AVODAH SHEBALEV AND DAILY T’FILLAH
Hilkhot T'fillah - Header
INTRODUCTION: The Halakhot of T'fillah and Birkat Kohanim,
comprising two Mitzvot Aseh. One, to serve God every day via
T'fillah. The second - that the Kohanim should bless Yisr’ael
every day. The explanation of these two Mitzvot is in these
As indicated in the introductory shiur to Hilkhot T'fillah,
Rambam considers daily T'fillah to be a Mitzvah d'rayta (a
Mitzvah from the Torah). In his critique on Sefer haMitzvot
(Mitzvat Aseh #5), Ramban raises several challenges to this
approach. The goal of this shiur is to respond to Ramban's
challenges - and to clarify Rambam's position on the Torahic
obligation of daily T'fillah. Along the way, we will discuss an
associated sugya [Talmudic selection] and justify it in light of
T'FILLAH D'RABANAN One of Ramban's critiques is based on
several statements in the Gemara that identify T'fillah as
d'Rabanan - of rabbinic stature. We will review two of these
sources and attempt to defend Rambam's position against the
apparent challenges arising from these texts.
THE FIRST SOURCE: SUKKAH 38A
The first explicit source which states that T'fillah is d'Rabanan
is the Gemara in Sukkah (38a). The Mishnah (ibid) states that if
someone was travelling (during Sukkot) without a Lulav (= the 4
species), when he comes home, he should take the Lulav “on his
table. (This seems to mean that if he sat down to eat and
realized that he hadn't taken the Lulav yet, he should interrupt
his meal to do so).
The Gemara challenges this ruling, citing the Mishnah in Shabbat
(1:2) which states that if he began a meal, he need not interrupt
it for T'fillah. The Gemara provides several answers: Rav Safra
explains that the Mishnah in Shabbat refers to a situation where
there is enough time left (after finishing the meal) to say
T'fillah; whereas in our case, he is eating at the end of the day
and will miss the time for Lulav if he doesn't interrupt. Rava
claims that this response (and the question) is unnecessary - *ha
d'orayta, ha d'rabanan* - whereas the one (Lulav) is d'Orayta,
the other (T'fillah) is d'Rabanan.
The Gemara later justifies the question by identifying the Lulav
case with one of the latter days of Sukkot. [Taking the Lulav on
the first day of Sukkot is a Mitzvah from the Torah everywhere -
(see Vayyikra [Leviticus] 23:40), but only a Mitzvah before
God, i.e. in the Mikdash, for the entire seven days of Sukkot.
After the destruction of the Beit haMikdash, and as a
commemoration of the time when it stood, R. Yohanan b. Zakai
ordained that we take the Lulav all seven days everywhere. (M.
Sukkah 3:12)] Since the Mishnah is addressing a situation where
the person is coming from a trip - this must be during the
intermediary days of Sukkot, when travel is permissible. In that
case, taking the Lulav is surely only Rabbinically mandated,
and therefore is on a par with T'fillah - thus creating the
conflict. (Rav Safra's answer is maintained in the end.)
In any case, the Gemara here clearly states that this one
(referring to T'fillah) is d'Rabanan (*ha d'rabanan*). How can
Rambam maintain his approach - that T'fillah is d'Orayta -
against this statement?
From the context of the Mishnah in Shabbat, it is clear that the
meal under discussion is a late-afternoon repast. In other
words, the person has already said T'fillah once that day (in the
morning). Since Rambam maintains that one T’fillah a day is the
Torahic obligation, any remaining T'fillot are certainly
There is additional indication that the meal in question is
taking place after the participants have said [at least] one
T'fillah that day. We find that eating before saying T'fillah
(the first T'fillah of the day) is prohibited, based on the
verse: *Lo Tokh'lu al haDam* - You shall not eat anything with
its blood. (Vayyikra 19:26) - (see Berakhot 10b - we will
discuss this in greater detail later at T'fillah 6:4). This
prohibition may be torahic in source; even if the it is not fully
d'Orayta, rather a Rabbinic law which is appended to the verse
(*as makh'ta*), it still makes it clear that if someone has not
yet prayed that day, they are not allowed to be eating a meal in
any case. Certainly they would have to interrupt a meal for
T'fillah; hence, the Mishnah in Shabbat must be referring to a
meal in which those partaking have already said one T'fillah that
(Parenthetically, if this is an actual Torahic prohibition,
rather than an *as'makh'ta*, it assumes T'fillah from the Torah
- and thus proves Rambam's position; we will leave this for our
later discussion, focussed around this particular Halakhah).
