Simanim 123-124:6 End of Amida

  • Rav Asher Meir
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mishna Berura
Yeshivat Har Etzion

SHIUR #65: Simanim 123-124:6



by Rav Asher Meir








R. Alexandry said in the name of R. Yehoshua ben Levi: "After praying one must take three steps back, and then give shalom [bid farewell]."  Rav Mordechai said to him, "After he takes three steps back, he must stand there.  Just as a student who parts from his Rav, if he immediately returns, he is like a dog who returns to his own vomit."

We learned this also [in a beraita]: After praying one must take three steps back and then give shalom; and if he doesn't do so, it would have been better had he not prayed at all.

And in the name of Shemaya they said that one should give shalom to the right and then to the left, as it is said (Devarim 33) "From His right [hand] a fiery law for them;" and it is said (Tehillim 91) "A thousand will fall at your side, and a myriad at your right"...

Raba saw Abaye giving shalom to his own right first.  He said, "Do you think it means YOUR right side?  I meant your LEFT side, which is the right of the Holy One, blessed be He."

Rav Chiya barei deRav Huna said: "I saw that Abaye and Rabba would step three steps in a single bow."  (Yoma 53b. See MB s.k. 6 for a partial explanation of Rav Mordechai's cryptic statement.)


The MB mentions that the BY brings several reasons for the custom.  They are:

1. Bnei Yisrael maintained a three mile distance from Mount Sinai at Matan Torah (Orchot Chaim);

2. Moshe Rabeinu passed through three "barriers" as he approached HaShem: darkness, clouds, and haze (also Orchot Chaim);

3. To demonstrate that he is leaving a place of holiness and moving to a profane place (Shibolei HaLeket);

4. Since a kohen after offering the tamid sacrifice (to which our tefilla corresponds) descends three stone steps from the altar to the ramp (Rav Hai Gaon);

5. Regarding the angels (to whom we are likened as we pray) Yechezkel prophesied: (Yechezkel 1:7) "Their FEET were a straight FOOT ... the sole of the FEET like the sole of the FOOT of a calf."  Feet+foot+feet+foot=6 "feet" or steps; three back at the end of the tefilla, and three forward as he returns (after a pause, as the gemara explains) to his place (Rav Manoach, Rav Abudraham).


The first four reasons as well as the one mentioned in the MB all indicate that three "steps" or units constitute a significant separation.  The fifth explanation has a halakhic ramification, see MB s.k. 8.




In the middle of "Elokai Netzor" (the short prayer following Shemoneh Esrei), one may ANSWER to kedusha, but one does not recite the entire kedusha with the congregation.  We learned last week that one may shorten any additional prayers in order to finish them in time for kedusha (shorten them - but not rush them).  So it is a very common occurrence indeed that one is just finishing one's prayers, or one's steps, as kedusha begins.  At what stage may one say the FULL kedusha: right after finishing one's petitions?  Or only after stepping back?  Or perhaps only after saying the "yehi ratzon" mentioned in the Rema?  See MB siman 122 s.k. 4.




This pause is mentioned in the gemara cited above and partially explained in MB s.k. 6.  Three different periods of time are mentioned in se'if 2 in the SA - two in the SA itself (lekhatchila and bedi'avad) and one in the Rema (for the Shatz and one praying alone).  MB s.k. 11 brings an alternative interval for one praying alone.  A different waiting period applies if kedusha comes right away - MB s.k. 9.


The Rema suggests saying a short petition "yehi ratzon" after "oseh shalom."  This petition certainly takes as long as "four paces."  Is this considered a wait?  I have heard in the name of Rav Scheinberg of Mattersdorf that this petition is indeed considered a sufficient wait.  After all, it is not part of the Amida in any way - nor is it part of the additional petitions which are appended to the Amida by virtue of being said BEFORE stepping out of the Divine presence.




Waiting for the Shatz to start his "recap" before stepping forward, or waiting for the person behind us to finish his tefilla before stepping back (as we learned in siman 102 s.k. 5), can sometimes take a long time.  What can we do during this time?


In the first situation (waiting for chazarat ha-shatz) we have already completely finished davening.  Therefore, it is permissible to study Torah  (See Tefilla KeHilkheta 12 note 154.)  In the second situation (waiting for the person behind us to finish), we haven't completed our tefilla, as we have not yet "taken leave" of the Presence by stepping back.  So we are limited to saying responses to the prayers - see MB 122 s.k. 4 for details.


I want to relate further to the issue of waiting for the person behind us to finish his tefilla - even though technically this belongs to last week's shiur.  As we learned in the SA, this prohibition applies even when the person started davening late.  This prohibition can sometimes be frustrating, as some people may daven for twenty minutes or more.  When waiting is problematic, two possibilities present themselves: to step back in spite of the prohibition, or to finish the tefilla WITHOUT stepping back - without "taking leave" of the Presence.


Under what circumstances can we be lenient to allow stepping close to someone praying?  A needing to go to the bathroom is a sufficient reason (Tefilla KeHilkheta 12:115), and a kohen may always be lenient when going to wash his hands in order to go to the dukhan (TKH 14:36).


