Simanim 130-131 Special Petition Said During Birkat Kohanim

  • Rav Asher Meir
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mishna Berura
Yeshivat Har Etzion

SHIUR #73: Simanim 130 - 131


by Rav Asher Meir






The subject of saying verses and petitions during BK was discussed in shiur 70, on siman 128 se'if 26.




The Mishna Berura s.k. 4 closes: "For we do not recite petitions on Shabbat."  What is the source, and the scope, of this restriction?


It is taught [in a beraita]: On these [afflictions] we cry out [matriyin] even on Shabbat: On a city which is besieged or flooded, and on a ship which is caught in a storm.  R. Yose says, [we cry out] for help, but do not shout [in prayer].  What kind of cry, with a shofar?  And do we ever sound the shofar on Shabbat? Rather, this means the "anenu" prayer, which is referred to as a cry (Ta'anit 14a).


In any case, we do not fast nor shout [in prayer] nor cry out [that is, sound the shofar] on Shabbat or Yom Tov on any affliction, except for famine when we shout [in prayer] on Shabbat (Shulchan Arukh Orach Chaim 576:12).


If Hakhel [the public reading of the Torah which occurs once every seven years on Sukkot] falls on Shabbat, it is pushed off until Sunday, because of the shofar and the trumpet and the petitions, which do not push aside Shabbat (Rambam, Chagiga 3:7).


            These sources seem to restrict our ability to petition on Shabbat to situations in which we are asking for rescue from some kind of impending affliction.


The Rokeach (siman 49) says that we do not say "ve-hu rachum" before Barkhu on Shabbat night because we don't recite petitions on Shabbat.  The Kol Bo (siman 35) makes the same ruling, giving the reason of "the dignity of Shabbat."  This reason seems to be closer to the mark in explaining the halakha in our siman.  Rav Ovadia (Yechaveh Da'at V:45) elaborates that it is forbidden to be sad on Shabbat (Yerushalmi Berakhot 2:7 at the end), and making petitions may make a person sad (perhaps by reminding him of his difficulties).  This is the same reason given by Rashi in explaining the gemara (Shabbat 12b) which says that only with hesitancy did the Sages permit visiting the sick and mourners on Shabbat; Rashi explains the hesitation by pointing out that the visitor will feel sorrow.


A similar explanation could be based on the Midrash Halakha which requires that on Shabbat we should feel that all of our work is done (Mekhilta de-R. Yishmael, Yitro, chapter 7 and elsewhere); by asking for help we are demonstrating our awareness of what remains to be done.


The specific ruling of the MB is found in Magen Avraham 128:70.


Another application of this principle is in MB 293:1 in the name of the Pri Megadim.








The Beit Yosef starts off this siman by asserting that "it is explicit in several places in the Talmud that we prostrate ourselves after the tefilla."  Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any of them.  It does say in Avoda Zara 8a that we may add as many petitions after the prayers as we like, but we already pointed out in shiur 64 on siman 119 that the Shulchan Arukh understands this as referring to the petitions APPENDED to the tefilla, namely "Elokai netzor."  (See also Tosefta Berakhot 3:6.  Though some scholars understand that this does refer to tachanun - see Netiv Bina.  Perhaps the correct parsing of the Beit Yosef is: "It is explicit in several places in the Talmud that we prostrate ourselves.  [This is done] after the tefilla.")


At any rate, the "nefilat apayim" itself is explicit in several places in the gemara, and the fact that it should immediately follow the Amida is found in the earliest Rishonim (Rambam Tefilla 9:6).  The timing is also explicit in the Zohar, in the passage cited in the Beit Yosef at the end of our siman.




The gemara relates how Rabban Gamliel and the sages placed R. Eliezer ben Horkanus under a ban because he refused to rule in accordance with the majority opinion on a matter of ritual purity.  The gemara continues:


Ima Shalom, R. Eliezer's wife, was Rabban Gamliel's sister.  From that event on, she would never allow R. Eliezer to fall on his face [for fear that his petitions would be directed against her brothers, and God might answer them].  One day it was Rosh Chodesh and she confused a regular [month] and a leap month [that is, she thought it was Rosh Chodesh when Tachanun was not said, when in fact Rosh Chodesh was the following day], others say that [that day] a poor man came to the door and she brought him bread, and she found that he [R. Eliezer] had fallen on his face.  She said to him, rise, you've killed my brother!  Just then word came from Rabban Gamliel's house that he had passed away (Bava Metzia 59b).