THE SECOND SOURCE: BERAKHOT 21A
The Mishnah (Berakhot 3:4-5) establish the rule that a *ba'al
keri* (one who has had a seminal emission) may not say T'fillah -
but does think about/meditate on the words of K'riat Sh'ma while
the rest of the community is reciting them. The Gemara (Berakhot
20b-21a) indicates that even if *hirhur lav k'dibur dami* -
meditating on something is not reckoned as saying it's, there is
still a value in the ba'al keri meditating on the words of K'riat
Sh'ma. By doing this, he is joining the community in the matter
in which they are engaged (and not separating himself from them).
The Gemara then asks: If this is the case, why does the ba'al
keri not say T'fillah (evidently even silently i.e. without
moving his lips) along with the community? The Gemara
(ultimately) responds: Kr'iat Sh'ma is d'Orayta, whereas T'fillah
is d'Rabanan (see the various readings of the text in Rashi and
Tosafot there). Here we cannot save Rambam's approach as we
did before - a ba’al keri is (typically) a case of first thing
in the morning - and this T'fillah should, according to Rambam's
thinking, be considered d'Orayta. How can we defend Rambam's
As mentioned, the sugya there is not concerned chiefly with which
obligations still apply to the ba'al keri, as much as which
words, currently being recited by the community, should also be
said by the ba'al keri who is with them. (See the bottom of 20b
- see also Otzar haG'eonim, Berakhot p. 50, where a related
ruling is cited. The case concerns someone who enters a Beit
K'nesset after having completed T'fillah and finds that the
community is reciting Ashrei - and the ruling is that he should
say it along with them; the basis for this ruling is the Gemara
at the bottom of 20b). The words of K'riat Sh'ma are, indeed,
directly from the Torah - which is certainly not the case
regarding the words of T'fillah.
This response could be challenged on internal grounds, as
follows: The Gemara notes that, according to the Mishnah (3:4), a
ba'al keri does say Birkat haMazon - and the Gemara explains that
the reason is that Birkat haMazon, unlike T'fillah, is d'Orayta.
However, it seems that the words of Birkat haMazon are not
d'Orayta; so how do we distinguish between Birkat haMazon and
The distinction still may hold, once we clarify the nature of the
obligation of Birkat haMazon vs. that of T'fillah. Whereas, even
according to Rambam, the Torah only obligates us to praise God,
request and thank Him - but there are no specific themes which
must be stated. In other words, all of the themes mentioned in
T'fillah are created by the Rabbis. T'fillah, in theme and
content is fully d'Rabanan.
On the other hand, Birkat haMazon carries a demand for specific
themes, as follows:
When you have eaten your fill, you shall bless the LORD your God
for the good land that He has given you. (Devarim [Deuteronomy]
8:10) These words are the explicit source for the commandment of
Birkat haMazon - blessing God after eating a meal. There are
several blessings in the Birkat haMazon:
(1) *HaZan* - praise for God, who sustains the world;
(2) *Birkat Ha'Aretz* - thanks to God for everything, focussing
on the Land of Israel;
(3) *Boneh Yerushalayim* - petition to protect and rebuild
(4) *HaTov vehaMeitiv* - general praise and thanks for God.
In addition, when three or more men eat together, the Birkat
haMazon is prefaced by the invitation known as *Zimun*. The
Gemara (Berakhot 48b) expounds:
When you have eaten your fill, you shall bless - *Birkat
"the LORD your God" - *Birkat haZan*;
"for the...land" - *Birkat haAretz*;
"...the good (land)..." - *Boneh Yerushalayim*;
"that He has given you" - *HaTov vehaMeitiv*.
