1. It is a Mitzvat 'Aseh [Mitzvah of commission] to say T'fillah
every day, as it says: "And you shall worship YHVH your God"
(Shemot [Exodus] 23:25). From oral tradition we learn that this
*Avodah* (worship) is T'fillah, as it says "...and to worship Him
with all of your hearts..." (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 11:13), the
Rabbis said (BT Ta'anit 2a): What sort of *Avodah* is there with
the heart? - T'fillah. The number of [daily] T'fillot is not
mandated by the Torah, nor is the liturgy of T'fillah mandated by
the Torah, nor does T'fillah have a set time from the Torah.
Defining T'fillah: Some Considerations
by Yitzchak Etshalom
Following the convention I outlined in the introductory shiur,
instead of translating "T'fillah" with the conventional "prayer",
the word has been left transliterated and untranslated.
There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is the
"technical" usage of the term in Halakhah. Within the context of
Hilkhot T'fillah, the word usually refers to the silent "prayer"
said standing up at least three times a day. In other words,
whereas "praying" is an activity in which anyone may engage in
nearly any situation and following no specific model, T'fillah in
this context refers to a specific series of blessings - which are
to be said at specific times with specific body stature and
In addition to the "technical" concern, the general Hebrew word
*T'fillah* is not necessarily "prayer" - as we shall see.
A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO ROOTS (*SHORASHIM*) AND FORMS
A prefatory note to those of our Haverim less familiar with the
nuances of Hebrew grammar. Hebrew verbs are built on (usually)
three-letter roots (called *shorashim*). A shoresh is then
vocalized, with various prefixes, suffixes and infixes, to modify
the meaning. It is modified by person, gender, number, tense -
and "intensity". In other words, the shoresh *L*B*Sh (to dress)
can be used in the "simple form" - meaning "to dress", it can be
used in the causative form (*hif'il*) and then means "to dress
another" (i.e. to put clothes on another person) - it can also be
used in the reflexive form (*hitpa'el*) and would mean "to dress
oneself". Not all shorashim are used in all forms - in fact,
many are used in no more than 2 forms. The following table,
using the example of *Q *D *Sh (sanctify), will illustrate the
various forms - known as *binyanim* - of the verb. For this
example, I will use the third person male singular, past tense.
I. QaDaSh - he was sanctified (e.g. Shemot [Exodus] 29:21)
II. QiDeSh - he declared holy (e.g. Vayyikra [Leviticus]
III. hiQDiSh - he conferred holiness on...(e.g. Vayyikra
IV. hitQaDeSh - he sanctified/purified himself (e.g. II Sh'muel
[Samuel II] 11:4)
THE ROOT *P*L*L
The verb associated with the word *T'fillah* is *l'hitPaLeL* -
the shoresh *P*L*L in the reflexive form.
The use of this shoresh in its simpler forms is generally
associated with "judgement". For instance, in Shemot 21:22 - the
case is to be ruled *...v'natan biPh'LiLim* - "...paying as much
as the judges determine." BDB (p. 813), however, suggest an
earlier usage of the shoresh - which evolves into "judgement".
They render *P*L*L as "intervene, interpose". Since the
arbitrators/judges intervene (on behalf of the wronged party),
they are fulfilling an act of *P'LiLah*; thus, judges (or the
court) are rendered *P'LiLim*.
A solid proof for this approach is found in T'hillim [Psalms]
106:30. In recounting the many kindnesses of God during our
history (focused on the desert experience after leaving Egypt),
the Psalmist recalls the plague which God brought on the Jewish
people as a result of their idolatrous (and disgusting)
P'or-worship (see Bamidbar [Numbers] 25:1-9). As we read in the
Torah's account (vv. 7-8), Pinchas stood up, took action and
stopped the plague. The Psalmist states: *vaya'amod Pinchas
vay'PhaLeL...* - "Pinchas stood up and...?" What did Pinchas do?
True, he "judged" - but, most accurately and simply put, he
intervened. He stepped in and prevented the plague (and its
cause) from continuing. Here we see a clear usage for the root
*P*L*L as intervention.
Now, why would the word for "prayer" be the reflexive form of
"intervention"? How would we translate the word, philosophical
We could render it "to intervene against one's self" but that
seems to make no sense. [Although the first instance of the verb
*l'hitpalel* appears in a context which strongly supports the
meaning "intervention" (see Beresheet [Genesis] 20:7,17), the
reflexive form still demands explanation.]
I would like to suggest an explanation - which requires an
introduction to the nature and goals of T'fillah.