            Talmidei Rashba on this passage say in the name of the Rashba that it is impossible that Ima Shalom stood over R. Eliezer all day long to prevent him from saying tachanun.  It must be that tachanun comes directly after Shmoneh Esrei without any interruption, and therefore it was enough for her to wait for him to finish Amida and then interrupt him.


It should follow that even the slightest interruption is improper, since we would assume that Ima Shalom would never distract her husband during his entire prayer.  How does this inference jibe with the ruling of the MB s.k. 1?




As we just mentioned, "falling on the face" and making private petitions on a regular basis is mentioned several times in the gemara.  The story of R. Eliezer is one instance; another one, which may strike us as equally macabre, is in Kiddushin 81b.


On the other hand, the gemara in Megilla 22b (and a parallel passage on Ta'anit 14b) asserts that it is FORBIDDEN to "fall on the face," that is, to prostrate oneself, completely.  Two reasons are given:


One is that AN IMPORTANT PERSON may not prostrate himself completely unless he is sure that he will be answered.  The assumption is that a prayer uttered in this way is so urgently expressed that if the petitioner were at all worthy HaShem would surely answer; if the prayer is NOT answered it would reflect badly on the one praying.  (Perhaps there is also the fear that it may, on the contrary, weaken people's faith in God.)  This is mentioned in the SA here se'if 8.  And even though this is only mentioned in connection with an important person, the Magen Avraham in s.k. 2 seems to extend it to the congregation as a whole.


The other reason is that such prostration resembles the posture of idol worship.  This is mentioned in the Rema on se'if 8.  The MB elaborates on this halakha in s.k. 40.  According to the MB, is there a basis for the custom to cover the face with a tallit or cloth when bowing in "aleinu" on the High Holy Days?  But see the Beit Yosef for a more complete analysis.


The solution of the gemara is mentioned here in se'if 1 and in se'if 8 - to lean a bit to one side.




Two possibilities for the direction of leaning present themselves: right, and left.  At least six different opinions are brought in the Beit Yosef in support of one over the other:

1. The Kol Bo in the name of the Ram (evidently Maharam of Rotenburg) says that one should lean to the left, because the Tamid sacrifice was slaughtered as its face was pressed down on the left side.

2. Rav Hai Gaon says that one should lean to the left because leaning to the left is properly called leaning, as we learn regarding the Pesach seder.

3. Rabbeinu Binyamin says that one should lean to the left because the Shekhina is to a person's right, and when the left side of the face is against the ground, one is facing right.

4. The Rokeach says that one should lean on the right side because the Shekhina is to a person's right, and one's head should be on the same side as the Shekhina.

5. The Ram (see 1) refers to the verse "His left hand is under my head" (Shir HaShirim 2:6) to demonstrate that one should tend to the left.

6. The Rokeach refers to the continuation of the very same verse "and His right hand will embrace me" to demonstrate the opposite.

The Rema in Darkhei Moshe brings a seventh view:

7. Rabbeinu Bachaye (Bamidbar 16:22) elaborates on Rav Hai Gaon's explanation, explaining that one should lean on the left side which symbolizes strict justice, in order to subdue this aspect of Divine Providence.  But the Rekanati says that one should NOT do so when wearing tefillin; the reason seems to be that the hand tefillin also represents "din;" evidently, we do not want to "challenge" this attribute when it is augmented.




See the MB s.k. 3 for the details of this custom, which is frequently misunderstood.




The Rokeach learns that reciting tachanun requires the presence of a sefer Torah from the verse, "And he fell on his face to the ground before the Ark of HaShem" (Yehoshua 7:6).  This is the same passage which serves as the basis for the halakha in se'if 8.  This halakha is not mentioned in the SA, and indeed the Beit Yosef does not concur with the inference of the Rokeach.