It seems clear that all five of these blessings are sourced in
the Torah. Although differing opinions are presented regarding
*HaTov vehaMeitiv* and *Zimun*, the basic formula of the first
three blessings is, according to all opinions - d'Orayta. Even
though the text of each B'rakhah were composed at different times
throughout history, the basic (as the Gemara there indicates)
there basic theme is grounded in the Torah.
Hence: To recite the words of T'fillah along with the community
does not represent, in any way, a joining with them in stating
themes or words which are d'Orayta - and therefore the ba'al keri
does not join them. On the other hand, reciting Birkat haMazon
implies not only fulfilling a Mitzvah from the Torah, but also
themes and texts which are (at least) grounded in the Torah.
R. YEHUDA AND THE MONTHLY T'FILLAH
Ramban's second challenge to Rambam comes from the Gemara in Rosh
R. Elazar said: A person should always prepare(review) his
T'fillah and then say it. R. Aba said: R. Elazar's rule is
reasonable regarding the blessings of (the T'fillah of) Rosh
haShanah and Yom haKippurim and of *p'rakim* (infrequent
occasions); however, not regarding [T'fillot of] the whole year.
Is this really so? After all, Rav Yehudah would review his
T'fillah before saying it! [the case of] Rav Yehudah is
different, since he would only say T’fillah every thirty days -
it is considered like *p'rakim*.
Here we see that Rav Yehudah did not say T'fillah every day - how
can Rambam’s theory be defended here?
One simple response would be to posit a dispute about the
obligation of T'fillah - that Rav Yehudah (in the minority) holds
that T'fillah is totally a rabbinic obligation (like Ramban's
later approach) and that his opinion is rejected. This would
work - except that we find no mention of such a dispute anywhere
in the Gemara or related texts.
A more intriguing response will take us back to Rambam's
introductory formula: "...to serve God every day via T'fillah."
Note that Rambam does not define the Mitzvah as pure T'fillah -
nor does he simply state that there is a Mitzvah to worship God
(every day); he combines the two in this unusual formula. What
is the implication of Rambam's phrasing here?
*AVODAT HASHEM* - ONLY T'FILLAH?
Rambam clearly holds that the primary obligation from the Torah
is worship - *Avodah*. We will go one step further - since the
Torah obligates us to worship YHVH your God with all of your
hearts* (Devarim 11:13), the implicit focus of this Mitzvah is
Avodah sheb'lev. However, what does that phrase mean? If it
directly means T'fillah (as a simple reading of the Gemara in
Ta'anit and the Sifri would lead us to believe), then the Mitzvah
should be directly one of T'fillah - and Rambam should have
worded it so. By integrating Avodah into his primary formula, he
is inviting us to entertain a more complex understanding of the
Mitzvah in question.
What is the intent of the Gemara's *drashah* (exegesis) in
Ta'anit? Let's go back to the text and see: *Eizehu Avodah
shebaLev? Hevey Omer: Zu T'fillah* (what is "worship of the
heart"? - I would say T'fillah). What is bothering the Rabbis
about the verse from Devarim?
*Avodah* (within a theocentrically focussed context) is
conventionally understood to refer to (animal or grain)
offerings. (In addition to work related to the construction of
the Mishkan - see Bamidbar [Numbers] Ch. 4) See the various
references in Bamidbar Ch. 18. Therefore, we are surprised when
we encounter a demand for Avodah - to be done with our hearts,
rather than with our hands.
We could either interpret this positivistically - i.e. identify a
particular action which is "heart-worship" that the Torah is
commanding; or we might interpret it exclusivistically - that the
Torah commands us to worship God (also) in a method (any method?)
which is non-physical. In other words, do we understand the
*lev* ("heart") component to be pointing to a particular mode of
worship - or just to any worship which is not external?
