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Question: The Gemara in Berachot teaches that the Sages authored our prayers. If so, it would seem that we did not pray before this time. Did we pray before their innovation or not?

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Synopsis: The Gemara on Ta’anit (2a) explains that Deut. 11:13, “…to love the L-rd your G-d and to serve Him with all your heart,” refers to a type of service that is of the heart, meaning prayer.

The Patriarchs were not yet bound by the Torah, yet our sages teach that they nonetheless observed the mitzvot, including prayer. They teach that the Patriarchs established the three daily prayers (Berachot 26b). Abraham established Shacharit, Isaac instituted Mincha, and Jacob introduced Ma’ariv. They established the time of the prayers rather than the formal text of the prayers.

We cited Rambam’s discussion of prayer in his Mishneh Torah (Hilchot Tefillah 1). He says that we are required to pray daily, praising G-d and imploring him for all our personal needs, followed by thanking Him for all He has given us individually. The quantity, wording and order of the prayers were not formally established. Since it is a positive precept that is not dependent upon time, women and slaves are required to pray. After the Jews were exiled and interspersed among the nations, they no longer all spoke the same language, and many were unable to articulate a proper Jewish prayer to express their needs.

Ezra the Scribe and his Beit Din then established the text of the prayers. 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: one for the morning offering, Shacharit, and one for the afternoon, Mincha. On days that had an Additional Offering, such as on Sabbath and Festivals, they instituted a third prayer, Mussaf. They also established an optional evening prayer, called Arbit or Ma’ariv, which all of Israel ultimately took upon themselves as an obligatory prayer.

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

Last week we discussed how, when one refers to obligatory tefillah, one is referring to the Shemoneh Esreh, or the Amidah. This tefillah is considered to be the central focus of each prayer session. This is evidenced by the halacha (Orach Chayyim 109:1) that one who enters the synagogue late can only join in the prayer if he can complete his own Amidah before the chazzan reaches the congregational kedusha during the repetition of the Amidah. Others say that if he can conclude his Amidah before the chazzan reaches Modim, then he should say his own Amidah.

Although the exact details may differ according to some authorities, it is clear that the Amidah is the main component of tefillah. Nevertheless, it is not the only component.

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Answer: If we follow our complete daily prayers, we find that there is much more than the Amidah. Immediately preceding the Amidah is Keriat Shema and its blessings, Yotzer Ohr, Ahava Rabbah, and Ga’al Yisrael. The Gemara (Berachot 2a and 8b) teaches us that reciting the Shema is a biblical requirement taken from the passage in Va’etchanan (Deuteronomy 6:4-9), and it is to be read twice daily, in the evening and the morning, as it states, “b’shachbecha u’vekumecha – when you retire and when you arise.”

Rambam (Hilchot Tefillah 7:17) states that one must connect geulah [the blessing of Ga’al Yisrael] to tefillah – the Amidah. Thus, the obvious placement of Keriat Shema is before the Amidah.

Preceding this is Pesukei D’zimrah, which is based on two passages in the Talmud. The first is in the Mishna, Berachot 30b “The pious men of old used to wait an hour before praying in order that they concentrate their thoughts upon their Father in Heaven.” The Gemara further (32b) cites the source for this as the verse in Tehillim (Psalms 84:5), “Ashrei yoshvei beisecha – happy are they who dwell in Your house…” We also find further in Shabbos (118b) that R. Yosi proclaims: “May my portion be with those who recite the entire Hallel every day.”

The Gemara questions, “But that is not so, for a Sage said: “He who recites Hallel every day [other than its prescribed times] is a blasphemer and reproacher” [of the Divine Name]. The Gemara answers, “We refer to the Pesukei D’zimrah – the Verses of Song.”

Rashi (Shabbos 118b) notes that Pesukei D’zimrah refers to two specific Psalms, “Hallelu et Hashem min ha’shamayim” (Psalm 148) and “Hallelu Kel b’kodsho” (Psalm 150). Over time these were expanded upon to include “Ashrei yoshvei beisecha,” as cited above, which is the source for the extra period of contemplation, as well as further Psalms that we find in our Shacharit prayers. It is also preceded by a blessing, Baruch She’amar, which concludes with the blessing Yishtabach.

The Mishna Berurah (Orach Chayyim 51:sk1) explains the source for the enactment of the Pesukei D’zimrah. It was instituted by the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah – the Men of the Great Assembly – due to a note that fell from heaven that contained 87 words. They inferred that the [morning] prayer should thus start with 87 words, and composed this blessing of praise to Hashem containing exactly that many words.

Preceding Pesukei D’zimrah are the Birkot HaShachar – the blessings of the morning – said when one arises, as well as the daily Korbanot. The Mishna Berurah (Orach Chayyim 46:sk1) explains that the reason we recite the Birkot HaShachar is because we are forbidden to derive any pleasure from this world without a blessing [of gratitude to our Creator]. The recital of the Korbanot, which includes passages from the Torah and the Talmud, were instituted to reflect the offerings that were sacrificed daily in the Temple – may it be rebuilt in our days.

For the afternoon Mincha prayer, the Sages instituted the one Psalm of Ashrei and Tehillah l’David (Psalm 145) in keeping with the minimal requirement of the Mishna (Berachot 30b) as noted above.

The evening Ma’ariv prayer consists only of Keriat Shema and its blessings. This was deemed sufficient; otherwise, a person would find most of his day occupied in prayer, as the Gemara (Berachot 32b) notes, and there would be little time for Torah study or his engagement in livelihood.

What we see from all of the above, as we noted earlier, is that tefillah refers to the Amidah. Thus, when one enters the synagogue late, as the congregation is concluding Pesukei D’zimra, and wishes to fulfill his congregational requirement of tefillah, he must make every effort to catch up to them. He is to recite the Birkot HaShachar, Baruch She’amar, minimally Ashrei and Yishtabach and Keriat Shema, and then join in with the Amidah. This is the correct order of Tefillah B’tzibbur. Some don’t realize the correct order, and by not following it end up missing an integral part of Tefillah B’tzibbur.

We hope to elaborate further on the intricacies of tefillah in the future.

May it be His will that He accept our heartfelt tefillot, especially in light of the many trying challenges that face our people.


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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.