The Threefold Structure of T'fillah:
Hilkhot T'fillah 1:02 Part 2
Praise, Request and Thanks
In the first chapter of Hilkhot T'fillah, Halakhah 2, Rambam outlines the basic
structure of T'fillah on its d'orayta [mandated by Torah] level:
"...tell the praise of haKadosh Barukh Hu (the Holy One, Who is Blessed), then
ask for his needs which he needs by requesting and pleading and then give praise
and thanks to God for the good which He has granted him..."
Simply put, Rambam maintains that the basic structure of T'fillah, thematically
and sequentially, is mandated by the Torah. Even though the *Anshei K'nesset
haG'dolah* (Members of the Great Assembly) formulated the specific liturgy of
T'fillah (as Rambam relates later on), the Torah does direct that T'fillah should
begin with praise of God, continue with our requesting of God those things which
we need - and end with thanks to God for everything He has given us. In other
words, not only does the Torah mandate that every T'fillah include these three
components - it also mandates that the order of "praise --> request --> thanks"
be preserved. What is Rambam's source and/or reasoning for this position? Where
does the Torah mandate this sequence of T'fillah? [note that R. Abraham de Boton
(Lechem Mishneh), commenting on our Halakhah, asks this question and leaves it
unanswered; he cites the work of R. Moshe di Trani (Kiryat Sefer), who is
CRITERIA FOR CLASSIFYING A LAW AS D'ORAYTA
A law may be considered "d'orayta" for one of a few reasons:
A) If the Torah explicitly mandates it (e.g. offering the morning and afternoon
*Tamid* lamb - cf. Bamidbar (Numbers) 28:4); this will clearly not answer our
question, since the Torah certainly doesn't explicitly mandate the "sections" of
B) If it is inferred by legitimate hermeneutic methods from the Torah - e.g. the
obligation for women to recite Kiddush on Friday night is mandated by the Torah
(BT Berakhot 20b) by virtue of the *Shamor* & *Zakhor* ("Observe" & "Remember")
connection (compare Sh'mot [Exodus] 20:8 with Devarim [Deuteronomy] 5:12) - to
wit, "anyone who is obligated to "observe" (i.e. abstain from "work" on Shabbat)
is obligated to "remember" (recite Kiddush); [parenthetically, this particular
mode of "d'orayta" is subject to some interesting research. See, for instance,
MT Ishut 1:2 and the commentaries ad loc.]. Since we find no such exegesis in
Rabbinic literature as it applies to the "three-tiered" structure of T'fillah, we
cannot respond in this manner.
C) If it is a *Halakhah l'Moshe miSinai* - i.e. a received oral tradition - e.g.
the d'orayta level of obstacle in ritual ablution (*hatzitzah bit'vilah*),
according to Rashi, is a Halakhah l'Moshe miSinai (Eruvin 4b, Rashi s.v. d'var
torah); if Rambam intends to tell us that the three-fold structure of T'fillah is
"tradition" - what is his source and why does he not say so explicitly? (See,
e.g. MT T'fillin 3:1).
D) If it is clear and reasonable - what is referred to as *S'vara* - (e.g. the
opinion that the Torah-mandated form of acquisition is with money - see BT Bava
Metzia' 47b and Nemukei Yosef's comments there). The archeyptical example of
this (perhaps) is the Gemara in Sanhedrin (74a) which infers the (d'orayta) law
that a person must avoid murder even at the cost of his own life from *S'vara* -
(Undoubtedly, this is a somewhat "tricky" area and the notion of S'vara must be
rigorously clarified and defined. Rabbi Eliezer Berkovitz's work "Not In Heaven"
is a wonderful contribution to the study of this issue). This is a direction
worth pursuing - if we can demonstrate that the sequence of
"praise-request-thanks" is, indeed, reasonable, then we might have a source. This
may be the implication of the Gemara in Berakhot (34a) in the name of R. Haninah:
"The first (B'rakhot, he) is similar to a servant who is praising his master, the
middle (B'rakhot) is similar to a servant asking for a gift from his master and
the last (B'rakhot) is similar to a servant who received a gift from his master
and is about to depart."
DICTATES AND MODELS
The four methods described above share one characteristic: They are all oriented
towards dictates. The Torah tells us what to do, or we legitimately infer what
the Torah is telling us to do, or we have a tradition to that effect - or such
behavior is reasonable. There is another avenue open to us - from another part
of Torah literature.