There are several modes of worship which are theo-focussed, yet
not external-physical. Primarily, of course, we think of
T'fillah - we are worshipping God, through communion with Him -
yet there is no external act which exemplifies T'fillah. Put
even more sharply - no visible change has taken place on any item
external to the worshipper (unlike Avodah in the Mishkan where
either the Mishkan has become more constructed or a particular
offering has reached the altar, been eaten, been disposed of
There is another worship-action which is similarly internal -
one which is thought of less intuitively than T'fillah. The
Sifri (R'eh #33, commenting on the verse in Devarim 13:5 -
*...v'oto ta'avodu...* - "...you shall worship Him...") states:
*v'oto ta'avodu - b'torato "ivduhu...* "worship Him through His
Torah". Talmud Torah - the study of Torah, may be considered a
form of Avodah. If so, it will certainly be considered Avodah
shebaLev - since it has no externally visible impact. By offering
several types of heart-worship (the Sifri also suggests T'fillah
- not as another opinion, in dispute with Talmud Torah, but as
another option), the Sifri follows the exclusivistic
understanding of *Avodah shebaLev* - the Torah is commanding us
to engage in one of several non-physical modes of worship.
Now - can any participation in Talmud Torah be considered Avodah?
Not necessarily - the Gemara in Hagigah, commenting on the verse
(Malakhi 3:18) "Then once more you shall see the difference
between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God
(*Koved Elohim*) and one who does not serve Him.", makes the
following observation: "Isn't the righteous the same as one
who serves God and the wicked the same as one who does not
serve Him? Rather, one who serves God and one who does not
serve Him are both righteous - yet, the one who reviews his
study one hundred times is not the same as one who reviews it one
hundred and one times. The Gemara here draws a sharp line,
identifying some (very serious) levels of Torah study with
righteousness - yet falling short of "worship". However we
understand the distinction between one who reviews one hundred
and one times, and whatever the value of that extra review might
be (if we understand it literally), one thing is clear: There are
some experiences of study which are considered "Avodat Hashem" -
and some which fall short of that.
There is a class of students/scholars identified in the Gemara
(e.g. Shabbat 11a) known as *mi shetorato um'nato* - someone
whose Torah is his vocation. This is not a reference to
professional educators or students - rather to those who are
whole-heartedly committed to study in a (literally) full-time
sense. This category shows up in MT, significantly, in the
context of T'fillah.
In Hilkhot T'fillah 6:8, Rambam distinguishes between “regular”
people, who must interrupt their study for T'fillah - and those
who are *toratam um'natam* who do not interrupt. Rambam explains
that the Mitzvah of Talmud Torah is greater than the Mitzvah of
T'fillah, which is why they do not interrupt their study for
T'fillah. This explanation is, however, a bit confusing. If
Talmud Torah is greater, why does anyone engaged in study have to
interrupt for T'fillah? Why should this equation only apply to
those who are in the category of *toratam um'natam*?
If we posit a qualitative difference between the Talmud Torah of
the 'elite' group - and define it in the terms presented in
Hagigah, we can understand Rambam's ruling. Indeed, Talmud Torah
may be greater - but every person has to participate in God's
worship. However, if someone is already engaged in another
(greater) form of Avodah (i.e. Talmud Torah), then the concern
for his involvement with Avodah is assuaged. In other words, not
every form of study is considered Avodah; however, one that is
takes precedence over T'fillah.
Now we can understand Rambam’s wording at the beginning of the
Halakhah. The Mitzvah (as commanded in the Torah) is
"heart-worship", i.e. worship of God through internal (cognitive
and emotional) means. The basic method - which is accessible to
everyone - is T'fillah. Therefore, Rambam defines it as
"worshipping God via T'fillah"; however, if someone, like Rav
Yehudah, is studying in a mode which is considered *Avodat
Hashem*, then not only is he exempt from T'fillah, his Avodah
may even be considered more praiseworthy. (As to why Rav Yehudah
did say T'fillah once a month...that is a topic for another
Ramban's third challenge is the 'daily' component in Rambam's
formula. Granted that the Torah is commanding us to worship God
through T'fillah, where, in any of the cited verses, is there an
indication that this Mitzvah is to be performed daily? (see Mr.
Harrar's insightful comments below).
Parenthetically, all Mitzvot of commission have some
time-orientation for their fulfillment. There are Mitzvot that
are constant (e.g. Talmud Torah), Mitzvot which are situational
(e.g. building a parapet around a roof IF you live in such a home
that requires one) and Mitzvot which are time-oriented (e.g.
