desire

Ron Goldstein, who is seeking to find his way into observant Judaism, is having a casual conversation with Yosel Schwartz, an Orthodox accountant who often invites him over often for Shabbos. As usual, Ron is peppering Yosel with questions:

“Recently, I began praying daily, and I have even begun to attend synagogue occasionally. I have many questions regarding both the prayers and the practices I see there.”

Of course, Yosel is more than happy to answer Ron’s questions.

“I would really appreciate it if you could provide me with background to some of the prayers. I see that there is a lot of structure and that various sections of the prayer are very dissimilar from one another. Some parts are consecutive blessings, others include extensive Biblical passages; some are praises, others are straightforward supplications. I have been told that the two most important parts of the morning and evening prayers are the Shma and the Shemoneh Esrei, and I have been reciting these parts for a few months now. But at this point I would like to understand some more about some of the other parts of our prayer. Could you help me?”

“Certainly; where would you like to start?”

“I am really curious to know more about the Psalms we read towards the beginning of the prayers. Psalms are really inspiring. But I also know that the Book of Psalms is fairly large. Why do we always recite the same ones every day; why not just read consecutive passages each day as an introduction to the prayer? This would familiarize people with the whole beautiful book.”

It is interesting that Ron noticed the beauty of the Psalms David Hamelech bequeathed to the Jewish people. Indeed, it seems that David Hamelech was aware of the tremendous responsibility Hashem placed upon him to provide a link between Man and Hashem. This is evidenced in the following verse: “For an eternal covenant He placed in me” (Shmuel II 23:5). Although most commentaries explaing that this verse refers to the eternity of his royal dynasty, which will soon return with Moshiach, it certainly also alludes to David’s unique role as the Psalmist of mankind.

Tehillim Each and Every Day, makes Certain we do not Stray

Yosel points out to Ron that the Psalms have indeed been organized into daily readings that enable one to complete them every week or month. Ron sounds interested in making this a regular practice, certainly a laudatory observance. Yosel points out that the purpose in reciting parts of Tehillim during davening is not to create familiarity with the entire book, but something else altogether. In Yosel’s own words:

“To answer your question, I need to provide you with some background to this part of the prayer, which is called Pesukei Dezimra, Verses of Song. Two Talmudic references provide the earliest basis for this part of our daily prayer.  One source teaches that reciting Psalm 145 every day guarantees one a share in olam haba, the World to Come (Berachos 4b).” (Yosel is aware that an alternate reading [girsa] of this Gemaraattributes the reward to someone who recites this psalm three times every day. This is why we recite Ashrei, which includes this Chapter of Tehillim, three times a day, twice in Shacharis and once during Mincha.Yosel did not want to sidetrack the conversation with this information.)

Hashem Provides for All, even those without Wherewithal.

“What is unique about this Psalm that its recital merits such a special reward?” Ron inquired.

“The Gemara explains that this Psalm includes the verse beginning with the words Posayach es yodecha, which praises G-d who opens His hands to provide for all creatures. One must make sure to recite this verse with much focus (Tur, Orach Chayim 51), as we thereby internalize the fact that Hashem supervises over all his creatures and provides all their needs.

“In addition, the alphabetical acrostic of this Psalm demonstrates that King David intended that it be easily memorized and utilized by all of mankind (Rav Hirsch, Tehillim 25:1).

“The verses of this chapter that follow Posayach es yodecha also include many basic tenets of Judaism. They note that Hashem’s deeds are also justified; and that He is close to all who seek him truthfully, fulfills their desires, and protects them. It is critical to recite these passages with full focus on their significance. One who recites the verse Posayach es yodecha without thinking about its meaning is required to read it again, since he has missed the message of the passage. Some authorities conclude that if he completed the Psalm, he should repeat from the words Posayach es yodecha to the end of the Psalm (Mishnah Berurah 51:16).”

Begin the Day with G-d’s Praise, so that we Merit the Sun’s Rays

Ron replied: “This is really a nice, meaningful passage, and it certainly sets the tone for devotion and interacting with G-d, which is one of the beauties of Judaism. However, according to my references, this is only one Psalm among several others that we read.”

Yosel continues his explanation: “True. In another Talmudic passage, the great scholar, Rabbi Yosi, mentions his yearning to receive the special reward granted to those who recite the Pesukei Dezimra daily (Shabbos 118b). Also, reciting these praises with the proper awareness guarantees that our subsequent prayer will be accepted (Abudraham).

