Question: Should one stand or sit for the Ashrei recited after Keriat haTorah, and is the answer to this question affected by the requirement to show kavod, or respect, to the Torah scroll, which is being wrapped up as Ashrei begins?
Synopsis: Rabbi Yosef Grossman, zt”l, in Otzar Erchei Hayahadus explains that the Ashrei prayer’s main component is from Tehillim, the Book of Psalms (Ch. 145) with additional verses from other Psalms added to the beginning and end. The verses are organized in the order of the Aleph Bet, and it is said three times daily – twice as part of the Shacharit prayer, and once during Mincha.
Citing the Gemara (Shabbos 118b), Rabbi Grossman lavishes great praise for those who recite Ashrei as well as the Pesukei d’Zimra every day. Mechaber (Orach Chayim 28:1) reminds us that when one recites the verse, “Pote’ach et yadecha … – You open Your hand…” – one should touch the tefillin shel yad, and when one recites “… u’masbia l’chol chai ratzon,” it is proper to touch the tefillin shel rosh. Ashrei shares a unique requirement with Keri’at Shema. The Mechaber (Orach Chayim 60:5) states: “If one recited the Shema and did not concentrate while reciting the first verse of ‘Shema Yisrael’ [Deuteronomy 6:4], he has not discharged his obligation. Similarly, Mishna Berura (Orach Chayim 101:s.k. 2) discusses the requirement of concentration for the verse in Ashrei of “Pote’ach et yadecha.” If one understands the simple translation of the words (lit.), “You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing,” he has discharged his obligation with this recitation.
We continue this week by looking at our proper position (standing or sitting) during the recitation of the prayer Ashrei as well as during the public Torah reading.
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Answer: In reference to sitting for Ashrei, there are numerous proofs. First, there is the simple understanding of its text, “Ashrei yoshvei veitecha …,” which we previously translated as, “Praised [or, how fortunate] are those who dwell in Your house.” We might translate it as well as, “Praised are those who sit in Your house.”
We find a solid proof from Rambam (Hilchot Tefillah 9:1-2) who states, “This is the order of the communal prayer [in the presence of at least a quorum of ten men]. At Shacharit the entire congregation sit and the shaliach tzibbur [chazzan] descends before the Ark and stands in the midst of the people … [when they conclude Pesukei D’Zimra and Birkat Keri’at Shema] they all arise and stand to pray the Amida [Shemoneh Esreh].”
Furthermore, Rambam states (9:8), “At Mincha, the shaliach tzibbur recites Ashrei … Tehillah L’Dovid; he reads and the congregation sits. The shaliach tzibbur then rises to recite the Kaddish and the congregation then rises as well and answers the proper responses [to the Kaddish], and all then recite the silent Amida prayer, following which the shaliach tzibbur repeats the Amida aloud [chazarat hashatz], similar to the morning Shacharit prayer, until its conclusion. They then fall on their faces for the Tachanun prayer and then raise their heads, both the shaliach tzibbur and the congregation. They then say a few techinot [supplications] while sitting, similar to the Shacharit prayer. They then rise for the Kaddish, and at its conclusion all depart [the synagogue] to attend to their affairs.”
Chayei Adam (Topic 18), in discussing Pesukei D’Zimra, elaborates that both Baruch She’amar and Vayevarech David are to be said while standing. The obvious inference is that the rest of the Pesukei D’Zimra are to be recited while sitting. Yet G’ra rules that one may sit for the entire Pesukei D’Zimra which seems to infer the opposite, that one may stand if he so wishes.
The Mishna Berurah (Orach Chayim 131:s.k. 9) commenting on Rema’s statement (ad loc.) that “it is a widespread custom to recite ‘V’anachnu lo neda – [lit.] We do not know’ [at the conclusion of Tachanun],” explains in the name of Shela and other Acharonim that “we do not know” refers to the fact that we have prayed in every manner possible – sitting, standing and prostration – as Moses did, as it states (Deuteronomy 9:9), “… Va’eshev ba’har arba’im yom … – … And I sat [dwelled] on that mountain for forty days …” It states yet further (10:10), “Ve’amadeti ba’har … – And I stood on that mountain …” It also states (9:18, 25), “Va’esnapel lifnei Hashem … – I prostrated myself before Hashem …”
Thus Mishna Berurah concludes that since we have utilized every means available and have no further way available, we simply state, “we do not know,” and it is proper to say “ve’anachnu lo neda” while sitting, and “lo na’aseh” while standing.
As far as the Torah is concerned, in relation to its being read publicly, the reader must stand (Mechaber, Orach Chayim 141:1). Rema in his glosses adds that even the “chazzan” [meaning the gabbai) is to stand. Aruch HaShulchan (ad loc.) adds that this obviously includes the one who received an aliyah and who is also required to stand during the reading.
The Mechaber states further (Orach Chayim 146:4), “It is not necessary for [the rest of the congregation] to stand during the Torah reading.” Rema (citing M’haram of Rottenberg, Taz and Sha’arei Ephrayim) adds, “But there are those who are more stringent and indeed do stand [during the Torah readings].” Mishna Berurah (ad loc. s.k. 17) explains that the only requirement for the rest of the congregation to stand is when the Torah scroll is being carried, but when it is in its place [on the bima] or when someone is sitting and holding it while the Haftara is being read, there is no requirement to stand, even for those who are within four cubits of the Torah.
However, when it is being carried (from the Ark to the bima or the bima to the Ark), there is a requirement to stand.
Pri Megadim (cited in Sha’ar HaTziyun ad loc.) rules that even if the chazzan stands and holds the scroll, i.e., to recite Kel Moleh, there is no requirement for the congregation to stand.
Further, he notes that even when the Ark is opened (when removing or returning the Torah), since the Torah is standing in its place, there is also no requirement to stand [as long as it remains in place]. Nevertheless, there is a widespread custom to stand even in such a situation for the purpose of hiddur l’Torah – honoring the Torah.
Obviously, we note the difficulty when the Torah is returned too quickly, while some have not yet concluded Ashrei and U’va l’Tziyon. This is due to our unfortunate rushed lifestyle where hurrying is the norm for many.
Indeed, the rabbi you cite is a chacham. He knows the statement of Rava (Makkot 22b) very well, “How foolish are those people who stand before a Sefer Torah but do not stand before a Torah scholar, [Rashi (ad loc.), in reference to Rava’s statement “those” people, goes so far to say that he really means most people,] for the Torah states (Deuteronomy 25:3), ‘Arba’im yakenu ... – Forty lashes shall we strike him …,’ but the Sages decreased it by one, and we only administer 39 lashes.” This obviously refers to such a rabbi, a scholar, who, through his keen intellect, is able to properly seize the moment and thus resolve many conflicts. If only we were to take the time to both appreciate and learn from such an individual’s actions.
Yet, as we noted from the G’ra, there really is no absolute, steadfast rule that requires one to sit for Ashrei or for the entire Pesukei D’Zimra. Likewise, as we noted, there is no absolute rule requiring one to stand for Keri’at haTorah or while the Torah is either on the bima, being held (by someone) in one place or while the Torah ark is open with the Torah scroll in its place. Obviously, the wisest course of action in almost any situation is to adhere to the minhag hamakom – the prevailing local custom of the synagogue. In this way one diminishes, to a great degree, the chance for conflict.