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Beit Midrash Prayer

Chapter one- part two

How Institute the prayer?

does the prayer is a torah order? is it chachmim?
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4. Is Prayer a Biblical Obligation?
The Rishonim disagree as to whether there is a biblical commandment (mitzvah m'd’oraita) to pray every day. According to the Rambam (Sefer HaMitzvot, mitzvah 5), there is a biblical commandment to pray daily, as it says (Exodus 23:25), "Serve God your Lord," and (Deuteronomy 6:13) "Remain in awe of God, serve Him." Although these verses contain a general commandment to serve Hashem, they also include a specific commandment to pray. The Chachamim interpreted 'service' (avodah) to mean prayer, as it is written (Deuteronomy 11:13), "Love God your Lord and serve Him with all your heart," and they explained (Ta’anit 2a), "What is serving with the heart? You must say, [it means] prayer." By praying once a day, a person fulfills his biblical obligation to pray. To fulfill one’s obligation, one must commence his prayer with praise to Hashem; after that ask for what he needs; and conclude by thanking Hashem for the good He has bestowed upon him. The Torah does not specify how long one’s prayers must be. Therefore, some shorten their prayers and others lengthen them, yet they all fulfill their biblical obligation (Rambam Tefillah 1:2-3).
However, according to the Ramban (Hasagot on Sefer HaMitzvot), there is no biblical obligation to pray every day, because, in his opinion, the extrapolation from the verses that the Rambam mentions is not complete, but rather only an asmachta (reference). Anshei Knesset HaGedolah instituted the daily prayers. Only during times of trouble is there a biblical commandment to pray to Hashem, as we learn from the mitzvah of the trumpets (chatzotzrot), where it says (Numbers 10:9), "When you go to war against an enemy that attacks you in your land, you shall sound a teruah (short blasts) on the trumpets. You will then be remembered before God your Lord, and will be delivered from your enemies."
Hence, according to all opinions, there is a biblical obligation to pray in times of trouble. Therefore, anyone who finds himself, or his friend, in a state of crisis is required to add a special request for assistance in his prayer, since it is a biblical commandment to pray to Hashem that He save him from that trouble. All the more so when the public or the nation is in danger; it is a mitzvah for the tzibur (public) to pray a communal prayer; Chazal even instituted fast days for that reason.

