Geula and Tefila

  • Rav Moshe Taragin


            The gemara in Berakhot (4b) asserts the value of juxtaposing tefilla - the recitation of the shemone esrei - with a recollection of redemption.  The ideal of "someich geula le-tefilla," of twining a mention of past geula with actual tefilla - if executed properly, merits entry into the next world (muvtach lo she-hu ben olam ha-ba).  The exact benefit and purpose of this juxtaposition remains unclear. 


            In his commentary to the gemara in Berakhot (4b), Rashi cites a Yerushalmi in Berakhot as the source of this rule.  The Yerushalmi identifies a "superior" form of prayer and contrasts it with an "inferior" one.  A prayer offered without introduction is an inferior prayer, as it is not predicated on any prior relationship and is therefore less dependable or even valuable.  However, when we first build a relationship with Hashem by mentioning geula and only subsequently lodge our requests, the tefilla is "superior." According to Rashi, geula and tefilla are juxtaposed in order to HEIGHTEN the quality of prayer.  Employing geula as a preamble to prayer enhances prayer's caliber. 


            Rashi reinforces this notion in a comment on the gemara in Berakhot 31, which urges entering tefilla in a state of "happiness."  Though the literal reading of the gemara addresses the mentality that should frame prayer, Rashi attempts to concretize the gemara's point by suggesting certain experiences which can enable a proper state of mind prior to tefilla.  He cites two examples of texts whose recital would ease anxiety and facilitate a superior tefilla.  One example is describing geula, while a second example is the recitation of ashrei.  The mentioning of geula, then, is functionally parallel to ashrei, as they both serve as a preface to tefilla.  There is a subtle difference between the function of geula as a relationship builder, as Rashi notes on Berakhot 4b, and the role that Rashi attributes to it as a comforting pretext to tefilla (31a).  Either way, geula serves as a preface, enabling and enhancing the tefilla. 


            By contrast, the Talmidei Rabbenu Yonah articulate the fusion of geula and tefilla quite differently.  The sections of geula texts recall our liberation from Mitzrayim and the ensuing submission to the Divine will; immediate prayer – itself a form of worship – REINFORCES that submission to Hashem's will.  Alternatively, an immediate tefilla corroborates the FAITH we place in Hashem as the Answerer of our prayers.  This is a fitting conclusion to the discussion of geula and our enduring faith in His interest in and ability to redeem us.  Unlike Rashi, who viewed geula as a preface to tefilla, the Talmidei Rabbenu Yonah viewed tefilla as an EPILOGUE to geula.  Tefilla recited immediately after describing geula reinforces some of the fundamental motifs of the redemptive experience.  That we pray every morning is a mitzva in and of itself (either Biblical or Rabbinic).  The scheduling of tefilla immediately subsequent to geula, however, incidentally highlights some of the basic motifs of geula.  In this respect, prayer is drafted in the "service" of geula.


            There is an interesting dispute, the premise of which may strengthen the position of the Talmidei Rabbenu Yonah.  The gemara in Berakhot (4b) records a machloket between Rabbi Yochanan, who requires this twinning even at Ma'ariv, and Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, who waives this requirement for Ma'ariv.  Explaining the machloket, the gemara first suggests that the argument revolves around the history of the event commemorated in "geula": did the redemption from Egypt begin at night or only occur at daybreak?  Rabbi Yochanan believes that the geula began at night, and therefore he requires the juxtaposition at night during Ma'ariv, while Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi disagrees. Alternatively, the debate may not be historical but nominal; each agrees that the geula began at night and came in full force during the day.  They argue as to whether the preliminary stages at night were sufficient to deem this miracle as having begun at night. 


Either way, one must wonder about the RELEVANCE of this issue if geula is merely a convenient "lead-in" for prayer.  If Rashi is correct and geula functions as an introduction to our tefilla, we should insert geula as a preface independent of the timing of the actual redemption. If we assume, on the other hand, that the pairing of geula and tefilla is for the sake of our discussion of geula, perhaps we can argue that this association is only mandated during the primary moment of reliving geula.  Since, at least according to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, we relive geula exclusively during the day, the geula-tefilla twinning is unnecessary at night. 


            Tosafot in Berakhot (4b) mention an interesting position of Rav Amram Ga'on that may indicate – as Rashi suggested – that this twinning actually serves tefilla's interest.  Rav Amram Ga'on comments on our custom of reciting kaddish between the evening discussion of geula and shemoneh esrei, severing the juxtaposition. Since Ma'ariv is voluntary (reshut), we are excused from connecting geula and tefilla, and we intentionally insert kaddish to break the continuity and demonstrate the lesser status of Ma'ariv.  Rabbi Yochanan's aforementioned debate with Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi regarding the need for this association at night revolved around the timing of the original geula and had little to do with the halakhic status of tefillat Ma'ariv.  Rav Amram Gaon introduces a new variable to help determine the requirement of the twinning between geula and tefilla at night: only OBLIGATORY tefillot require this twinning, while voluntary ones do not. 


            According to the Talmidei Rabbenu Yonah, the juxtaposition of geula and tefilla has little to do with actual tefilla.  Whenever we study the lessons of geula and target certain ideological truths, we underscore those truths with a consequent tefilla.  The fact that the prayer being recited is voluntary should not exonerate us form reinforcing the lessons of geula through a tefilla.  Rav Amram Ga'on's position seems to be predicated upon the view of Rashi - geula aids us in preparing for tefilla, but this preamble was only instituted during a tefilla of obligation and not a voluntary one. 


            The ensuing shiur will iy'H address a related issue: may geula and tefilla be disassociated to serve alternate purposes?