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July 30, 2015 / 14 Av, 5775
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Q & A: Prayer And Its Origins (Part IV)

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Summary of our response up to this point: The Gemara (Ta’anit 2a) explains that “to love the L-rd your G-d and to serve Him with all your heart” (Deuteronomy 11:13) refers to a type of service that is of the heart, i.e., prayer.

The Patriarchs were not bound by the Torah, yet our sages teach us that they nonetheless observed the mitzvot, including the mitzvah of prayer. They state that the Patriarchs established the three daily prayers (Berachot 26b). Abraham established Shacharit, Isaac instituted Minchah, and Jacob introduced Ma’ariv. They did not establish the formal text of these prayers. Rather, they set the times of day for prayer.

The Rambam (Hilchot Tefillah 1) writes that we are required to pray daily, praising G-d and imploring him for all our personal needs, followed by words of gratitude for all He has given us. Since it is a positive precept that is not dependent upon time, women and slaves are required to pray.

Originally, there was no set wording or order to the prayers. After the Jews were exiled and interspersed among the nations, however, they no longer all spoke the same language, and many were unable to articulate proper prayers. Therefore, Ezra the Scribe and his beit din established a set text as well as fixed times for prayer. They organized the 18 benedictions of the Amidah (Megillah 17b-18a) and set two daily prayers to correspond to the two daily offerings in the Holy Temple. They also established a third prayer, Mussaf, for those days on which an additional sacrifice would have been offered in the Temple. Finally, they also established an optional evening prayer, called Arbit or Ma’ariv, which all of Israel ultimately accepted upon themselves as an obligatory prayer.

The Rambam also discusses the role of the sheliach tzibbur, which was established for those who could not recite the prayers themselves. The fact that a distinction was made between those who knew how to pray and those who did not is proof that some had memorized a text while others had not mastered it.

Last week we mentioned that references to obligatory tefillah refer to the Amidah. This tefillah is considered the central focus of each prayer session. This is evident from the focus placed upon it in halacha. For example, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 109:1) rules that a latecomer to shul can only start his Amidah if he will finish it before the chazzan reaches Kedushah during the repetition of the Amidah. Others say that he can start if he will can conclude his Amidah before the chazzan reaches Modim.

Although poskim may differ on some of the details, it is clear that the Amidah is the main component of tefillah. Nevertheless, it is not the only component.

 

* * * * *

If we examine the daily prayers, we find much more than just the Amidah. Immediately preceding the Amidah is Keriat Shema and its blessings: Yotzer Ohr, Ahavah Rabbah, and Ga’al Yisrael. The Gemara (Berachot 2a and 8b) teaches us that reciting Shema is a biblical requirement and should be read twice daily, in the evening and in the morning, as the Torah states, “b’shachbecha u’vekumecha – when you retire and when you arise.”

The Rambam (Hilchot Tefilah 7:17) states that one must connect ge’ulah (the blessing of Ga’al Yisrael) to tefillah (the Amidah). Thus the obvious placement of Keriat Shema is before the Amidah.

Preceding Shema and its berachot is Pesukei D’zimrah, which is based on two passages in the Talmud. The first is Berachot 30b which states, “The pious men of old used to wait an hour before praying in order to concentrate their thoughts on their Father in Heaven.” The Gemara (32b) cites Psalms 84:5as the source for this: “Ashrei yoshvei veisecha – Happy are they who dwell in Your house.” In Shabbos 118b, R. Yosi proclaims, “May my portion be with those who recite the entire Hallel every day.” The Gemara asks, “But that is not so, for a sage said: ‘He who recites Hallel every day is a blasphemer and reproacher.’” The Gemara answers, “We refer to Pesukei D’zimrah – the Verses of Song.”

About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.


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