5. The Institution of Prayer by Anshei Knesset HaGedolah
Anshei Knesset HaGedolah instituted the prayers and the blessings (Berachot 33a). They established the wording of the Shemoneh Esrei and decided on the phrasing of all the berachot, including Birkot Keriat Shema and Birkot HaNehenin (blessings recited upon deriving pleasure from something). They also instituted the recital of the three daily prayers, Shacharit, Minchah, and Ma’ariv - Shacharit and Minchah as obligatory and Ma’ariv as optional. 1
The members of the court of Ezra HaSofer, which was established in the beginning of the time of the Second Temple, are called Anshei Knesset HaGedolah. This was the biggest court ever founded in Israel. It was comprised of 120 elders, among them prophets and sages, such as, Chagai, Zechariah, Malachi, Daniel, Chananyah, Misha’el, Azariah, Nechemiah the son of Chachaliah, Mordechai, Bilshan, and Zerubavel, as well as many other sages, the last one being Shimon HaTzaddik (Rambam’s introduction to Mishneh Torah).
During the time of the First Temple, Am Yisrael merited supreme spiritual accomplishments; the Shechinah dwelled in the Temple and the devoutly pious of Israel merited prophecy. Despite this, throughout most of the nation, grave sins including idol worship, forbidden relations and murder, were widespread and eventually caused the Temple to be destroyed and the nation of Israel to be exiled. Hence, when they were able to build the Second Temple, Anshei Knesset HaGedolah formed a supreme court, set boundaries to guard the laws of the Torah, instituted religious guidelines, and worded and arranged the prayers and berachot. They created a full framework for Jewish life which gave expression to the values of the Torah in an organized and established manner within everyday living, thereby distancing the nation from sin and bringing them closer to serving Hashem.
Even in the time of the First Temple the nation of Israel prayed to Hashem and thanked Him for all the good and blessing they received. However, that prayer did not have an organized wording. Since there was no exact text, the righteous and devout people would pray and recite berachot with great kavanah (intent), but the masses of the nation would exempt themselves with superficial prayers. Indeed, passionate prayer from the heart in one’s own words is the ideal method of prayer. Yet, in actuality, the routine concerns of everyday life wear us out, and without regular organized prayers, the public gradually drifts away from prayer services and eventually from Hashem. Following the establishment of the prayers and their fixed wording, all of Israel started to pray, and as a result, faith in Hashem intensified. This is what preserved the nation’s devotion, which remained a burning flame in the darkness of exile for two thousand years
Moreover, during the time of the First Temple, many people mistakenly thought that by offering sacrifices, their sins would be forgiven and they would merit Hashem’s blessing, even if they did not purify their hearts and correct their transgressions. The truth is that faith in Hashem, purification of the heart, and correcting one’s actions are of principal importance, as it says (Deuteronomy 10:12), "What does Hashem want of you? Only that you remain in awe of Hashem your God, so that you will follow all His paths and love Him, serving Hashem your God with all your heart and with all your soul." The prophets severely condemned those who believed that the essence was to bring sacrifices without possessing and demonstrating true devotion to Hashem. As it is written (Isaiah 1:11-13), "‘Why do I need all your sacrifices?’ God asks. ‘I am sated with your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts [brought without repentance or sincerity], and I have no desire for the blood of cattle, sheep, and goats. When you appear before Me, who asked you to do this, trampling My courts? Do not bring any more vain offerings; the incense of abomination they are to Me….’" By instituting the prayers, Anshei Knesset HaGedolah restored the proper order to serving Hashem, reminding us that faith, intent, and devotion are the basis of our lives, and they are expressed most appropriately via prayer, just as Rabbi Elazar said, "Prayer is greater than sacrifices" (Berachot 32b). With that in mind, we pray that we should be worthy of expressing our devotion to Hashem completely, both in prayer and in sacrifice.

6. The Standardized Wording (Nusach)
Establishing a uniform wording, which repeats itself throughout the three daily prayers, created a certain disadvantage. As a result, prayer is liable to become routine and a person is apt to lose the kavanah that is aroused within him when he prays before Hashem in his own words. On the other hand, had Chazal not established a fixed wording, though the righteous would pray beautiful and sincere prayers from the depths of their hearts, most people would pray brief and inadequate prayers.
The Rambam explains (Hilchot Tefillah 1:4) that especially after the destruction of the First Temple and the exile of Israel among the nations, the problem worsened. Many Jews lost their proficiency in Hebrew, the language of prayer. At the same time, in other languages, no appropriate wording for prayer existed. Therefore, Anshei Knesset HaGedolah established the wording for all the berachot and prayers so that they would be fluent in every mouth, and so that the subject of every berachah would be clear to all.
Another advantage to a fixed wording of prayer is that it includes all the general and specific requests for which it is proper to pray. Without an organized wording, every person would pray about a particular topic of personal importance. Doctors would pray for the health of their patients, farmers would pray for rain, and with time, every Jew would likely pray only for the matters close to his or her heart, while distancing oneself from the collective aspirations of the nation. Therefore, the Chachamim instituted eighteen berachot, which incorporate all of Am Yisrael’s goals, both material and spiritual. In so doing, every person praying three times each day balances his personal ambitions and unites them with the overall desires of the nation.
In addition to the actual meaning of the content of our supplications, the wordings of the prayers possess innumerable profound meanings, a few of which are clarified in the wisdom of the Kabbalah. As Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin writes (Nefesh HaChaim 2:10), "And the wise person will understand on his own why 120 sages, among them prophets, were needed to institute a small plea or short prayer. Through Divine inspiration and supreme prophecy, they grasped the order of creation and the deep mysteries of the ‘pirkei merkavah.’ This is why they established and instituted a formula for the berachot and the prayers using these specific words – for they observed and understood in which way the light of each individual word would illuminate the powers of creations, and how each formula was absolutely necessary to properly rectify transcendental spiritual worlds, supreme forces, and the ‘siddur merkavah.’"
Further, he writes (ibid., 2:13) that all the explanations which have been revealed to us by the Arizal and other holy figures are only a drop in the sea compared to the depth of the inner intentions of Anshei Knesset HaGedolah, who instituted the prayers. Through the prophecy and Divine inspiration that appeared to them when they established the wording of the prayers and berachot, they successfully included in concise form the rectification of all the worlds (tikun ha’olamot) in such a way that every day new repairs (tikunim) are amended.

