Hilkhot T'fillah - Introductory Shiur
This shiur P'tichah on Hilkhot Tefillah is lovingly dedicated to
the memory of our neighbor and friend Mendy Weiss at the
conclusion of Shiv'ah. May his memory be a blessing to us all
and may the legacy of his dedication to Torah, the warmth of his
heart and his home and the many people he touched serve as a
source of comfort and inspiration to all who mourn his loss. We
wish a special measure of comfort to Lisa, Yanki and Rena along
with his parents, sisters and family members. May Hashem grant
you all comfort and consolation among the mourners for Tziyyon
Following our lead from Hilkhot K'riat Sh'ma, we will introduce
Hilkhot T'fillah by clarifying several matters of an "overview"
(a) Is T'fillah a *Mitzvah d'Orayta* (Mitzvah from the Torah)?
(b) If T'fillah is d'Orayta, what is it's d'Orayta "form" - i.e.
how different is our T'fillah from that mandated by the Torah?
(c) If T'fillah is d'Rabanan (mandated by the Rabbis) - what is
the basis for its structure? (This question may also be asked if
T'fillah is d'Orayta - as long as the entire structure is
(d) What is the relationship - if any - between T'fillah and
Note: This shiur will introduce some of the basic sources in the
Torah for T'fillah; some of the issues raised in these questions
will be addressed in later shiurim.
[In this course, "T'fillah" will not be translated - and
certainly not as "prayer". "L'hitpallel" (the associated verb)
will be rendered: "to say T'fillah". The reason for this is not
merely semantic, but is driven by concerns which arise from the
semantic. "Prayer" in English is derived from the Latin
"precari", which means to beg - or to obtain by begging. In a
subtle way, this orientation drives much of western thought about
prayer - it almost carries a sense of negotiation with God.
Witness "my prayer wasn't answered" as if a prayer is something
which demands a [favorable] response. As we will [hopefully]
clarify throughout our course of learning Hilkhot T'fillah, the
Halakhic approach to T'fillah is much more than - and different
from - this type of "prayer". For lack of a better English
equivalent, we will just use "T'fillah". ]
You shall worship YHVH your God (*va'Avad'tem et YHVH
Eloheikhem*), and I will bless your bread and your water; and I
will take sickness away from among you. (Shemot [Exodus] 23:25);
From there you will seek YHVH your God, and you will find Him if
you search after Him with all your heart and soul. (Devarim
YHVH your God you shall fear; Him you shall serve, (*v'oto
ta'Avod*) and by His name alone you shall swear. (ibid. 6:13)
So now, O Israel, what does YHVH your God require of you? Only to
fear YHVH your God, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to
serve YHVH your God (*v'la'Avod et YHVH Elohekha*) with all your
heart and with all your soul... (ibid. 10:12)
You shall fear YHVH your God; Him alone you shall worship (*oto
ta'Avod*); to Him you shall hold fast, and by His name you shall
swear. (ibid. 10:20)
If you will only heed His every commandment that I am commanding
you today — loving YHVH your God, and serving Him with all your
heart and with all your soul (*ul'Ovdo b'khol l'vav'khem uv'khol
naf'sh'khem)... (ibid. 11:13)
YHVH your God you shall follow, him alone you shall fear, his
commandments you shall keep, his voice you shall obey, him you
shall serve, (*v'oto ta'Avodu*) and to him you shall hold fast.
AVODAT HASHEM IN THE TORAH
There is no doubt that the institution of T'fillah can be found
in the Torah - Kayin, Avraham, Yitzchak, Rivkah and Yaakov said
T'fillot, as did Mosheh and Pinchas (see Tehillim 106:30). Later
on in T'nakh, some of the most beautiful and well-known passages
are T'fillot - Hannah's request for a son, and her thanksgiving
song afterwards (see I Sh'muel 1:11-12 and 2:1-10); Eliyahu's
plea (I M'lakhim 18:36-37) and so on. In spite of our ability to
identity the existence of T'fillah as far back as Kayyin
(Beresheet [Genesis] 4:13-14) (and, Midrashically, dating back to
Adam) - this does not inform us about the status of T'fillah in
those days. Was T'fillah a fulfillment of a Mitzvah? or was it
the voluntary act of individuals, reacting to various types of
life-experiences (barrenness, childbirth, war, disease, etc.)?