“The early authorites dispute how many Psalms Rabbi Yosi included in his Pesukei Dezimra. While Rashi mentions only Psalm 148 and Psalm 150 (presumably in addition to 145), the Rambam includes all of the last six Psalms of Tehillim as the kernel of Pesukei Dezimra. Accepted halachah follows the Rambam (Tur, Orach Chayim 51), and therefore we recite all six Psalms, but in extenuating circumstances we follow Rashi’s opinion. For example, someone with insufficient time to recite the entire Pesukei Dezimra with the tremendous focus it deserves and still be ready to begin the Shemoneh Esrei together with the congregation may omit the three extra Psalms that the Rambam includes and rely on Rashi’s opinion. We actually rule that one may delete even more sections of Pesukei Dezimra to enable one to begin the Shemoneh Esrei together with the congregation.”

Together we shall Pray, and then look Forward to a Wonderful Day!

“Why is it so important to begin the prayer together with everyone else?”

“Unfortunately but realistically, we sometimes do not focus when we recite our prayers. In reality, prayers recited without proper thought should accomplish nothing and may even be harmful. Imagine someone who has the opportunity for an audience with a human king and arrives late, out of breath, and distracted. If his conversation is unfocused, he will probably be thrown into a dungeon for his disrespect! How much more so when talking to the King of kings!

“When our prayers fall short of what they should be, we deserve to have them rejected. There is one consolation, however. When a community prays together, G-d always accepts their prayers (Gemara Berachos 8a).”

Concentrate on Ashrei, and we will Focus while we Pray

“I now understand why Ashrei is an important prayer,” said Ron, “But I see in my Siddur that besides Psalm 145, that the Ashrei prayer also includes three other verses from Psalms, two before Psalm 145 and one after.”

“I see you’ve been paying a lot of attention to the prayers.”

“The Siddur I use notes the Biblical source of every prayer, so it does not really involve a lot of paying attention. Praying the way you are describing does require a lot of concentration. But I am eager to try. After all, for many years G-d meant little in my life – now that I understand how important He is to me, I am trying to pray daily with meaning. I truly enjoy these six Psalms because each one emphasizes a different aspect of G-d’s magnamity. But could you explain why we begin with the verse Ashrei, which is ‘borrowed’ from elsewhere in the book?”

“The Halachah recommends spending some time in quiet meditation prior to praying (Berachos 30b). This makes it easier to focus on the essence of prayer and what we are trying to accomplish.The source cited for this law is the verse Ashrei, usually translated as ‘Happy is he who dwells in Your house; he will continually be able to praise You.’ I would note that Rabbi Hirsch, a great Nineteenth Century scholar, explains the word Ashrei a bit differently. According to his explanation, the verse means: ‘He who dwells in Your house is constantly striving forward in his life; providing his life with more meaning.’ Either interpretation emphasizes the importance of not racing into our prayer, but spending time meditating over the smallness of man and the greatness of G-d before we approach Him with our daily requests.

Pesukei Dezimra Every Day and one’s Concerns will go away.

“My own experience is that involving oneself in Pesukei Dezimra not only helps one daven the entire tefilah on a completely different level, but also rouses one’s sense of bitachon. In David Hamelech’s own words “The G-d of Yisroel told me… the righteous will rule over man, he will prevail through his fear of Hashem” (Shmuel II 23:3).

“In modern Hebrew, bitachon means security or defense; and bituach means insurance. Both of these uses cloud the issue:

Yisrael Betach BaHashem, the Jewish people can trust only in Hashem. Only through arousing our sense of Hashem’s power and providence can we possibly find any comfort. In the words of the Chovos HaLevavos, ‘He who does not trust in Hashem, places his trust in something else.’”

“I certainly identify with this, perhaps more so, since I am so familiar with the way people live ‘out there.’ I find these Psalms extremely powerful.”

Baruch She’amar – A Song of Desire

Ron is ready with his next question: “I notice that while the Pesukei Dezimra contains only Biblical quotes, my Siddur notes no Biblical quotes in the introductory passage.”

“Because these passages are so important and comprise their own special mitzvah of praising G-d, we introduce and conclude with special blessings, just as we recite blessings before and after eating, and before performing mitzvos. The introductory prayer, which begins with the words Baruch She’amar, begins by blessing G-d ‘who said and made,’ a quality unique to Hashem. He both says and performs, whereas all else in the world either orders or acts (Avudraham). Baruch She’amar includes hints to all of Creation by alluding to the Ten Statements with which Hashem made the world. To quote the Tur (Orach Chayim 51): ‘One must recite Baruch She’amar with song and sweetness because it is a beautiful and desirous song.

The concluding blessing of Pesukei Dezimra begins with the word Yishtabach. In order to avoid any interruption between these berachos, one may not interrupt from the time one recites Baruch She’amar until the end of davening (Shulchan Aruch 51:4). The Medrash reports that when the verse speaks of someone ‘who is afraid because he has sinned’ it refers to a person who spoke during Pesukei Dezimra.”

