(The obligation of Tefila & Ma'ariv (5776

מרן הגאב"ד שליט"א


ויפגע במקום וילן שם כי בא השמש...[בראשית כח' י']

[And he encountered the place and he slept there for the sun had set… [Bereishis 28:10

ופירש רש"י [ד"ה ויפגע]...ורבותינו פירשו (ברכות כו🙂 לשון תפילה כמו ואל תפגע בי (ירמיה ז, טז.) ולמדנו שתקן תפלת ערבית...

RashI [d”h Vayifga]: …However, our Masters explained [the word Vayifga] as an expression of prayer, as the Possuk says [Yirmiyah 7:16] “And do not make a request of Me.” And we see from this [incident] that he [Yitzchak] instituted the Ma’ariv prayer.


Our Forefathers and our Prayers

In the Gemara in Brachos[1] we learn that each of our forefathers instituted one of the three daily prayers. Shacharis was instituted by Avraham, Mincha was instituted by Yitzchok, and Ma’ariv by Ya’akov.  Since this weeks’ Parsha concludes these three institutions we will discuss the obligation of prayer. We will also discuss the specific nature of the Ma’ariv prayer, in light of that which we learn in the Gemara[2] that Ma’ariv is voluntary. Let us begin from the foundations and work our way up.

The Obligation-Torah or Rabbinical?

There is a basic argument between the Rambam and the Ramban whether there is a Torah obligation to pray every day or not. The Rambam[3] is of the opinion that there is indeed a Torah obligation. His proof for this position is that both the Gemara in Ta’anis[4] and the Sifri[5] expound the Possuk ולעבדו בכל לבבכם-“And to serve Him with all your hearts”[6] as a reference to prayer.

However, the Ramban[7] maintains that the obligation is purely Rabbinical in nature. He says that these expositions were not meant as face value interpretations of the Possuk. Rather, this Possuk obligates us to invest all our energies into serving Hashem. It is not referring to prayer.

The Ramban[8] says further that if there is any form of prayer which is obligatory in nature from the Torah level, it must be the prayers in time of great distress. That which our forefathers instituted these prayers does not, by default, cause that there is a Torah obligation on these prayers.

The Sefer HaChinuch[9] says that according to the Ramban’s opinion if one is in distress and does not pray, one has transgressed this commandment.

However, to me it seems that the Ramban is of the opinion that there is absolutely no Torah obligation to pray. Rather, the Ramban’s point was only that if one were to say that there is a Torah obligation of prayer then this is what it would be. The proof to this is that in the Ramban’s additions to Sefer HaMitzvos[10] he says that he excluded the commandment of prayer. If he was of the opinion that the Sefer HaChinuch charges him with, he should not have said this. Therefore it seems to me that the Ramban is of the opinion that there is no Torah obligation of prayer at all.

Yom Tov-Increased Obligation?

The Ramban in Parshas Emor says the following:

וטעם מקראי קדש שיהיו ביום הזה כולם קרואים ונאספים לקדש אותו כי מצוה היא על ישראל להקבץ בבית האלהים ביום מועד לקדש היום בפרהסיא בתפלה והלל לאל בכסות נקיה ולעשות אותו יום משתה... [רמב"ן ויקרא כג' ב']

And the explanation of the words “Mikra’ei Kodesh” is that on this day everyone should be gathered and assembled to sanctify it, for it is a commandment on Yisrael to be gathered in the House of Hashem on the festival day to sanctify the day publicly with prayer and praise to Hashem, with clean clothing and to make it a day of festivity…

From these words of the Ramban the Pri Megadim[11] says that it seems that the prayers of Yom Tov are a Torah obligation, for the Ramban has interpreted that Mikra’ei Kodesh is a reference to the gathering in prayer.

However this seems difficult. If this were to be the correct interpretation of the Ramban one would also be forced to say that there is a Torah obligation to pray with a congregation and with clean clothing,

Rather, it would seem that what the Ramban means is that the commandment of the Possuk is to sanctify the day. Our Sages have laid down for us what this would constitute. The Possuk is not commanding us to do these specific actions.