Although we could categorize the Torah text into many different styles (e.g.
poetry, commands, history, metaphors etc.), a simple binary division is commands
and narratives. Every part of the Torah that is not directing us to action
("legalistic literature") may be loosely considered narrative. This includes the
Song at the Sea (Sh'mot [Exodus] 15), the Balaam narrative (Bamidbar [Numbers]
22-24), the Creation story and the narrative about Moshe's farewell speech
(throughout the book of Devarim).
Although we generally infer ethical and metaphysical lessons from these sections
of Torah (hence the imbalance of Aggadic literature commenting on these verses -
as opposed to the legalistic verses which are heavy in Halakhic comments), there
are occasions where these narratives serve as legitimate Halakhic sources.
There is, then, a fifth possibility for sourcing a law in the Torah: If it is
behavior which is modelled and/or sanctioned by the Torah. Even though that
behavior might never be directed by Scripture, if it was exemplified by our
ancestors and the Torah "adopts" it by praising it - or merely by including it in
the narrative - this may be a source for Torah law.
One example of this is the Gemara in Ta'anit 28a, which may be identifying the
afternoon T'fillah as a d'orayta obligation - Rashi (s.v. halalu) explains that
since our father Yitzchak established Minchah (see BT Berakhot 26b), it is
considered d'orayta. (See, however, Tosafot and other Rishonim ad loc. for
dissenting approaches to the text there.)
Another example might be the Gemara in Berakhot (33b). The Gemara states that we
are not allowed to describe God in adjectival terms in our prayer. (*Who can
speak of the might of God, who can sing all His praises* [T'hillim (Psalms)
106:2] - "Who may speak of the might of God? Only one who can sing ALL of his
praises - BT M'gillah 18a)
Indeed, the only permit we have for saying *ha'El haGadol haGibbor v'haNora* -
"the Great, Powerful and Awesome God" is because Moshe Rabbenu himself describes
God that way (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 10:17) - and because the Men of the Great
Assembly [who are credited with the earliest formulation of our liturgical text]
adopted it (Nehemiah 9:32). In other words, the behavior of Moshe Rabbenu
mandates a permit for that which is otherwise unacceptable.
However, these two examples are not enough for us. The first is subject to
serious debate and even Rashi's comment (in Ta'anit) is somewhat unclear. The
second is insufficient for our needs since it only allows us to "copy" Torah text
into our prayers - but it doesn't mandate specific behavior by virtue of it being
modelled in the narrative. In other words, Moshe's use of this description of
God shows us that this description is "usable" - or, if you will, "correct" - but
it doesn't show us that we are obligated to do the same, just that we may.
A STRONGER EXAMPLE: *EIN M'ARVIN SIMCHAH B'SIMCHAH*
The Mishnah (Mo'ed Katan 1:7) rules that we may not marry during a holiday -
even during the middle days (Hol haMo'ed). The Gemara (8b) explains the reason:
*l'fi she'ein m'arvin simchah b'simchah* - "because we do not 'mix' one *simchah*
(rejoicing) with another one". We are commanded by the Torah to rejoice during
the three pilgrimage holidays (Pesach, Shavu'ot and Sukkot - see Devarim
16:1-17); therefore, if we hold a wedding - which is a chief cause of simchah -
during that time, it will cause a "mixing" of the two causes for rejoicing (thus
One of the sources which the Gemara cites for the rule of *Ein m'arvin...* is the
story of Shlomo's dedication of the Beit haMikdash. He held a seven-day feast
before Sukkot (see Melakhim [Kings] I 8:65) - which leads us to believe that he
did not want to interfere with the simchah of Sukkot by having it coincide with
the simchah of the dedication of the Beit haMikdash. This source alone should be
sufficient proof of our thesis, that completely d'orayta laws may be inferred
from narrative - but one could argue that Shlomo was following an earlier,
unwritten dictate. In other words, Shlomo's actions are not the source for the
law, just an indication that such behavior was already the law - and then we have
to find a source for it. (This would allow us to categorize the law of *ein
m'arvin...* as Halakhah l'Moshe miSinai - but this is left unstated in the
The Yerushalmi (Mo'ed Kattan 1:7), provides an interesting alternative source for
the Halakhah of *ein m'arvin...*. In the story of Ya'akov's marriages, he
originally intended to wed Rachel. His father-in-law, Lavan, tricked him into
marrying Leah first. When Ya'akov demanded Rachel's hand in addition, Lavan said
*Male' Sh'vua' Zot* - "complete this week" and then you can marry Rachel. The
reason for this seven-day waiting period was to allow Leah to have her seven days
of bridal rejoicing and not to have her sister's wedding interrupt her own
celebration. Here we have a Halakhah which is rooted in behavior recorded in the
This is, by the way, the source cited by Rambam (MT Ishut 10:14) - as opposed to
the one provided by the Bavli. As pointed out by Tosafot (K'tubot 47a s.v.