Although the Torah never explicitly commands us to pray, we are
commanded - quite a number of time - to "worship/serve" God - the
Hebrew verb is *'Avod* and the noun is *'Avodah*. How is this
Mitzvah to be understood? There are (at least) four possible
approaches to this command:
a) As an exclusive statement - to wit, rather than serving
foreign gods, when you have a desire to serve, serve only the One
True God (see the context in Shemot 23:25 and the Ibn Ezra there;
Devarim 6:13 and 13:5). In that case, there is no Mitzvah, per
se, of Avodat Hashem - rather the negation of Avodah Zarah
(foreign worship - i.e. idolatry).
b) As a general statement - indicating that our lives should be
dedicated, wholly or partially to Avodat Hashem. If this is the
case, then it implies no particular acts or behaviors, but an
all-encompassing orientation towards our lives.
c) The Mitzvah of Avodah implies a general command to engage in
specific acts of Avodat Hashem - acts which are unspecified by
the Torah. If so, T'fillah, along with other Avodah experiences
- although mandated by the Rabbis, provide the structure within
which we can fulfill this Mitzvah.
d) Finally, we must consider the possibility that the Torah is
referring to one explicit worship-act -which may or may not be
ANAYLYZING THE POSSIBILITIES
Although the first possibility has certain advantages - it
relieves us of the demand to pinpoint a method of fulfilling
"'Avodah" and explains the contextual backdrop for several of the
occurrences of the command to serve/worship God, it is difficult
to resolve every instance of the command of 'Avodah as one of
negation. Although several of them are contextually related to
idolatry, some of the others stand quite independent of that
abomination. In addition, it would be philosophically
frustrating to define our relationship with God as purely one of
negation - when we have reason to "reach out", we should reserve
that communion for God alone.
The second possibility - that Avodat Hashem is a general type of
command which has far-reaching implications for every aspect of
our lives but stops short of directing specific actions - would
fall under a category described by Rambam as "Mitzvah Kolelet".
[When Rambam composed his Sefer haMitzvot (which is printed in
many editions of the Mishneh Torah at the beginning of the first
volume), he was challenging the Mitzvah-enumeration of earlier
sages - notably the author of the Halakhot G'dolot (see Ginzburg,
Geonica I, 100 and Hildesheimer's introduction to Halakhot
G'dolot in reference to the author of that work). As we noted in
an earlier shiur (K'riat Sh'ma 3:04), the Talmudic tradition
(Makkot 23b-24a) only informed us that there were 248 Mitzvot of
commission and 365 Mitzvot of omission - totalling 613 Mitzvot in
the Torah - but not which Mitzvot made up those lists. In order
to justify his enumeration - and bolster his challenge against
Halakhot G'dolot - Rambam prefaced his Sefer haMitzvot with
fourteen "Shorashim" (lit. "roots" - principles) which formed the
basis of his reasoning in his enumeration.]
In Shoresh #4, Rambam writes: "It is inappropriate to reckon
those commands which include all of Torah. In the Torah there
are commands and warnings which are not about a particular thing,
rather they include all Mitzvot, as if to say: 'Do all that I
command you and take care regarding all of the things which I
warned you about'...as in when He says: 'Be attentive to all that
I have said to you...' (Shemot 23:13)...and many [verses] like
that. Others were mistaken about this principle and reckoned
'You shall be holy' (Vayyikra [Leviticus] 19:2) as a Mitzvah
among the Mitzvot 'Aseh..."
If we read Avodat Hashem as a general Mitzvah which impacts upon
the rest of our actions but does not command a [new] specific
action - or actions - it would then be a perfect candidate for
Rambam's category of Mitzvah Kolelet. As we will see later on,
however, Rambam seems to be undecided as to whether Avodah is a
Mitzvah Kolelet. However, we do find Rishonim who take this
position more definitively. Ibn Ezra (Devarim 6:13, 10:20, 13:5)
consistently interprets "Avodah" as generally applying to
Mitzvot. Ramban (Devarim 6:13 in the second half of his comment)
takes this even further and favors the understanding that
"'Avodah" is a constant state of being in relationship with God -
as a servant to the Master. In his critique to Sefer haMitzvot
(Mitzvah 'Aseh #5 - see below), Ramban explains it a bit
differently - that all Mitzvot which we perform should be done
whole-heartedly (thus "with all your heart").