The Daily Prayers-Torah or Rabbinical?

The Rambam[12] says that the institution of three daily prayers is Rabbinical in nature.

Rav Yerucham Fishel Perlow, in his commentary to Rav Sa’adyah Gaon’s enumeration of the 613 Mitzvos[13], brings proofs from Rav Sa’adyah Gaon's work, Emunos Ve’Deos[14], that all three daily prayers are classified as a Torah obligation. He says further that the basis for this is the fact that our forefathers instituted these prayers.

This is difficult, for amongst all the Rishonim there are none to be found that state such a principle. To the contrary, the Rambam’s approach seems to be the standard one which is taken.

It seems that the intent of Rav Sa’adyah Gaon is to say that it is a Rabbinical enactment which is based upon a Torah source. Such an enactment is more stringent. This is illustrated by the Gemara in Ta’anis[15]. The Mishna[16] states the Ma’amados[17] of Ne’ilah were cancelled on days that there was a Korban Eitzim[18] but the Ma’amados of Mincha were not cancelled. The reason that is given by the Gemara is because Mincha’s obligation is of a Torah nature while the nature of Ne’ilah’s obligation is Rabbinical. Rashi[19] says that the Torah source for Mincha is Yitzchak, for as we learn in Brachos[20] Yitzchak instituted Mincha. Here too, the intent seems to be that the Ma’amad of Mincha is more stringent since Mincha has a Torah basis, even though it is Rabbinical, while the enactment of Ne’ilah is purely Rabbinical. This is in accordance to the general principle that we find in Shas[21], that Rabbinical enactments which are Torah-based are more stringent.

The Nature of the Torah Prayer

As mentioned above, the Rambam says that the Torah requirement does impose three daily prayers; even one is enough.

The accepted practice used to be that women were very lenient about the three daily prayers. This seems strange, because the Gemara in Brachos[22] says that women are required to pray. The Magen Avraham[23] uses the position of the Rambam to defend this practice and says that since there is no Torah obligation for more than one prayer they fulfil their obligation by saying any type of prayer in the morning, even with Modeh Ani. With regards to the Rabbinical enactment the Magen Avraham says that there was no enactment made for women.

My ruling is that as long as a women is able to pray she should do so, but if it’s between taking care of her children and praying then her children take priority.

The Torah Obligation to Pray Every Day

As mentioned, according to the Rambam one needs to pray at least once every day[24]. What is the Rambam’s source?

The Lechem Mishna[25] says that his source is from the fact that the source of the Torah obligation for prayer is the Possuk ועבדתם את ה' אלקיכם וברך את לחמך ואת מימך- “You shall serve Hashem, Your G-d, and He will bless your bread and your waters[26].  As mentioned earlier[27], the service mentioned here is a reference to prayer. Therefore, says the Lechem Mishna, since one needs blessing in their bread and water each day, therefore one it follows that one should pray each day.

The Kesef Mishna[28] gives a different explanation. If not each day, then when?!

This is a fundamental idea. All commandments which their nature is the service of Hashem are obligatory each day. For example, the commandment of Tefillin does not specify how often it should be done. Yet it is obvious that these commandments should be done every day, for their nature is not reactionary[29], rather servitude, and servitude is our constant state.

It is for this reason that the Pnei Yehoshua[30] says that there is a basic Torah obligation to study Torah each day, even though the Possuk of והגית בו יומם ולילה- “And you shall contemplate it [Torah] day and night”[31] is to be found in the Prophets and not in the Torah. Since the nature of the obligation of Torah is servitude, therefore it is a daily obligation, on par with putting on Tefillin.