If the person behind us is not praying but is simply waiting for the person behind HIM (a common situation), then we may step back. (TKH 12 note 267.)


When can we be lenient and step aside instead of back?  Tefilla KeHilkheta writes (12 note 267), "When the one waiting disturbs the concentration of the one praying, it seems that it is proper to step aside."  This is logical because one of the two reasons that one may not step back in such a case is so as not to disturb the person in back of us. But if our very waiting is disturbing (for instance, someone who keeps looking back every few seconds) then the wait is counterproductive.  Even so, we compromise on our own "taking leave" by stepping aside, rather than back.


We could say that stepping sidewise is a minor compromise, since we are after all making a symbolic act of taking leave.  It seems to me that this is not true.  The gemara attaches particular symbolism and importance to the right, left, and center directions.  It is not just a question of taking three steps.  Additionally, in terms of 'psak,' we see that stepping sidewise is not recommended for those people for whom stepping back is possible.  [In other words, when a leniency is present we do not step sideways so as not to disturb the one behind us, rather we take leave as usual.]  (However, when it is IMPOSSIBLE to step back we SHOULD step sideways - Arukh HaShulchan 123:5.)


When no leniency is present, a common compromise is to step back diagonally.  Since we are still going in a backwards direction, it is evident that we are "taking leave" of the Shekhina.  But with respect to the person behind us, we are only passing by his side - which the SA permits (102:4. MB there s.k. 17 cites the Zohar (I 132a) which forbids this, but the Zohar also forbids passing in back, and this stringency is not mentioned in the MB, so perhaps the MB's intention is not to rule absolutely like the Zohar but only to cite a more stringent opinion.  Also, see s.k. 18 which brings an additional relevant leniency.)


Since I wrote the above lines, I have acquired a very important book on tefilla which has was published only a few months ago.  The book, by Rav Avraham Yeshayahu Pfoifer, is called "Ishei Yisrael."  Like "Tefilla KeHilkheta," it gives an orderly account of the laws of tefilla accompanied by extensive footnotes, but it is more extensive than TKH.  I recommend the book highly.  Rav Pfoifer writes (29:7) that in a pinch ("she'at ha-dechak") it is possible to step back diagonally, and cites the Chazon Ish in a footnote.  We see that the custom I have indicated does indeed have an authoritative source.






The Sages, in the Mishna on Rosh Hashana 33b, assert that every individual is obligated in Shmona Esrei just as the shaliach tzibbur (prayer leader) is; Rabban Gamliel argues that the shatz fulfills the obligation of prayer on behalf of the congregation.  The gemara concludes that even the Sages admit that the shatz can fulfill the obligation of a congregant, but only when he is incapable of praying for himself.


The Rishonim add a couple of limitations to this rule:

1. The Beit Yosef understands from the Tur that the listener must understand the Hebrew words of the prayers being said by the shatz (SA se'if 1, MB s.k. 1);

2. The Rosh explains that only a shatz can fulfill the obligation of those incapable of fulfilling their own obligation - that is, there must be a "tzibur" of ten people.  Furthermore, all ten must be participants, in other words, all nine members of the congregation must actually listen to the words of the shatz. (This is a terribly neglected halakha.) (SA se'if 4.)




The Rema (se'if 2) raises the possibility that the recap of the tefilla can be abbreviated, but he limits this possibility to "she'at ha-dechak" - a strained situation such as when the time halakhically permitted for davening is passing.  This possibility is not mentioned in the SA.


However, in the Beit Yosef, the mechaber (Rav Yosef Karo) is actually more lenient than the Rema.  He cites the Kol-Bo who writes: "Nowadays congregations in most places [evidently in Provence] are accustomed to having the shaliach tzibur begins mincha aloud right away so that the congregation will answer kedusha after him, and there will be no need to go back and recite the [entire] tefilla aloud."  But the Rema in Darkhei Moshe explains that in Ashkenaz this is done only if time is short.


Even this "abbreviated" tefilla has two versions: in the shorter version, the entire congregation says the first three blessings together with the shatz, and then continue on their own from the fourth berakha onward.  In the second version, the congregation merely listens to the shatz's first three berakhot and then recites the entire silent Amida. Which is preferable? See MB s.k. 8.




Obviously, very few people are "incapable" according to the definition of the SA.  Most people who understand Hebrew are capable of reading it or at any rate memorizing a few benedictions.


(However, the Chazon Ish, Orach Chaim 19:3 demonstrates that according to the Ran, the shatz fulfills the obligation of the entire community - even those who are not able to make it to beit knesset at all.  This is similar to the view that birkat kohanim applies to the entire community, even those who are not able of coming to shul.)


What about a person who can't pray because of some HALAKHIC problem - is he also considered "incapable?"  See what the BH writes on siman 101, d.h. Ve-haidna.  (The source is evidently in our siman, se'if 10 in the SA).  Does this seem to contradict what he writes here d.h. Va-yotzeh bo?