The third approach is seen most clearly in the Sifri (#41): "
'*ul'ovdo*' - this refers to study...another meaning: '*ul'ovdo*'
refers to T'fillah..." In other words, the Sifri sees 'Avodah as
a general statement which has specific methods of fulfillment.
We are commanded to serve God - and that is all that the Torah
has to say on the matter. However, there are other
Mitzvot/activities which, when we engage in them, are considered
a fulfillment of 'Avodah.
A model for this approach is found in MT Evel 14:1. Rambam there
lists a number of "social" Mitzvot - e.g. visiting the sick,
comforting the bereaved, elating a bride and groom etc. which are
Rabbinically mandated. Nevertheless, concludes Rambam, one who
fulfills any of these Rabbinically ordained acts fulfills a
Mitzvah d'Orayta - "Love your fellow as yourself" - i.e. that
which you would want your fellow to do for you, do for him. In
other words - the Torah commands a general Mitzvah without
defining those actions which we must do to fulfill it. The
Rabbis create a structure through which we can fulfill this
command of the Torah. By mandating that we visit the sick, for
example, the Rabbis have given us a vehicle for fulfilling the
Torah's command of "Love your fellow as yourself".
In the same way, the Torah commands us to worship/serve God - but
says no more. The Torah does, however, command us to study - and
that becomes a method of 'Avodah. Either the Torah (see below) or
the Rabbis command us to say T'fillah - but, when we do, we
Of course, according to this approach, there are other options
available for fulfilling the Mitzvah of 'Avodah - T'fillah and
Torah study are just two examples.
(Parenthetically, why did the Sifri pick these two acts? If we
posit that the definition of 'Avodah is driven by the ultimate
command in that series found in Devarim 13:5 - to "cleave to Him"
- then any act which is a form of communion with God may be
considered 'Avodah. Hence, T'fillah, in which Man reaches out to
God and attempts to bridge the impossible gap separating them -
and Torah, in which Man opens his ears to the word of God - are
the archetypes of experiences of communion. Man speaks to God
(T'fillah) and God speaks to Man (Torah). )
As we will see, Rambam seems to adopt this approach.
The fourth possibility can be maintained only if we accept one of
two routes: Either the direct definition of 'Avodah is T'fillah -
which seems to be borne out by the Gemara in Ta'anit (and, to a
lesser degree, the Gemara in Bava Metzia' 107b), or, in addition
to the Mitzvah of 'Avodah, the Torah mandates T'fillah from
PRIMARY RABBINIC SOURCES
We have already seen that the Sifri offers options as to the
meaning of 'Avodah.
The Gemara in Ta'anit (2a), on the other hand, sees a direct link
between 'Avodah and T'fillah: " '*ul'ovdo b'khol l'vav'khem
uv'khol naf'sh'khem*' (to serve/worship Him with all your heart
and all your soul) -which type of 'Avodah is in the heart?
T'fillah." The Gemara (like one of the options in the Sifri) is
starting from the point of reference of 'Avodah in the context of
sacrifical offerings. 'Avodah is generally understood to be
associated with the Mishkan (Sanctuary) (see Bamidbar [Numbers]
18:7). However, since all of the worship-acts in the Mishkan are
external acts (e.g.sprinkling the blood, raising the meal
offering etc.), how can the Torah refer to "heart-based 'Avodah"?
The Gemara understands that this 'Avodah must be internal - hence
(by the way, this may be the source for understanding other
verses about 'Avodah as referring to T'fillah - since the Torah
refers to "'Avodah shebalev" - worship of the heart - that allows
us to understand other references to 'Avodah in that light. See
also Midrash T'hillim 67 - "what is the 'Avodah of the Holy One,
who is Blessed? - T'fillah.")
The Gemara in Bava Metzia' which infers T'fillah and K'riat Sh'ma
(!!) from the verse in Shemot - "you shall worship/serve YHVH
your God" - is either relying on our verse ("...with all your
heart...") or reads that since that verse is directed at everyone
- not just at the Kohanim (and was also said before the command
to build a Mishkan) - it must also refer to "heart-worship."
