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.

 

The Significance of Vehu Rachum

Question #1:

“I was once told that there are places in the long Vehu Rachum prayer where one should stop and wait to hear keriyas haTorah. What are they, and why?”

Question #2:

“Why is the prayer Vehu Rachum recited only on Monday and Thursday?”

Question #3:

“In some shullen that I attend, there is often a bang on a shtender with an announcement that today is the yahrzeit of some great rebbe, and therefore we will skip Tachanun. What is the source of this practice?”

 

Answer:

This week, since we begin reading about the Mishkan, the forerunner of the Beis Hamikdash, of which it says ki beisi beis tefillah yi’karei, I am sending an article about the special prayer that we say on Mondays and Thursdays that begins with the words Vehu Rachum. The original article was written many years ago for parshas Shemos, and I am including the original introduction.

Our parsha mentions that when the king of Mitzrayim died, vayei’anchu bnei Yisrael min ha’avodah, vayiz’aku, vataal shav’asam el haElokim, that the Jewish people sighed and cried out, and that their cry for help (shav’a) rose to Hashem. Three different terms for prayer are mentioned in this verse. Indeed, the Hebrew language has almost twenty words to describe different types of prayer. This week is a good time to study a special prayer of ours – one that represents a different type of prayer.

What is the significance of the special prayer that begins with the words Vehu Rachum?

Vehu Rachum is the lengthy prayer recited on Monday and Thursday mornings on days when we say Tachanun (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 134:1). There is a very moving story concerning the origin of this prayer. After the destruction of the Second Beis HaMikdash, a boatload of fleeing Jews was captured by a cruel, anti-Semitic ruler. Discovering that they were Jews, he decreed that he would throw them into a fiery furnace, just as Nevuchadnezzar had cast Chananyah, Mishael, and Azaryah into a fiery furnace for refusing to worship idols.

The unfortunate Jews requested thirty days to prepare themselves for their fate. During those days, one of the older Jews dreamt of a pasuk that mentions the word “ki” twice and the word “lo” three times, but he could not remember it. A wise elder realized that the pasuk was Ki sa’avor bamayim itcha ani, uvaneharos lo yishtefucha. Ki seileich bemo eish lo sikaveh, velehavah lo siv’ar boch, “I will be with you when you pass through water; the rivers will not overcome you. When you pass through fire, you will not be singed, and flame will not burn you” (Yeshayah 43:2). The elder declared that this was clearly a sign from Hashem that just as they had been saved from the sea, so they would be saved from the conflagration.

After thirty days, the wicked ruler ordered that a huge fire be lit, and the old man entered it first. The fire separated into three sections, and three tzaddikim appeared. The first began to recite a prayer to Hashem beginning with the words Vehu Rachum, ending with the words melech chanun verachum attah. (In most printed editions that I have seen, these are the first three paragraphs of the prayer.) The second tzaddik added an additional prayer, beginning with the words Anna melech, chanun verachum, again ending with the words melech chanun verachum attah. (In the siddurim, these are the next two paragraphs of the prayer.) The third tzaddik completed the prayer. The fire remained split in three and no Jews were harmed. The prayers recited by all these three tzaddikim is the Vehu Rachum prayer that we recite on Mondays and Thursdays (Kolbo #18).

We can now answer one of the questions asked above:

“I was once told that there are places in the long Vehu Rachum prayer that one should stop and wait to hear keriyas haTorah. What are they, and why?”

Presumably, it is preferable to stop, if possible, at a place which is the end of one of the original three tefillos.

Why is this prayer recited on Mondays and Thursdays?

What sets apart these days from the rest of the week?

Moshe Rabbeinu ascended Mount Sinai to receive the second set of luchos on a Thursday, and returned with them forty days later on a Monday. Hashem’s decision to give Moshe these luchos clearly implied that the Jewish people were forgiven for the sin of the Golden Calf. As a result, Monday and Thursday became etched into the calendar as days of repentance and divine favor for the Jewish people. This is why these days are chosen for fasting and special prayers in times of need, such as during a drought or during Bahab, the three fast days observed a few weeks after Pesach and Sukkos.

What is the order after Shemoneh Esrei?

Ashkenazim recite Chapter 6 of Tehillim while “falling Tachanun.” After this, they say the prayer Shomer Yisrael, while still sitting, and then they begin the prayer Va’anachnu lo neida. The first three words, Va’anachnu lo neida, are recited sitting, after which one stands up to recite the rest of the prayer. On Monday and Thursday mornings, Vehu Rachum is recited while standing before Tachanun is begun.