Singing David’s Song will keep us from Steering Wrong

Ron notes that while Baruch She’amar states that we use the songs of David, Your servant, to praise Hashem, not all the verses in Pesukei Dezimra come from Psalms.

“Although a few passages in Pesukei Dezimra are from other authors, the vast majority were written by King David. Even the two sections taken from Divrei Hayamim (Chronicles) are actually quotes of King David that appear in those books.

“Among the notable exceptions is the very end of Pesukei Dezimra where we recite Az Yashir, the Song that the Jewish people sang after miraculously crossing the Red Sea. This epic is considered the song of praise of the Jewish people and therefore merits its special place in the daily Pesukei Dezimra. It is singled out as such a special praise, that halacha requires one to sing  it daily as if one personally  experienced this miraculous manifestation of G-d’s presence.

“Notwithstanding all its wondrous virtues, there is still somehalachic controversy whether it should be recited as part of Pesukei Dezimra or not.”

“How so?”

“The Rambam, perhaps the greatest scholar of the last thousand years, mentions the recital of Az Yashir after Yishtabach, not before. Apparently, since King David did not author Az Yashir, the Rambam feels that it should not be included between the two blessings; only passages that are authored by King David should be included. I am personally unaware of any community that currently follows this practice.”

Hodu – Before Baruch She’amar or After?

Ron is ready with his next question: “I have noticed that some congregations begin Pesukei Dezimra with Baruch She’amar, while others begin with a different passage. What is the rationale behind these two different approaches?”

“King David taught this song to be sung on the day that Aron, which held the Ten Commandments, was brought to the City of David, in the city of Jerusalem (Divrei Hayamim I 16). Later they were sung to accompany the daily offerings in the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, until the Beis Hamikdash was built (Seder Olam, Chapter 14). Thus, they are praises that are directly associated with the offerings of the Jewish people and at the same time they are beautiful praises that reflect on the early history of the Jewish nation.

The question is whether we should recite them as part of the regular Pesukei Dezimra, albeit it placing them closer to the part of the prayer when we discuss the offerings, or whether they are said as a sequel to korbanos and prior to Pesukei Dezimra. Ashkenazic practice follows the first approach and Sefardic the latter – two old customs, both cited by early authoritative sources (Tur).”

Pesukei Dezimra: Fulfilling Hashem’s Only Desire

“Could you sum up in a few words what we have learned today?”

“Rather than my words, I will cite a great early scholar, the Ramban: ‘All that Hashem desires from this world are 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, broadcasting: We are your creations!’” (Ramban, Shemos 13:16).

To this Ron replied : “You just mentioned that the community should recite the praises together. In my visits to different synagogues, I have noticed that in the Sefardic community the entire congregation recites these prayers in unison. In many other synagogues, someone begins and ends each passage aloud so that everyone can read from the same place. It seems from your description that this is the proper way one should recite these prayers.

“However, in some shuls that I frequent the prayers seem far more chaotic. Although these shuls are, thank G-d, very crowded and well attended, people arrive at different times and each person starts praying by himself. No one leads the services until after Pesukei Dezimra is complete, and they are certainly not said in unison. I must admit that I do not find this part of the services very attractive. It certainly does not fit the beautiful description you just gave me.”

Yosel shifted uncomfortably, realizing that Ron is absolutely correct. “It is embarrassing to admit that we are not doing what we should be,” he began. “Your criticism is extremely well founded. Would you be willing to come with me and speak to the Rabbi of our congregation about the problem? I admit that the problem has bothered me for a while, but I have not had the gumption to do anything about it. Perhaps you can help me?”

Ron realized that he had turned the tables. He had come as an outsider sharing something that bothered him. He had expected to receive an answer that he would not foresee; similar to Yosel’s other brilliant answers. He did not expect to be the person Yosel would appeal to for help in what appeared to be some type of crusade. But Yosel’s face indicated that he was sincere in his request. Not knowing the rabbi, Ron was uncertain what to expect, but at the meeting hefound the rabbi more than accomodating.

“I have wanted to introduce this in the shul for a long time,” the rabbi said after listening to their complaint. “The old minhag in all communities always included someone leading the services from the very beginning of Berachos. Why and when this practice changed is not for our discussion now, but I would like your help in changing the practice in our shul.”

In Conclusion, the Congregation’s Resolution

Ron became a very active member of the shul, although his attire initially looked fairly dissimilar from most other members. His input as an “outsider” was happily accepted. And as Ron morphed into Reuvein and learned how to use the Hebrew Siddur fluently, his unflagging enthusiasm for Pesukei Dezimra spurred major change not only in himself and in his good friend Yosel, but also to Congregation Bnei Torah. Ultimately, his enthusiasm and initiative spiritually permeated the entire world.

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