K'riat Sh'ma at rising and sleeping time). Once we respond to
Ramban's challenge and identify a source/rationale for declaring
"Avodah via T'fillah" as a daily Mitzvah - how is this defined?
Is it something to be accomplished once a day - or is there some
other way to understand it?
Note that Rambam does not define this Mitzvah (in his
introductory formula) as *pa'am b'yom* - once a day; rather
*b'khol yom* - every day. This language lends to an
understanding that the Mitzvah is every day - i.e. all the time.
Although the stance which is required is constant Avodat Hashem;
the points of reference are once - or several times - a day.
There are many models for this distinction in Halakhah. One
example which is handy comes from Hilkhot Shabbat. There is a
Mitzvah in the Torah to remember the day of Shabbat (Shemot
[Exodus] 20:8); this Mitzvah seems to be an ongoing one. Yet, we
only perform the action of this Mitzvah once a week (Friday night
Kiddush - see MT Shabbat 29:1 and Ramban on Shemot ibid.).
Although the cognitive awareness of Shabbat should be constant,
the action which expresses this awareness is done weekly. (See
Ramban ibid who maintains that our reckoning the days of the week
from - or to - Shabbat is a daily fulfillment of this Mitzvah;
however, the point is still valid. Even if we only fulfill it
daily, it is still not done on a 24-hour basis.)
Now, the question is why the point-of-action of the Mitzvah of
Avodah is once a day. Here we have several options. First of
all, it may be patterned after the model of Avodah - the Mikdash.
The Mikdash is only open for Avodah during the day; i.e. each
night is a Halakhic interruption of Avodah - and each dawn brings
a new day of Avodah. If - as is evident from many Halakhot
and as we will see in later shiurim - T'fillah is patterned after
Avodat haMikdash, we can understand the once-a-day parameter.
We could also make a textual association with the sections of
Devarim which warn us against forgetting God. The context there
(see, for instance, Devarim 5:10-15) is one related to work - you
will build, create, conquer etc. and, amidst the success, forget
God. If one of the goals of Avodat Hashem is to maintain the
relationship with God in the most intimate and dependent level
(and, indeed, that may be its chief raison d’etre) then the
necessity for daily Avodah/T'fillah is obvious. This would also
explain the prohibitions against eating and working before
T'fillah - each day of living, working, enjoying etc. must be
guided by the experience of T'fillah.
R. ELAZAR, R. YOHANAN B. ZAKAI AND SAFEK T'FILLAH
There is one problem left (actually there are quite a few, but
one which we will address) inherent in Rambam's approach to
In B'rakhot 21a, the Gemara cites several opinions about what to
do in case of *safek* regarding parts of the daily worship. What
if someone was not sure if he had already said K'riat Sh'ma -
does he repeat it or not?
Regarding T'fillah, we find the following two opinions:
R. Elazar said: If he was in doubt as to whether or not he read
K'riat Sh'ma, he should reread it; however, if he was in doubt as
to whether or not he said T'fillah, he does not go back and say
T'fillah. R. Yohanan b. Zakai said: Ideally a person should say
T'fillah all day.
The conventional way to understand R. Elazar is that he holds
that K'riat Sh'ma is d'Orayta and that T'fillah is d'Rabanan.
Following the general rule of *Safek d'Orayta l'Humra, Safek
d'Rabanan l'Kula* - a doubt regarding a Torah law is dealt with
stringently, a doubt regarding a Rabbinic law is dealt with
leniently, he rules accordingly.
However, we will be surprised to find that Rambam rules like R.
Elazar (except in some cases - which may mean that he isn't
ruling against R. Yohanan b. Zakai but limiting the application
of his statement - more on this later on). In MT T'fillah 10:6,
Rambam rules that someone who is in doubt as to whether or not he
said T'fillah does not repeat it. Why does Rambam apply the rule
of Safek l'Kula to a Mitzvah which is (according to him)
I'd like to suggest two answers:
As I suggested above (in the analysis of the sugya in Sukkah
38a), we assume that the person is not in doubt about all his
T'fillot that day; since he will certainly have said T'fillah at
least once, that fulfills the Torah level of obligation; anything
more is merely d'Rabanan and is dealt with leniently. However,
if this is the case, why doesn't Rambam qualify the ruling and
apply it only in a case where the person has already (certainly)
said T'fillah once that day?