Answering the Ramban’s Proofs

The Ramban[32] brings a number of proofs to his position that prayer is purely Rabbinical. Some of his proofs:

  1. The Gemara in Brachos[33] says that an impure person may not pray the Shemone Esrei because prayer is Rabbinic, but does say Shema since it is a Torah obligation.
  2. The Gemara in Shabbos[34] says that Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai did not interrupt his learning in order to pray since prayer is Rabbinic, yet he did stop for Shema since it is a Torah obligation
  3. The Gemara in Sukkah[35] posits that one who is in the middle of a meal does not stop in order to pray since it is Rabbinic, yet does stop for Lulav since it is a Torah obligation.

The Kesef Mishna[36] answers that although prayer is a Torah obligation yet since the text of the Shemone Esrei is Rabbinical therefore it is classified in regards to the specific laws mentioned above as Rabbinical.

We may go a step further along this direction:

The Re’ah[37] asks what the difference is between Shemoneh Esrei and Birkat HaMazon. The text of Birkat HaMazon, like Shemoneh Esrei, is Rabbinical in nature, yet Birkat HaMazon is described in many places as being a Torah obligation, in contrast to the above mentioned cases where Shemoneh Esrei is referred to as being a Rabbincal obligation!

The Re’ah answers that the text of Birkat HaMazon is a definitive expression of the Torah obligation. On the other hand the text of Shemoneh Esrei is not the definitive expression of the Torah obligation.

We can explain his words with the following:

The Sha’agas Aryeh[38] asks what the difference is between Shemoneh Esrei and Shema. We know that in order to fulfil the Torah obligation of reading Shema one only has to read the first Possuk. That which we read three chapters is Rabbinical. Even so, the Halacha is that an impure person reads all three chapters, since the base obligation of reading Shma is a Torah obligation. If so, asks the Sha’agas Aryeh, according to the Rambam this should be exactly parallel to the nature of prayer, which also has a Torah based obligation but a Rabbinic text, and should be identical in Halachik nature! Why does the Gemara distinguish between the two?

According to the words of the Re’ah mentioned above we can answer this question as follows:

The Torah obligation of prayer is Divine worship[39]. It is not restricted to requests. Therefore, that which the Gemara defines prayer as asking for Hashem’s mercy[40] is Rabbinical. It is for this reason that Shemoneh Esrei, which is essentially an act of requests, is defined as Rabbinical.[41]

On the other hand, the three chapters of Shma are complete extensions of the Torah obligation. The first Possuk-and the first chapter-are defined as the acceptance of the yoke of Heaven, [42] and the second chapter is classified as the acceptance of the yoke of commandments,[43] which is an extension of the yoke of Heaven. Therefore Shma is classified as a Torah obligation.

The Special Nature of Ma’ariv-Obligatory?

So as we mentioned in the beginning, the Gemara says that Ma’ariv is voluntary. Despite this, Tosfos[44] in many places in Shas says that this is only in relation to other Mitzvos, that other Mitzvos take precedence, but in its own right one certainly is not allowed to forego Ma’ariv for no reason. If Ya’akov instituted it then it most certainly is mandatory. The reason, then, that Ma’ariv indeed has a different status than the other prayers is because it was also instituted corresponding to the burning of the fats and the limbs[45], which was not obligatory.[46]

Tosfos[47] also quotes the opinion of the Bahag[48] that nowadays since we have accepted it as obligatory therefore it is considered as such. This is also quoted by the Rif[49] and the Rambam[50].


Rambam and Ra’avad Regarding the Nature of Ma’ariv

Despite this, we find three Halachos which are unique to Ma’ariv due to its original voluntary nature.

  1. The Rambam[51] says that although in regards to Shacharis and Mincha one is obligated to be exacting regarding their starting periods, in regards to Ma’ariv one does not need to be exacting with regards to Ma’ariv. The reason that the Rambam gives is because Ma’ariv is voluntary.
  2. The Rambam[52] says that the reason why there is no repetition of Shemoneh Esrei by the prayer leader at Ma’ariv is because the reason for the repetition is in order to exempt one who does not know how to pray from their obligation of prayer, and Ma’ariv is not obligatory.
  3. The Rambam[53] says that one who remembers in the middle of Shemoneh Esrei that they have already prayed should stop on the spot. However, if this occurs during Ma’ariv then they should continue. The reason that the Rambam gives is because Ma’ariv is not obligatory therefore when one started to pray one had intention that one is praying a non-obligatory prayer, so they wouldn’t need to pray anyway.