T'FILLAH WHICH REFLECTS BACK AT THE *MITPALEL*
At the outset, we must make one thing clear - T'fillah is not
something "needed" by God nor does He "benefit" in any way from
T'fillah. (This is, above all, based on some basic postulates
about God which are beyond the scope of this shiur.) If so, even
though T'fillah is focused on God, there must be a man-oriented
goal. In other words, even though we focus on God, T'fillah is
somewhat "aimed" at man.
Which man is the "target" of such an action? Although there are
other people who we may think of or even mention in our T'fillah
(e.g. sick people), the clearest "target" for T'fillah is the
person saying that T'fillah - the *Mitpalel*.
What is the effect of (proper, wholehearted and deliberate)
T'fillah on the Mitpalel?
There are two general approaches - a cognitive, declarative
effect and an affective, attitudinal effect.
THE DECLARATION OF T'FILLAH
When we stand before God and declare Him to be the One (and the
only One) who grants knowledge, heals the sick etc. we are also
making a statement about ourselves. The illusion of power and
control over own lives and destinies can be healthy in moderate
doses when we are in our "master the world" (Beresheet 1:28)
mode. However, when unchecked, it is a mortal mental wound (see
e.g. Devarim 8:11-18) which leads to apostasy and, ultimately,
our own undoing. T'fillah is a thrice-daily declaration of who
we are, how much we need and Who is the source of those gifts
which make up our daily lives.
Based on this notion of T'fillah, when we bare ourselves to God
and to ourselves and openly admit our vulnerability, we can
understand the reflexive form *l'hitpalel*. We are indeed
judging ourselves, stating the ultimate truths about ourselves -
in the most comforting way possible.
THE OBLIGATION STEMMING FROM T'FILLAH
When we come before God and say T'fillah, we are asking for God's
intercession on our behalf. We ask for His compassion, patience,
willingness to accept us back - lovingly - into His Presence and
so forth. Who can honestly stand before God and beg His
forgiveness - and then be anything but forgiving to his fellow?
That which we ask of God reflects back to us - for it is the
ultimate "hutzpah" to ask that of God which we are not willing to
give. T'fillah is indeed a form of self-intervention. We use
T'fillah to break in on our own slipshod ways and remind
ourselves of what we need - and, thereby, what everyone else
(including our friends, family members, neighbors etc.) most
Just as T'fillah is self-judgement, it is self-intervention.
Judaism understands that Man is pulled in various directions -
not only by social and environmental pulls, but also by inner
drives. When we stand and say T'fillah, we are effectively
acting against our own lesser, meaner nature and intervening on
behalf of our higher, nobler side. We judge ourselves - and we
intervene with ourselves. T'fillah, if said carefully and
thoughtfully, is a great builder of character and a road to
now, to the questions:
Q1: Since Rambam defines the Mitzvah as *Avodah* in the header
(see previous shiur), why does he define it here as *l'hitpallel*
("to say T'fillah")? Why the apparent inconsistency in
JH (Joseph Harrar ):
'va'Avad'tem et YHVH Eloheikhem (Shemot 23:25) : for Rambam, this
is one of the Torah sources of Avodat Hachem (worship of God).
Avodah took place in the Beit haMikdache (animals and grain
offerings). After the Hourban (destruction) of the Beit
haMikdash, one could have thought that there would be no more
Avodah. The Rabbis created a new type of Avodah which could be
(as shown in the previous shiur) either Tefilla (the Avodah of
the overwhelming majority) or Talmoud Torah. The link between the
former type of Avodah and the new one is given in Ta'anit 2a. So
I think that Rambam uses Avodah in the header because it is under
this name that it appears in the Torah, and uses Tefilla in the
first paragraph to tell everybody: It is not because the Beit
haMikdash was destroyed that there is no more Avodah. It has
changed in nature and name, and now it is Tefilla. Avodah and
Tefilla are two facets of the same thing. There is no
YE: (Yitz Etshalom ):
As Rabbi Soloveitchik zt"l points out (see, e.g. Al haT'shuvah
pp. 39-44) , there are several sections in the Mishneh Torah
where Rambam defines a Mitzvah in one way in his "header" and
defines it differently in the text of the Halakhot. He explains
that there are two categories of Mitzvot.
Most Mitzvot contain the *pe'ulah* (activity) of the Mitzvah and
the *kiyyum* (fulfillment) of the Mitzvah in one action. For
example, picking up the Lulav on Sukkot is the "activity" of the
Mitzvah - it's what we DO; it is also the *kiyyum* of the
There are, however, a few Mitzvot which are emotionally-oriented
but which have external actions associated with them. For
instance, the *pe'ulah* associated with Teshuvah
(repentance/return to God) is confession (*Vidui*). However,
Vidui is not the *kiyyum* of the Mitzvah of Teshuva - it is only
fulfilled when the person has "returned" to God (however that may
be defined). Significantly, the Rambam defines the Mitzvah of
Teshuvah as exactly that - Teshuvah - in the header of Hilkhot
Teshuvah. Yet in the text of the Halakhot, he defines it along
the lines of the *pe'ulah* - confession. In other words, where a
Mitzvah has a "split nature", Rambam defines it in the header in
terms of its *kiyyum*; but in the text, he defines it in terms of
In the same manner, the Rav zt"l points out that T'fillah has an
"action" associated - saying specific words in a specific manner
etc. - but that is not the desired *kiyyum*. The entire focus of
T'fillah is *Avodah shebaLev* - worshipping God with our hearts.
