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Beit Midrash Prayer

Chapter Seventeen-Part Five

After Amidah

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13.Three Steps Back
Once again, after finishing the Amidah, one must bow down until the vertebrae in his spine protrude, as if they "click." While bowing down, he takes three steps backwards. Subsequently, still bowing, he turns to his left side and says, "Oseh shalom bimromav," turns to his right side and says, "Hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu," bows down in front of him and says, "v’al kol Yisrael, v’imru Amen," and then straightens himself. Many people are accustomed to say afterwards "Yehi ratzon" regarding the building of the Temple. This is because prayer corresponds to the Korban HaTamid. Therefore, we request that the Temple be rebuilt and that we merit bringing the Tamid offering (Shulchan Aruch Rama 123:1).
The Chachamim say that if a person prays and does not depart from the Amidah properly by taking three steps back and saying Oseh shalom, it would have been better not to have prayed at all (Yoma 53b). One who fails to conclude in this fashion proves that he did not understand that he was standing before the King of Kings, HaKadosh Baruch Hu, and consequently he desecrates the prayer.
When stepping back, one starts by lifting his left leg, the weaker leg, thereby demonstrating his difficulty in separating from prayer. Every step the person takes must be the size of his foot. The order of the steps is as follows: initially, he takes a small step with his left leg, so that the toes of his left foot are adjacent to his right heel. Afterwards, he takes a bigger step with his right leg, so that the toes of his right foot are adjacent to his left heel. Finally, he takes a small step with his left leg to equal out the legs. In that way he ends up standing with his legs together when saying Oseh shalom.
One must be careful not to take a step smaller than the length of his foot, for some poskim maintain that less than that is not considered a step (Magen Avraham). When there is not enough room behind him to take three steps, he must step to his side, making sure that every step is big enough (Aruch HaShulchan 123:5). In a case of extenuating circumstances, when there is no room to step backwards or sideways, he may rely on the opinions which maintain that it is permissible to take three smaller steps. However, one may not take less than three steps in departing from the Amidah before the King (Bach and see Mishnah Berurah 123:14); nor may one take more than three steps, so as not to display arrogance (yohara) (Shulchan Aruch 123:4). 9 Likewise, it is not proper to take large steps so as not to appear as one who wants to distance himself from the King (Rama 123:3; see Mishnah Berurah 16).

14.How Long Must One Stand at a Distance
After taking three steps backwards, one must remain standing in that place. He may not immediately return to where he prayed the Amidah, for if he does, he resembles a dog that returns to its vomit (Yoma 53b). The reason for this condemnation is that after separating himself from the King, if he returns to stand before Him, only to wait there without reason, he illustrates that he did not comprehend that he was standing before the King and that he already separated from Him. Therefore, his action is considered disgraceful. There are those who continue to err, and upon returning to their places they lift their heels slightly as done in Kedushah. However, there is no reason for this.
L'chatchilah, one should stand in the place that his steps ended until the chazan arrives at Kedushah, or at least until the chazan starts the repetition of the Amidah (Shulchan Aruch 123:2). According to the majority of poskim, there is no need to remain standing with one’s feet together upon the conclusion of Oseh shalom (Mishnah Berurah 123:6; Bei’ur Halachah and Sha’ar HaTziyun there). However, there are those who say that it is good to remain with one’s legs together until he returns to his place. (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 18:13; Kaf HaChaim 123:11 mentions both opinions.)
It is proper that even someone praying individually does not return immediately to his original place, but stops after taking three steps, and waits in his place for the amount of time it takes the chazan to arrive at Kedushah, which is approximately half a minute. In extenuating circumstances, if he must return to his place, he must wait the amount of time it takes to walk four amot and only then return (Mishnah Berurah 123:11; Kaf HaChaim 20). The chazan who must begin the Amidah repetition, can l'chatchilah wait in the place his steps ended, approximately the walking time of only four amot, and afterwards return to his place, because he is approaching the Amidah prayer again (Rama 123:2). Similarly, one who must make up a missed prayer, and pray a supplementary prayer (tashlumim), must wait approximately the amount of time it takes to walk four amot and then return to pray (Mishnah Berurah 123:11).
At the end of the Amidah repetition, it is unnecessary for the chazan to take three steps back again, since his prayer is not completely concluded until Kaddish-Titkabal, in which he requests that his prayers and requests be accepted. At the end of Kaddish-Titkabal, he takes three steps back and says Oseh shalom (Shulchan Aruch 123:5). Although in Shacharit we recite Tachanun, Ashrei, and U’va L’Tzion before the Kaddish, and on Mondays and Thursdays the Torah is read, nevertheless, the chazan’s separation from the Amidah repetition occurs in the Kaddish-Titkabal recited after U’va L’Tzion. Therefore, the chazan must be strict not to talk from the end of the Amidah repetition until the end of Kaddish-Titkabal (Mishnah Berurah 123:18).