In the last Halacha mentioned above, the Ra’avad[54] says the following cryptic words: אין כאן נחת רוח-“there is not a satisfying aroma.” What is his intention?

The Kesef Mishna[55] explains that the Ra’avad is bothered by the fact that although Ma’ariv was originally voluntary, however nowadays it is obligatory[56], so the Rambam’s line of reasoning seems difficult.

If this is indeed the Ra’avad’s intent, the answer for the Rambam’s position would seem to be as follows:

Our obligation today to pray Ma’ariv is only because of a Minhag, and not because the Halacha changed; i.e. that it is now an obligatory prayer, equal to Shacharis and Mincha. Rather, it is a voluntary prayer which we are obligated to pray, due to the Halacha to follow a Minhag. Now, it seems to me that the problem of finishing a prayer when one remembers that one prayed is that one is combining a voluntary prayer with an obligatory one. Therefore, the Rambam held that since Ma’ariv is still really voluntary therefore it can combine with the second half.

A difficulty with this approach is that the Ra’avad does not disagree regarding either of the first two Halachos. Why only here?

However, there seems to be a deeper way to understand the Ra’avad’s intent. The Ra’avad could be saying that even though Ma’ariv is voluntary that is not on par with a prayer which is of a completely good-willed nature. With regard to a prayer which said out of complete good-will the Halacha is that one needs to add something new[57]. Ma’ariv does not have this Halacha. Therefore the Ra’avad argues that Ma’ariv does not combine with the second half of the prayer, which is out of complete good-will.

If this is the correct interpretation then the Rambam would seem to be going in accordance to his general opinion which we find in other places. The Rambam is of the opinion that there is no separate Halachik category for prayers of good-will. There are only two categories-obligatory and voluntary. This is brought out by that which the Rambam says in the following Halacha:

There used to be a common practice that one would pray two Minchas.[58] The Rambam, when describing the second Mincha, calls it voluntary and not good willed.

Therefore it seems that the Rambam held that since both halves are of the same Halachik nature one may finish their prayer.

Early Ma’ariv

As mentioned, one may pray Ma’ariv early. According to the Rambam, this is because of Ma’ariv’s voluntary nature. However, Tosfos[59], when describing praying early on Erev Shabbos, says that one accepted Shabbos early. One has made it Halachik night earlier.

So according to Tosfos it would seem clear that if one would pray earlier on the eve of Rosh Chodesh or Chanuka or Purim one would say Ya’aleh Veyavo and Al HaNissim. However, according to the Rambam that one has not elongated the night, does one indeed do this?

The Eretz Tzvi[60] corresponded with the Imrei Emes[61] on this topic. Their final ruling was that one does say Al HaNissim and Ya’aleh Veyavo, because if one does not then de facto one would not be allowed to pray earlier on these days, because the Halacha is that on these days one need to mention the events of the day in their respective prayers. Since one may pray early this is de facto a license to say Ya’aleh Veyavo and Al HaNissim. This conclusion was also reached by the Mishna Brura[62]. All three of these great people were unknowingly preceded by the Maharil.[63]


[2] Brachos 27b. See page 5

[5] Sifri Parshas Eikev end of Piskah 5

[6] Devarim 11:13

[7] Hasagos HaRamban to Asei 5 ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] Sefer HaChinuch Mitzvah 433

[10] Ramban, Mitzvos Lo Ta’aseh Sheshakchan HaRav, end.  [Ed. Note]: The Ramban attacked the Rambam many times in his Sefer HaMitzvos about which Mitzvos to count. In the end of both the commandments and prohibitions the Ramban gave alternatives for the various commandments and prohibitions which he had excluded from the Rambam’s count. In the end of the prohibitions, after giving his replacements, the Ramban proceeds to enumerate those Mitzvos which he had excluded. On the list is Mitzva 5-the obligation of prayer.