In line with that, Rambam defines the Mitzvah as *Avodah* in the
header, but in the text (our Halakhah), he defines at in
practical terms - *l'hitpalel* - to say T'fillah.
Q2: Why does Rambam cite two verses - why doesn't he just quote
the verse from Devarim along with the Rabbinic interpretation?
JH: 'Vaavadtem et Hashem Eloheikhem' : for Rambam, this is the
primary obligation of Avodat Hashem. 'ul'Ovdo bekhol levavkhem'
- this is _how_ to worship God.
YE: In addition to Joseph's comments, I would like share another
angle on this question. As I proposed in a previous shiur,
T'fillah inheres two attitudinal statements. First of all, I am
NOT turning to another source for help - whether that source be
other people, governments or other gods. Second - I am actively
turning to YHVH, our God, in times of trouble and to establish
If we look at the context of the first verse cited, we see the
first attitude expressed. "Do not bow down to their gods and do
not worship them (*lo ta'ovdem*)...you shall serve/worship YHVH
your God..." (Shemot 23:24-25). Do not serve their gods - RATHER
serve God. This does not necessarily imply a positive Mitzvah -
rather a focus, that whenever we "need" to worship, that need
should only be fulfilled through worship of the one God. The
verse in Devarim presents Avodat Hashem - T'fillah in a
non-contrasted light. It does not appear against the backdrop of
avoiding idolatry. Rambam cites both verses to build a
step-by-step process of attitudinal focus regarding T'fillah.
First of all, we recognize that every person needs to reach out
to something greater than himself/herself. The first verse warns
against turning to any entity but God. Once we have established
that God is the only appropriate object of worship, we then see
(from the second verse) that this worship should not be done just
to fulfill this need - rather it should be done "with all your
hearts" - wholeheartedly and proactively.
Q3: Why is "heart-worship" assumed to mean T'fillah?
JH: Avodat haLev is a worship of God in a non physical method
(not external physical - shiur 1.00). Tefilla is a worship of God
through communion with Him. There is no external act exemplifying
Tefilla. So "heart worship" can be assumed to mean Tefilla.
YE: See shiur above.
Q4: Why does Rambam list all three details - number, wording
and time - as those components which are not mandated by the
JH: For Rambam, the Tefilla is a mitzva deOrayta. The Torah says
'vaavadtem et Hashem Eloheikhem' ('and you will worship the Lord
your God') and gives no more details on the mitzva.
To fulfill a mitzva you have to know :
* How many times you are mandated to fulfill it (e.g. once a year
-Yom haKippurim,twice a day -K'riat Sh'ma'-, every time you have
a meal-Birkat haMazon-),
* its content (what to do, to say)
* when (every morning and evening -K'riat Sh'ma'-, once a month
Rambam says that there are no such details in the Torah ; he
lists them because they are the basic structure. He will detail
them in 1:5.
YE: Another possibility - T'fillah here stands in contrast to
K'riat Sh'ma (see Tosefta Brakhot 3:1). There are three d'Orayta
components to K'riat Sh'ma: the amount of times during the day
(twice), the text (see Introductory Shiur of Hilkhot K'riat Sh'ma
for a summary of the opinions regarding this) and the time it is
to be read (early morning and nighttime). In direct contrast,
Rambam teaches us that although the basic Mitzvah of T'fillah is
d'Orayta like K'riat Sh'ma, those same components which are
explicitly mentioned in the Torah regarding K'riat Sh'ma are not
mandated by the Torah regarding T'fillah.
Q5: A general question: Why is "prayer" called *T'fillah* - and
what is the meaning and import of the verb *l'hitpallel*?
JH: Tefilla and Lehitpallel have the common root Pillel.
Pillel has 3 meanings :
- chashav, heemin (he thought, he believed)
- hitchanen, bikkesh, 'amad biTfilla (he implored, he asked, he
stood for Tefilla)
- shafat, dan (he judged)
We are concerned with the last two meanings. In Tefilla and in
leHitpallel, we are asking, imploring (for our needs) but also to
be judged by God with rachamim (mercy).
I think that the meaning of judgement does not appear at first
sight when we speak of Tefilla.