The words of the Rema are subject to misunderstanding.  The Rema does NOT say that nefilat apayim is permissible whenever there is a minyan.  He infers that where there is a minyan praying with a sefer Torah, even a person praying in his house can be considered as part of that minyan - subject to the caveat in MB s.k. 14.




The reason tachanun is not said at night is because night also symbolizes "din," the aspect of strict judgement.  This is parallel to the reasoning of the Rekanati which we mentioned above, and to that mentioned in MB s.k. 20 regarding the house of a mourner.


The MB s.k. 17 mentions that during twilight the custom is TO SAY tachanun.  But in my experience, many congregations seem to have the custom to refrain from saying tachanun during twilight - even during twilight of the Yere'im (see the Bi'ur Halakha siman 261 s.v. Mi-techilat ha-sheki'a).




This raises the perennial question of what to do when the congregation refrains from saying tachanun for an inappropriate reason - because it is close to evening, because of the yahrzeit of a Rebbe, and so on.  Or just because someone banged on the table.  In this case, one SHOULD say tachanun, but not demonstratively.  It is best to wait until the congregation disperses or to go to a side room.


I have heard in the name of the Brisker Rav (Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin) that the congregation is so happy to hear someone bang on the table that this itself is a reason to cancel tachanun, but I suspect that this was said in jest.  Probably Rav Diskin encountered this custom in Yerushalayim much more often than he found it in Brisk.




The SA in se'if 4 mentions the custom not to say tachanun in the presence of a chatan.  The Rema adds that one is considered a chatan only on the day of the wedding.  The Taz (s.k. 10) expresses amazement at this ruling, pointing out that in general a groom's rejoicing is considered to be a full seven days.  We see from the SA that the entire congregation shares in the joy of a groom or a person involved in a berit mila, and subsequently the Taz rules that no tachanun is said when the Amida was said with a chatan during any of the seven days of his sheva berakhot.  This same custom is mentioned in the Magen Avraham s.k. 12.


The Taz then draws a most astonishing conclusion: that for this reason the chatan should not go to Beit Knesset at all, so as not to exempt the congregation from tachanun!  This ruling is brought down in the MB s.k. 26.


After all, the reason we are exempt from tachanun when a chatan is present is not because the congregation makes a sacrifice for his sake but rather because the congregation itself shares in his rejoicing (MB 23) - and it is for this reason that tachanun is not said even if the chatan leaves (MB 21).  According to the reasoning of the Taz, a professional mohel would never have the opportunity to pray shacharit with a minyan!


Various answers have been proposed to this conundrum:


i. Tefilla KeHilkheta (TKH) chapter 15 note 41 cites China veChisda as saying that the chatan is not supposed to pray by himself but rather to gather a minyan of his friends who have a genuine part in his rejoicing - but if this is impractical, he should indeed pray in Beit Kenesset.

ii. TKH cites Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach's suggestion that a chatan is partially exempt from tefilla be-tzibur, but this does not apply to a mohel.

iii. In note 42 the TKH cites the Derisha which states that the chatan does not go to Beit Knesset during these days because he requires a chaperone.  Perhaps the Taz was not innovating a ruling but merely mentioning the custom of a chatan staying home and accompanying it with the possible explanation of tachanun.  Such a line of reasoning is found in the Terumat HaDeshen (Pesakim 80), as cited in the Magen Avraham s.k. 12, regarding the days before the wedding.


Actually, our surprise at the Taz begins earlier.  The plain sense of the Rema is that one is considered a chatan only on the day of the wedding - AND NOT BEFOREHAND.  Such a ruling is pertinent because the Terumat HaDeshen, cited by the Rema in the Darkhei Moshe, mentions a custom to refrain from saying tachanun even the day BEFORE the wedding.  The Levushei Serad brings several interesting proofs that the Rema intended to exclude both before and after the wedding day, but the proofs are not necessarily decisive.


At any rate, the TKH concludes (siman 20) that the custom is that the chatan does not refrain from praying with a minyan.


(See the Shaarei Teshuva s.k. 5 for an interesting discussion of the question, when is the latest se'uda at which one can recite sheva berakhot?)