The second answer cuts more to the nature of T'fillah and demands
that we understand it as inherently different than other Mitzvot
which are d'Orayta. For instance, if I am unsure if I shook the
Lulav on the first day of Sukkot (a Torah obligation), I can pick
up the Lulav again and shake it, thinking just in case I didn't
do it the first time, I'll do it again. I'm also thinking if I
did it before, this act is meaningless. Regarding B'rakhot, we
cannot apply this thinking - we wouldn't want them to be
meaningless - so we would say the following: If I didn't say
Birkat haMazon (the blessing after a meal - also a Torah
obligation) before, then this is the Birkat haMazon of which I am
obligated. And if I did say it before, then I am thanking God
again. - surely not a bad thing to do, especially when required
by Halakhah. However, we cannot apply the same thinking to
T'fillah - as Avodah. Just as is the case in the Beit haMikdash
, we never do Avodah just in case; Avodat Hashem requires
whole-hearted focus and meaning. It is possible for Rambam to
maintain that T'fillah is a Mitzvah d'Orayta - and yet, something
we do not do in a case of doubt - only as full-intentioned
worship. *L'ahavah et Hashem Eloheikhem ul'Ovdo b'Khol
L'vav'khem* - "Loving YHVH your God and worshipping Him with ALL
OF YOUR HEARTS".
now, to the questions:
Q1: Why does Rambam combine Hilkhot T'fillah with Hilkhot
Birkat Kohanim (the Kohanic Blessing; see Bamidbar 6:22-27)?
JH (Joseph Harrar ):
Bamidbar 6:22-27 This is what we call Birkat Kohanim. During the
days of the Beit Hamikdash, the Kohanim used to say it in the
morning and at dusk with their offerings. They practiced the
nessiat-kappayim while saying it. After the Hurban [destruction],
the Birkat Kohanim was joined to the Tefilla and is a part of it
(during the hazara of the Sh'mone Essre). It is why Rambam
combines Hilkhot Tefilla with Hilkhot Birkat Kohanim.
YE (Yitz Etshalom ):
In addition to Joseph's reason, T'fillah is a Mikdash-oriented
Avodah (see the shiur on Sefirat ha'Omer) and, as such, is
directly connected with Birkat Kohanim - which is, of course, an
extension of Birkat Kohanim in the Mikdash. As Joseph points
out, Birkat Kohanim is integrated into T'fillah (and is
theoretically performed at each daytime T'fillah - but more on
Q2: Why does Rambam use the phrase *la'Avod et
Hashem...biT'fillah* (to serve God via T'fillah)? Why not
*la'vod et Hashem* (to serve God) or *l'hitpalel* (to say
JH: Because it is said: ul'ovdo b'khol l'vav'khem (Devarim
11:13) and Avoda she-balev is Tefilla.
YE: See the shiur above.
Q3: What is Rambam's source for this Mitzvah (Avodah
biT'fillah) being a daily obligation?
JH: "vela'amod baboker baboker lehodote ul'hallel l'A. vekhen
la'areb" (I Divre Hayamime 23:30). "va'avad'tem et A. Elohekhem
uverakh et lach'm'kha ve'et meimekha..."(Shemot 23:25). lechem
umayim, (bread and water) are daily needs. So the Tefilla by
which a person asks for its needs should be daily.
YE: See the shiur above.
Q4: How can Rambam reckon T'fillah as a Mitzvah from the Torah
- when the Talmud states several times that T’fillah is
JH: He reckons it as a mitzvat ‘asse because it is said:
‘va’abadtem et A. Elohekhem (Shemot 23:25) and the Oral Law
teaches that ‘Avoda is Tefilla from ‘ul’ovdo b’khol l’vav’khem
(Devarim 11:13). Because ‘Avoda she-baleb is Tefilla.
YE: Yes, but that doesn’t answer the direct question: What about
the statements in the Gemara that indicate that T'fillah is
d'Rabanan? See the shiur above.