15.When Is It Permissible to Interrupt the Amidah?
A person who stands in prayer before his Creator is prohibited from talking about other matters in the middle of praying (see further in this book, chapter 18, note 1). It is even forbidden to interrupt by walking or hinting. This is learned from the "kal vachomer" principle – if we stand before a human king in dread, and are careful not to interrupt with other matters, all the more so (kal vachomer) when we stand before the King of Kings.
Even if the king of Israel were to inquire about ones well-being in the middle of the Amidah, it is forbidden to answer him. However, if a non-Jewish king, who is likely to execute him if he does not answer, addresses him in the middle of his prayer, he must interrupt his prayer, for saving a life takes precedence over prayer (Berachot 30b). If a non-poisonous snake is wrapped around his leg, he may not interrupt his prayer. However, if a scorpion or poisonous snake endangers him, he must call for help, for saving a life takes precedence over prayer (Berachot 33a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 104:1-4).
Walking is not considered a significant interruption. Therefore when one starts to recite the Amidah in a place where it is hard for him to concentrate, he is permitted to move to a different place. For instance, if a non-poisonous snake approaches him, creating a situation which disturbs his concentration, although the circumstances are not life-threatening, he is permitted to walk to a different place to continue praying with kavanah (Mishnah Berurah 104:10). A similar case is one in which a person is reciting the Amidah and there are adults or children talking around him, disturbing his concentration. If by hinting to them they will be quiet, that is the best course of action, for a hint is considered to be less of an interruption. However, if they don't comply, he may walk to a different place and continue praying there. Likewise, if the congregation is waiting for a rabbi to finish his prayer, and this is disturbing his kavanah, he is permitted to hint to them to start Chazarat HaShatz (Mishnah Berurah 104:1).
Similarly, if one’s child begins to cause a disruption in the middle of the Amidah, so much so that he or other people cannot concentrate properly, he must hint to him to leave. If the child does not understand, the parent must take him out of the synagogue without talking and then continue praying.
If during the Amidah, a problem occurs that if not fixed immediately will cause him damage, he is not permitted to interrupt his prayer (Mishnah Berurah 104:2; Kaf HaChaim 6). However, if the matter bothers him so much that he cannot concentrate, he is permitted to attend to the problem.
If a siddur falls to the floor and the person reciting the Amidah cannot concentrate until it is picked up, he must first finish the berachah that he is saying, and then he may go pick it up. If a person starts praying by heart, becomes confused, and cannot continue, he is permitted to go get a siddur and continue praying (Mishnah Berurah 96:7). If, in the middle of praying the Amidah, a person is uncertain regarding a law that may prevent him from continuing, such as a case in which he forgot to recite a particular passage and does not know how to continue his prayer, he may peruse through a book to determine the correct practice. If he does not know how to search for the answer in a book, there are those who allow him to interrupt with speech and inquire what the halachah is (Mishnah Berurah 104:2). Likewise, if the telephone rings in the middle of his Amidah, he must continue praying. However, if he cannot maintain his kavanah, he is permitted to disconnect the phone and return to pray. 10
If one’s tallit falls off in the middle of the Amidah, but part of it remains on him, he is permitted to fix it. However, if his entire tallit falls off, he is forbidden to rewrap himself in it, since the act of wrapping constitutes an interruption (Shulchan Aruch 97:4). If being without a tallit disturbs him so much that he cannot concentrate, he may wrap himself in it after concluding the berachah that he is reciting (Mishnah Berurah 97:16). Someone else who sees a person’s tallit fall off is permitted to put it back on him (Kaf HaChaim 27).
While praying the Amidah it is forbidden to respond to Kaddish or Kedushah. However, he may silently concentrate on what the chazan is saying, and it will be considered as if he himself recited those words - and that is the custom. Nevertheless, if such an interruption will disturb his kavanah, he is permitted to continue praying. 11
16.One Who Is Traveling When the Time to Pray Arrives
A person who is traveling in a car when the time to pray arrives, if he is driving, he is forbidden to recite the Amidah. This is because he cannot concentrate properly, and there is even concern that he may endanger his life or the lives of others. Therefore, he must pull his car over to the side and only then begin to pray.
However, if someone else is driving, who is in a hurry to arrive at his desired destination, a passenger may recite the Amidah while sitting. The reason for this is because if they stop traveling in order to pray standing up, he will be distracted with wanting to finish praying quickly, and he will be unable to have the proper kavanah. Therefore, it is better that he pray Shemoneh Esrei while sitting, since, as we already learned (in halachah 4), b’dieved, the one who recites the Amidah while sitting fulfills his obligation.
Even one who is sitting when reciting the Amidah must put his feet together (Mishnah Berurah 95:2), and try to turn his face in the direction of Jerusalem (Mishnah Berurah 94:15). At the places that the Chachamim instructed to bow down, he must straighten himself slightly and bow as much as he can (Shulchan Aruch 94:5; Aruch HaShulchan 18).
When traveling by bus or train, both of which are more spacious than a car, if one can stand and concentrate properly, it is better that he stand for Shemoneh Esrei. However, if standing will disturb his kavanah, he must sit with his feet together, stand when he needs to bow down, and then sit again. At the end of his prayer, he stands and takes three steps backwards (see Shulchan Aruch 94:5). 12
When one is traveling at night by bus, and he knows that when he finishes his trip he will still have time to recite Ma’ariv, he should pray after the trip ends (Mishnah Berurah 89:42). However, if he knows that after the trip he will be unable to concentrate properly, because he will be tired and he will want to finish his prayer quickly, he is permitted to pray while traveling (based on Shulchan Aruch HaRav 94:5). 13
Reciting the Amidah individually while sitting is only permitted on a temporary basis, during a special trip, or in a set of circumstances completely beyond one’s control. However, even if it is difficult for a person who travels to work every day to find time to pray while standing, as long as he is not in circumstances beyond his control, he is not permitted to be lenient and pray on a regular basis while sitting. Still, it is permitted to pray regularly on buses that are specifically arranged for people to pray in a minyan while standing, although, l’chatchilah, one should pray in a synagogue. Nonetheless, if those people are hurrying on their way, or rushing to work, and they know that in the synagogue they will pray quickly, but that on the bus they will pray in a more composed manner, it is better that they pray on the bus. 14


