A passage known as “vihi noam,” is recited after the shemoneh esrei at Ma’ariv on motza’ei Shabbat. It opens with the verse vihi noam,1 and continues with Tehillim chapter 91 and “v’atah kadosh.”2 V’atah kadosh is essentially the uva l’tzion prayer but without its opening verses of redemption. The verses of redemption are omitted because we are told that Mashiach will not come at night.3 Reciting vihi noam on motzaei Shabbat is a very ancient practice, as it is mentioned in the siddur of Rav Amram Gaon and the siddur of Rav Saadia Gaon.
There are a number of reasons why vihi noam is recited on motza’ei Shabbat. One reason is the teaching that the verses of vihi noam and v’ata kadosh arouse a flow of blessing for the coming week. The actual vihi noam verse reflects the fact that no work was performed during Shabbat. It is recited as the workweek is about to begin as a prayer that G-d bless all our endeavors.4 We also recite the vihi noam verse because it is the same verse that Moshe Rabbeinu used to bless the Jewish people upon the completion of the Mishkan.5 So too, the Mishkan was finished on a Sunday. Since motzaei Shabbat is considered to be Sunday on the Jewish calendar, it makes the recitation of vihi noam especially appropriate.6 It is also noted that the actual vihi noam verse comes from one of the ten chapters of Tehillim that were composed by Moshe Rabbeinu himself.7
Chapter 91 of Tehillim is also known as the “shir shel negaim” (psalm of plagues) and “shir shel pegaim” (psalm of damagers), referring to the protective benefits that reciting this chapter of Tehillim is said to provide.8 For this reason it is also recited by many before going to sleep each night.9 On Shabbat we are protected from demons and other spiritual dangers. Once Shabbat concludes, however, we ask G-d for His protection from these dangers in the coming week. Similarly, it is also recited at funerals in order to drive away the harmful spirits that are said to assemble in the presence of the dead.10 Another reason we recite it motzaei Shabbat is in order to welcome the “weekday angels.” Just as we welcome the Shabbat angels every Friday night with the singing of “Shalom Aleichem,” we welcome the weekday angels every motzaei Shabbat with this chapter of Tehillim, which includes the verse “Ki malachav yetzaveh lach…” (“He will send His angels to protect you”), which is a reference to the weekday angels.11
The last verse of chapter 91, “orech yamim,” is recited twice, as doing so equals the gematria of G-d’s name.12 The Abudraham offers another word-related explanation. Chapter 91 has 124 words. If we recite it twice, we arrive at 248 words, corresponding to the number of limbs in the body. However, in order not to overly burden people by making them recite the entire chapter twice, only the last verse is repeated to symbolize this teaching. Finally, this chapter of Tehillim recalls the Maccabean victory, as the number of words in the psalm corresponds to the number of kohanim that served during the Maccabean era. Furthermore, the Maccabees would recite this chapter when fighting the Syrian-Greeks.13
Vihi noam and v’atah kadosh should be recited slowly and prolonged somewhat. This is because punishment in Gehennom is suspended from the beginning of Shabbat until the end of Ma’ariv after Shabbat.14 As such, as an act of kindness to those who must return to Gehennom, we delay or at least stretch out Ma’ariv as much as possible.15 One might ask why the delay is necessary. Isn’t the fact that it is still Shabbat in other parts of the world serve to spare the dead from the suffering of Gehennom? We are taught, however, that the dead return to Gehennom when Ma’ariv is completed in the city where they are buried. As such, there is, indeed, benefit to the dead in prolonging the departure of Shabbat.16
Vihi noam should be recited in the same spot that one recited the shemoneh esrei.17 Vihi noam is not recited on a motzaei Shabbat when a Yom Tov falls out in the coming week.18 This is alluded to in the vihi noam verse itself, where “ma’aseh yadeinu” and the “vav” in vihi noam are interpreted to refer to six full days of work.19 In fact, it is taught that the dead do not return to Gehennom at all on such a motzaei Shabbat.20 Most Sefardim recite vihi noam every motzaei Shabbat of the year without exception21 even when a Yom Tov falls out in the coming week.22 Vihi noam should be recited while standing,23 though there is a custom to recite v’atah kadosh while sitting.24
- Tehillim 90:17.
- Rema, OC 295:1
- Mishna Berura 295:2.
- Siddur Haroke’ach p. 101; Tur, OC 295; Mateh Moshe 497.
- Rashi, Shemot 39:43; Shemot Rabba 39:43; Rashi, Vayikra 9:23; Tur, OC 295.
- Siddur Rashbash p. 186; Siddur Chassidei Ashkenaz p. 186.
- Rashi, Shemot 39:43; Bamidbar Rabba 12:9; Shemot Rabba 39:43; Rashi, Vayikra 9:23.
- Shevuot 15b.
- Shevuot 15b; OC 239:1; Seder Hayom.
- Maharsha, Shevuot 15b.
- Nefesh Chaya (Margaliot) 295; Sefat Emet, Vayeitzei, 5661
- Magen Avraham 295.
- Magen Avraham 295; Machatzit Hashekel, OC 295.For additional Gematria explanations, see Piskei Teshuvot 295, footnotes 3,4.
- Rema, OC 295; Mishna Berura 295:2.
- Tur, Bach, OC 295; Seder Hayom.
- Rivevot V’yovlot 2:150.
- Kaf Hachaim (Palagi) 31:11.
- Kol Bo 41; Abudraham; Mishna Berura 295:3.
- Sefer Kushiot 268.
- Rivevot Ephraim 2:125:8. See there for an extensive discussion on “vihi noam.”
- It appears to me that no one recites vihi noam when motzai Shabbat coincides with Tisha B’Av. OC 559:2; Mishna Berura 559:7.
- Kaf Hachaim, OC 295:9
- Mishna Berura 295:1; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 96:2; Rivevot Ephraim 4:99; Kaf Hachaim (Palagi) 31:11. See Yesodei Yeshurun vol. 5 p. 466 and Rivevot V’yovlot for an extensive study on all issues relating to vihi noam.
- Shaarei Teshuva, OC 295:1; Biur Halacha 489:1; Kaf Hachaim (Palagi) 31:11.