[11] Shulchan Oruch Orach Chaim Siman 490 in Mishbetzos Zahav Se’if Katan 2

[13] Peirush HaGrif to Sefer HaMitzvos LeRasag Mitzva 2

[14] Emunos VeDe’os Ma’amar 3 and 5-see Rav Perlow’s commentary for the proofs

[17] [Ed. Note] See Mishnah Ta’anis 4:2 and Rambam Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 6:1. In brief, every day there were groups of Yisraelim representing different tribes of Yisrael that came to the Beis HaMikdash to be with the Korbanos on behalf of Klal Yisrael.

[18] [Ed. Note] See Ta’anis 28a and Bartenura d”h Zman Atzei HaKohanim to Mishna Ta’anis 4:5. In brief, there were different families that donated the wood for the pyre on the altar in the times of Ezra when Ezra came to Eretz Yisrael. From then on these families always brought wood on these days and made festivities.

[19] Rashi Ta’anis 28a d”h Halalu Divrei Torah

[21] See, for instance, Eiruvin 36a

[23] Shulchan Oruch Orach Chaim Siman 106 Se’if Katan 2

[24] This is recorded by the Rambam clearly in his heading to Hilchos Tefillah-“To serve Hashem in Tefillah every day.”

[25] Lechem Mishna Hilchos Tefilah 1:1

[27] Page 1

[28] Kesef Mishnah Hilchos Tefilah 1:1, end of d”h VeDah

[29] [Ed. Note] Compared, for instance, to putting up a Mezuza upon the construction of a house, which is in reaction to the event of the house.

[30] [Ed. Note] I could not locate this source

[36] Kesef Mishna to Hilchos Tefilah 1:1 d”h Ve’ein Mishna

[37] Chiddushei HaRe’ah to Brachos 48a d”h HaTov

[39] As mentioned on page 1, the source of prayer is from an exposition of לעבדו-serving Hashem. In both the Sifri and in Ta’anis there is no special mention of requests.

[41] Although it is true that Shemoneh Esrei also includes praise and thanks of Hashem, these are only in order to facilitate the act of request. This is what the Gemara says Brachos 32a-לעולם יסדר אדם שבחו של הקבה ואח"כ יתפלל-one should praise Hashem and then pray. It is only due to this Halocha that we say the first three Brachos.

[44] Tosfos: Brachos 4b d”h DeAmar; 26a d”h Ta’ah; 30b d”h Lefi; Chagigah 9b d”h Oh; Shabbos 9b d”h Leman DeAmar; and Yuma 87a d”h VeHaAmar

[46] [Ed. Note]: One does not have to offer up fats and limbs every night. If there were leftovers from the days’ offerings then they were offered up overnight.

[47] Tosfos Yuma 87a d”h VeHaAmar

[48] Halachos Gedolos Hilchos Brachos

[49] Rif Brachos 19a [in the Rif]

[50] Rambam Hilchos Tefillah 1:6

[54] Hasagos HaRa’avad to Hilchos Tefillah 10:6

[55] Kesef Mishna to Hilchos Tefillah 10:6 d”h Uma Shekasav Rabbeinu Tefillas

[56] As mentioned above from the Halachos Gedolos, Rif, and Rambam

[57] Brachos 21a; see Orach Chaim 107:1 and Rambam Hilchos Tefillah 1:9

[58] See Rambam Hilchos Tefilah 3:3, Tur Orach Chaim 234, and Shulchan Oruch Orach Chaim 234:1

[59] Tosfos Brachos 27a d”h DeRav

[60] Teshuvos Eretz Tzvi Siman 25-26

[62] Mishnah Brurah Siman 693 in Sha’ar HaTziyun Se’if Katan 6

[63] Maharil [Minhagim] Hilchos Purim 5