^ 9.The Beit Yosef brings opinions as to which foot he should step with first, and the decision of the Shulchan Aruch 123:3, based on the Midrash, is that one starts with his left foot. However, regarding a left-handed person there is uncertainty, as brought by the Bei’ur Halachah. Kaf HaChaim 23 writes that even a left-handed person takes the first step with his left foot. The order of the steps is explained above. Still, Rabbeinu Mano’ach mentions an opinion that maintains that one takes six steps, because each pair of steps is considered one step. There are Acharonim who write like him, as cited by the Bei’ur Halachah s.v. "V’Shiur." However, the primary opinion is that of the Shulchan Aruch, as brought by the Mishnah Berurah 13 and Kaf HaChaim 24.
^ 10.This is what is written in Tefillah Kehilchatah 12:86, in the name of Rav Elyashiv. He adds that even if there is a knock at the door which is distracting him so much that he cannot continue praying with kavanah, he is permitted to open the door and hint to the person that he cannot talk right now. As for the matter of perusing through a book to determine the halachah, Yalkut Yosef 104:5 writes that although there are poskim who forbid walking to look something up, he himself agrees that it is permissible, but that asking a rabbi is forbidden. Nevertheless, it seems that if this law will determine whether or not he fulfills his obligation, it is best that he ask, as the Mishnah Berurah states. If possible, it is best that he writes his question down on a piece of paper, instead of interrupting with words. If, in the meantime, enough time passed in which he could have recited the entire Amidah, according to the Shulchan Aruch 104:5, he must start it from the beginning. However, the Rama maintains that he only goes back to the beginning when the interruption is due to circumstances beyond his control.
If one arrives at Al HaNisim during Chanukah or Purim and he does not remember the words, he is permitted to walk to get a siddur in order to recite it, despite the fact that failing to recite it does not prevent him from fulfilling his obligation of reciting the Amidah. If possible, it is better that he hints to someone to bring him a siddur. It seems that it is forbidden to walk in order to verify a law that for certain does not prevent someone from fulfilling his obligation, since the study of the halachah distracts one’s thoughts from his prayer, and that constitutes more of an interruption. Therefore, as long as it is clear that it is not a matter that prevents him from fulfilling his obligation, he may not look it up. So writes the Beit Baruch 25:22.