In any case, we find several statements in the Gemara and Sifri
which point to T'fillah as a Mitzvah d'Orayta - yet, it many
places in the Gemara, T'fillah is described as "d'Rabanan". For
instance, in Berakhot 21a, the Gemara explains why a Ba'al Keri
reads K'riat Sh'ma and Birkat haMazon but not T'fillah, based on
the fact that K'riat Sh'ma and Birkat haMazon are d'Orayta unlike
T'fillah, which is d'Rabanan. We will look at these sources in
the next shiur and attempt to reconcile them.
Rambam (Sefer haMitzvot, Mitzvat 'Aseh #5) states:
The fifth Mitzvah is that He commanded us to serve Him; this
command was repeated several times, saying: "You shall serve YHVH
your God" (Shemot 23:25) and saying: "You shall serve
Him"(Devarim 13:5). Even though this command is general, as we
explained in Shoresh #4, it has a unique application -that He
commanded regarding T'fillah. The wording in the Sifri is: " 'And
to serve Him' - this refers to T'fillah." They also said: " 'And
to serve Him' - this refers to Torah study." In the teaching of
R. Eliezer the son of R. Yossi haG'lili, they said: "Where is the
source for T'fillah as a Mitzvah? from here: 'YHVH your God you
shall fear; Him you shall serve...(Devarim 6:13)'" and they said:
"Serve Him via His Torah, serve Him via His Mikdash (Sanctuary)"
- i.e. face towards there (the Mikdash) to pray there, as Shlomo,
may he rest in peace, explained. (See I M'lakhim 8:22-53, esp.
vv. 29, 33,35,38,42,48).
As I mentioned before, Rambam's position on the "Mitzvah Kolelet"
problem is unclear - although he explicitly calls 'Avodah a
Mitzvah Kolelet, he also defines T'fillah as the specific
fulfillment of 'Avodah. He even cites two statements from Sifri
which point to alternative forms of Avodah - Talmud Torah and
"Mikdash". (Even though Rambam himself interprets this statement
as an expansion on T'fillah as Avodah, directing us to face
towards the Mikdash when praying, the simple reading of that
phrase is a reference to the Avodah actually done in the Mikdash;
cf. Ramban's critique here.)
In his critique of Sefer HaMitzvot, Ramban raises several
challenges to Rambam's definition of the d'Orayta level of
1) The various statements in the Gemara which aver that T'fillah
2) Rambam, in the introductory caption of Hilkhot T'fillah,
defines the d'Orayta Mitzvah of T'fillah as once a day - Ramban
questions this parameter - why not once a month, once a year or
once in a life? In addition, how could the Gemara exempt a Ba'al
Keri from T'fillah (which exemption may last for several days) if
he is obligated from the Torah (see above)? I will address
Ramban's challenges in the next shiur. For now, let's look at
Ramban's approach to T'fillah. He offers two possibilities:
a) T'fillah is in no wise a Mitzvah - it is simply a great
kindness, that God allows us to address Him and to pour our
hearts out to Him in T'fillah.
b) We are commanded to pray to God when in need - based on
Shlomo's inauguration of the Beit haMikdash (see I M'lakhim 8).
In other words, T'fillah is generally a Rabbinically mandated
Mitzvah, except that when in need (specifically public need), it
is a Mitzvah d'Orayta. In other words, the Torah commands us to
call out to God when in dire straits. (As mentioned above, Ramban
interprets "with all your heart" as a general statement about
Mitzvot - that we should do all Mitzvot with complete focus and
SEFER MITZVOT KATAN
Among the Ba'alei haTosafot, several sages compiled codes based
on the 613 Mitzvot. The Sefer Mitzvot Katan (R. Yitzchak of
Corveille) #11, points to a different source for T'fillah in the
"To say T'fillah with focus (*Kavvanah*) every day...even though
basic T'fillot are d'Rabanan, nevertheless, there is a T'fillah
from the Torah, as it says: 'From there you will seek YHVH your
God, and you will find Him if you search after Him with all your
heart and soul.' (Devarim 4:29);"
In other words, even though the SMA"K also cites the Gemara in
Ta'anit, he defines T'fillah (in its d'Orayta mode) not as an
extension or expression of 'Avodah, rather as a purely heartfelt
reaching out to God - seeking and searching after Him. This
approach makes Kavannah (focus) part of the most fundamental
definition of T'fillah.
In upcoming shiurim, we will discuss the ramifications of these
different approaches, as well as engage in further analysis of
Rambam's orientation and a defense against Ramban's critique.