d'Masar), this law is a clear-cut d'orayta restriction...even though its source
is from Biblical narrative. [see Orach Hayyim's comments on Beresheet 31:43]
ZIMUN - MOSHE'S CALL AND RESPONSE
Perhaps the strongest example is found in the laws of Birkat haMazon (Grace after
Meals). The Gemara (BT Berakhot 48b) seems to regard Zimun - the introductory
formula to Birkat haMazon - as a d'orayta obligation, sourced in part of the key
verse obligating us to thank God after a meal (Devarim 8:10). When defining the
parameters of Zimun, the Mishnah (Berakhot 7:1) rules that three who have eaten
together are obligated to recite Zimun. The Gemara (BT Berakhot 45a) cites, as a
source for the minimum of three people, the verse in Devarim 32:3 - "When I call
out the name of YHVH, you (plural) give greatness to our God". Moshe (the
individual) addressed (at least) two people (in reality, he addressed the entire
B'nai Yisra'el - but the grammar gives us at least two people besides the
speaker), who were called to respond to his invitation to bless God. To wit, we
learn a Halakhah of how to communally bless God from how Moshe did so. Even
though the basic Mitzvah (Birkat haMazon) is mandated as a directive (in
legalistic form), the form is directed by narrative.
MOSHE AS THE MODEL OF PRAYER
When Moshe set out to bless the B'nai Yisra'el before his death (Devarim 33), he
begins by praising God (v. 2), he continues by asking God's blessing for (almost)
each tribe, and concludes with more praise for God (v 26 ff.) The Sifri (Devarim
#343) notes this pattern and associates it with Shlomo's formula in his great
prayer at the dedication of the Beit haMikdash (Melakhim I 8) as well as David's
format in one section of T'hillim (Psalms). The P'ri Megadim (introduction to
Hilkhot T'fillah) sees this Sifri as the source for Rambam's Halakhah.
However, the simplest and most obvious model is Moshe's personal prayer towards
the end of his life. In Devarim 3:24-25, Moshe tells of his prayer to God,
beseeching for another chance to see the Land which he could not enter. He begins
by praising God's greatness, then moves on to his own request. Although we do
not hear of the end of his prayer, we can infer from his formula in v'Zot
haBrakhah that he concluded with some form of praise.
The thesis is, then, that the sequence of "praise, request, thanks" is indeed
d'orayta - and it is learned from Moshe's T'fillah. Just as we learned the form
of Zimun - and acceptable descriptions of God in prayer from narratives about
Moshe, we may learn the proper format for T'fillah from him.
There is, however, one problem with this thesis. We find several instances
(Bamidbar 12, Shemot 32) where Moshe prays to God without the prefatory praise.
How can we answer this?
One simple solution is to distinguish between two types of T'fillah. The one,
which is the model for our Halakhah, is formalistic T'fillah, where the goal is
to achieve some level of connection with God and to serve Him. That sort of
T'fillah is deliberate and follows a structure - albeit loose - which is
appropriate within the man-God relationship. It reflects a sophisticated, mature
and conscious approach to God.
The other T'fillah is "spontaneous" - turning to God in a near-state of panic
when trouble is imminent. In such a case, we do not "lay out" our T'fillah in the
proper order - rather, we cry out and plead, cutting straight to the request. Two
sterling examples of this are Moshe's intercession on behalf of his afflicted
sister (Bamidbar 12) and his attempt to forestall God's anger at the Jewish
people in reaction to the golden calf (Shemot 32). In these cases, "proper"
T'fillah was not called for - rather a cry for help, unsophisticated and pure.
Although we serve God daily with formalistic T'fillah - Avodat Hashem - modelled
by Moshe's T'fillah for his own future, we also turn to Him in times of trouble
in a simple and direct cry for help, also modelled by our teacher Moshe, when
pleading for others - but that's a shiur in and of itself.