 

According to Sefardic (Edot HaMizrach) custom, Shemoneh Esrei is followed by Viduy (confession) and then by the Thirteen Attributes of Hashem’s mercy (Hashem, Hashem, Keil, Rachum…). These are both said standing, and then one sits down to recite Chapter 25 of Tehillim, which is the primary part of Tachanun. On Monday and Thursday mornings, the Vehu Rachum prayer is recited after the Tachanun.

In nusach Sefard (the custom of those descended from Eastern European Jewry based on Hassidic influence), Shemoneh Esrei is followed by Viduy and by the Thirteen Attributes of Hashem’s mercy. These are both said standing, after which one sits down to recite Chapter 6 of Tehillim while “falling Tachanun.” This is followed by the prayer Shomer Yisrael, which is said while still sitting, and then by the prayer Va’anachnu lo neida. On Monday and Thursday mornings, the Vehu Rachum is recited between the Thirteen Attributes and Tachanun.

 

Is it more important to say Vehu Rachum or to say Tachanun?

What happens if there is insufficient time to recite both Vehu Rachum and the rest of the Tachanun together with the tzibur?

It seems that one should recite Tachanun with the tzibur and “Vehu Rachum” after davening.

It should be noted that the commentaries dispute what is included in the takanah of reciting Vehu Rachum. Some contend that the takanah is to say Vehu Rachum, and to say it while standing (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 134:1), whereas others explain that the takanah included only reciting Vehu Rachum, but did not require one to stand (Levush). (They all agree, however, that one should recite Vehu Rachum while standing.)

Vehu Rachum should be treated with the kedusha of the Shemoneh Esrei (Magen Avraham). Therefore, there are those who contend that it should be said quietly (Rama 134:1). However, the Beis Yosef rules that one may say Vehu Rachum aloud, as is the custom of many people.

When do we omit saying Vehu Rachum?

Vehu Rachum is omitted on days that we do not say Tachanun, which include Yomim Tovim and minor festivals.

The Gemara mentions that Tachanun is not recited on Rosh Chodesh (Bava Metzia 59b), because it is considered a minor Yom Tov (see Shibbolei HaLeket).

Why is Tachanun omitted on Yomim Tovim and minor festivals?

Apparently, since Tachanun is a very serious prayer, and a person may become overcome with emotion while reciting it, it was felt that reciting it on these occasions would detract from the day’s celebration.

Numerous customs are recorded concerning when Tachanun is omitted. Records of this topic go back over a thousand years. In the time of the Geonim, Rav Amram Gaon’s yeshivah recited Tachanun even on Chanukah and Purim, whereas in Rav Hai Gaon’s yeshivah, they did not (Shu’t Rivash #412). There were places in Bavel where the custom was to recite Tachanun on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Shabbos Shuvah (Shu’t Rivash #412), something that we would find extremely unusual. Every community should follow its custom.

We omit Tachanun between Yom Kippur and Sukkos because the Beis HaMikdash was completed during these days, and there was great celebration (Beis Yosef, quoting Shibbolei HaLeket).

Some communities have adopted the practice of omitting Tachanun on the yahrzeit of a great tzaddik. However, virtually all poskim frown on this practice (Shu’t Shoel Umeishiv 5:39; Shu’t Yabia Omer 3:11; see Chayei Moshe 131:4:4, quoting the Rebbes of Ger, Satmar and Munkach).

It is an accepted practice not to say Tachanun when a chosson is in attendance during the entire week after his wedding. The Magen Avraham (131:12) rules that we omit Tachanun until exactly a week after the moment of the wedding. Some contend that the chosson should not deprive people from saying Tachanun, and therefore rule that a chosson should not come to shul the entire sheva berachos week (Taz 131:10)! This is the way the Mishnah Berurah rules (131:26).

There is also a dispute as to whether we recite Tachanun when a chosson is present on the day ofhis wedding. The Magen Avraham contends that Tachanun is not said, while the Taz holds that it is. Each community should follow its custom or the psak of its rav.

There are many other dates or special occasions when the accepted practice is to omit Tachanun. However, space does not allow us to explain the reasons for each of these customs.

Conclusion

Now that we are aware of the origin of the tefillah Vehu Rachum, we can recite the words with far deeper and greater feeling, knowing how grateful we must be for not having to contend with such intense and trying tests. Let us use the spiritual steps that those tzaddikim built for us to make an effort to internalize the message.