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Is Ma’ariv Really Optional?

In the beginning of this week’s parshah the Torah writes about Yaakov Avinu’s departure from his father’s house in Beersheva. The pasuk says, “Vayifga bamakom – and he met the place.” This pasuk carries many deeper levels of understanding aside from the pashut p’shat. Rashi explains that the “place” that the pasuk is referring to is Har Hamoriah. The Gemara in Chullin 91b explains that Hashem lifted the mountain and brought it to Yaakov; hence the wording, “and he met the place.” The Gemara in Berachos 26b explains that the word “vayifga” means to daven, and that it was at this point that Yaakov Avinu instituted the tefillah of Ma’ariv.

The Gemara in Berachos 27b says that although all of the tefillos are mandatory, the tefillah of Ma’ariv is rishus (voluntary). Tosafos (Berachos 26a) points out that one may not decide not to daven Ma’ariv unless there is an adequate reason, i.e. another time-sensitive mitzvah.

The scenario that the Gemara describes in Berachos 21a discusses the halacha when one is in the middle of davening Shemoneh Esrei and realizes that he had already davened this tefillah. The Gemara says that he should stop davening immediately, even if he is in the middle of a berachah. Even though one may daven a tefillas nedavah (a voluntary tefillah) whenever he desires, he must stop in the middle since he initially began davening under the impression that the tefillah was obligatory. The Tosafos Harash explains that just as there are no korbanos that are part obligatory and part voluntary, so too there cannot be a tefillah that is part obligatory and part voluntary.

Based on this, the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 10:6) wrote a tremendous chiddush. He wrote that the abovementioned Gemara – that discusses the halacha concerning one’s realization in the middle of Shemoneh Esrei that he has already davened that tefillah – should not apply when the tefillah that one is in the midst of reciting is Ma’ariv. The reason for this ruling is that since the tefillah of Ma’ariv is voluntary, it can connect to a tefillas nedavah. Therefore, if one was in the middle of davening Ma’ariv and realized that he had already davened Ma’ariv, he may continue davening as a nedavah if he desires. Since both tefillos are voluntary, they should be able to connect as one voluntary tefillah.

The Raavad disagreed with this p’sak and, as explained by the Kesef Mishnah, argued that for many generations Klal Yisrael have accepted upon themselves an obligation to daven Ma’ariv. Even the Rambam himself writes (Hilchos Tefillah 1:6) that all of Yisrael, wherever they are, have accepted to daven Ma’ariv involuntarily. So how can the Rambam say that the tefillah of Ma’ariv can connect with a tefillas nedavah – since they are both voluntary?

Reb Chaim Soloveitchik, zt’l, in his sefer on the Rambam, suggests the following approach to understanding the ruling of the Rambam: although Klal Yisrael have accepted upon themselves to daven Ma’ariv involuntarily, nevertheless the type of tefillah remains the same. Since the tefillah of Ma’ariv was instituted as a voluntary tefillah, it remains that type of tefillah in its essence. In other words, one can have an obligation to daven a voluntary type of tefillah. The obligation to daven a particular tefillah does not affect the type of tefillah that it is in its essence. Therefore the tefillah of Ma’ariv can connect with a tefillas nedavah since they are both voluntary tefillos in essence.

On the other hand, the Raavad believes that whether one is obligated to daven a certain tefillah will affect the type of tefillah that it is. Therefore since we have accepted upon ourselves to daven Ma’ariv involuntarily, the tefillah becomes an obligatory tefillah and can no longer connect to a tefillas nedavah.

The Rambam (HilchosTefillah 1:10) writes that there are some gaonim who were of the opinion that one may not daven a tefillas nedavah on Shabbos since we do not bring a korban nedavah on Shabbos. The implication from the Rambam is that he agrees with this view. This, however, raises the following question: how can one daven Ma’ariv on Shabbos if, according to the Rambam, it is a voluntary tefillah in essence?

I want to suggest that although Ma’ariv is a voluntary tefillah in its essence, it differs from a nedavah. The similarity that Ma’ariv shares with a tefillas nedavah is that they are both voluntary, and therefore they can be connected. However the Gemara in Berachos 26b says that all of the teffilos correspond to different korbanosShacharis corresponds to the tamid shel shachar, Minchah to the tamid shel bein ha’arbaim, and Ma’ariv to the aimurim of the korbanos (which even if they are not brought, the korban is effective). It is for this reason that Ma’ariv is a rishus. Therefore, even though Ma’ariv is voluntary, it corresponds to the aimurim that are brought even on Shabbos. A korban nedavah, however, is not brought on Shabbos, and therefore one cannot daven a tefillas nedavah on Shabbos.

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