7. Establishing Three Prayers
In addition to the special prayers that our forefathers prayed during times of trouble, they also fixed set times when they prayed to Hashem (Berachot 26b). Avraham Avinu initiated the Shacharit morning prayer. He was the one who originally illuminated the world with his belief, and accordingly set the time of his prayer when the sun starts to rise. Yitzchak Avinu founded the Minchah afternoon prayer. Yitzchak had the unique ability to continue in the way of Avraham his father. Sometimes it is easier to break away onto a new path rather than carry on in the same one. Yitzchak’s strength was that he remained in the path of faith, corresponding to the Minchah prayer, which expresses continuity, for the whole day is sustained by the power of faith. Yaakov Avinu formulated the Ma’ariv evening prayer because Yaakov dealt with many hardships and complications, yet from each of them he emerged stronger. He therefore established the nighttime prayer, since, even in the dark when reality is clouded, it is possible to connect to HaKadosh Baruch Hu, thereby revealing the supreme eternal light.
After the forefathers paved the way with these prayers, there were devout and righteous people who followed in their path and prayed Shacharit, Minchah, and Ma’ariv. As King David said (Psalms 55:17-18), "As for me, I call out to the Lord, and God saves me. Evening, morning, and noon, I express my grief and moan aloud, and He hears my voice."
Following in the custom of our forefathers, Anshei Knesset HaGedolah established the three prayers, Shacharit and Minchah as obligatory, and Ma’ariv as optional. They were set up to correspond to the communal offerings, since the prayers came to express the inner significance of the sacrifices. Since the prayers were established to correspond to the sacrifices, the times of the prayers were set according to the times of the offerings (as explained further in this book 11:4, 11:11, 24:3-4, and 25:2).
Because the Tamid sacrifices of the morning and of the afternoon were obligatory, Shacharit and Minchah are obligatory prayers. Ma’ariv was established to represent the burning of the fat and organs, which were put on the altar at night. If one did not bring them, it did not prevent him from fulfilling the mitzvah of the offering. Therefore Ma’ariv was also deemed optional. However, as time passed, the nation of Israel took upon itself to recite Ma’ariv as an obligatory prayer (see further in this book 25:2). On Shabbat, festivals, and Rosh Chodesh, we were commanded to bring a Musaf sacrifice; hence, the Chachamim established the recital of the Musaf prayer to represent it.



1 In Megillah 17b, it is told that Shimon Hapakuli arranged the eighteen berachot before Rabban Gamliel in the proper order, and a beraita is brought which clarifies the order of the berachot according to scriptural verses. A question is raised there, 18a: After Anshei Knesset HaGedolah instituted them, what was left for Shimon Hapakuli to arrange? The Gemara answers that they were forgotten and Shimon Hapakuli went back and rearranged them. One may ask, how can it be that the wording of the prayer that they were obligated to recite every day had been forgotten? The Shitah Mekubetzet resolves this question in Berachot 28b saying that they merely forgot the order of the berachot, which is what Shimon Hapakuli then restored. In the Rach’s and Me’iri’s version there is no mention in the Gemara that Shimon Hapakuli arranged anything in the Shemoneh Esrei, and hence there is no question or answer about that.
See further in this book 18:10, concerning the addition of the "LaMalshinim" berachah. Likewise, see further in this book chapter 2, note 1, in the words of the Mabit, the reason for the institution of the minyan by Anshei Knesset HaGedolah is that it replaced the Shechinah which was revealed through the sacrifices.


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