^ 11.The Rishonim are divided concerning this. According to Rabbeinu Tam and Ri, it is forbidden to be silent and have kavanah to hear the chazan, for that is considered an interruption. Rabbeinu Chananel and Rashi maintain that one should remain silent and have kavanah to hear the chazan. So write the Tosafot and Ran that the minhag is to be quiet and have kavanah, and so rules the Shulchan Aruch 104:7. However, if this will disturb the person’s kavanah, he may practice like those who forbid it. That is the law even concerning someone who is in the middle of Pesukei d’Zimrah, as written in Shut Tzitz Eliezer 11:3 and Halichot Shlomo 6:12.

^ 12.If one has two options, to stand with his feet apart or to sit with his feet together, it is preferable to stand, for the obligation to stand is more important. The proof for this is that some poskim maintain that if a person who prayed while sitting has an opportunity afterwards to stand, he must repeat the Amidah while standing (Shulchan Aruch 94:9), whereas regarding a person who prays with his feet apart, no such thing is said. See Mishnah Berurah 95:1 and Sha’ar HaTzion 1.
Similarly, it seems that it is preferable to pray while standing, even if not in the direction of Jerusalem, rather than to pray while sitting facing Jerusalem. Again, this is because we have not found an opinion stating that if he recites the Amidah towards a different direction he needs to repeat his prayer. Further, in Bava Batra 25 we learn that there are opinions which maintain that a person may pray facing south or north, and although the halachah is not like them, b’dieved, we can take them into consideration (see Beit Yosef and Shulchan Aruch 94:1-2 and the Rama’s words).
A soldier who is in the middle of a long hike of endurance, and is worried about finishing, may pray while walking, for if he stops to stand in his place, he will not be able to concentrate properly, as explained in Shulchan Aruch 94:4. However, if the case concerns a group of religious soldiers, they should stand in their places and pray, for as a group they are not as distracted. Additionally, as it is only training and not actual combat, there is no reason l'chatchilah to slight the prayer, and they must arrange their schedules in such a way that the army training exercises do not conflict with the times of prayer.

^ 13.However, Avnei Yashfeh 14:16-17 maintains that if he will finish his trip before midnight, he must pray after the trip. Nevertheless, it seems that kavanah is more important and therefore one may rely in this case on Shulchan Aruch HaRav 94:5, who maintains that since the time for Shacharit, Minchah, or Ma’ariv has arrived while he is traveling, even if he will finish his trip before the final time to recite that prayer, he is permitted to recite the Amidah while sitting, and is not obligated to delay the mitzvah in order to pray afterwards while standing.
The Avnei Yashfeh adds there that if he finishes traveling after chatzot, it is best that he recite the Amidah while sitting, although there are poskim who disagree. However, regarding the Amidah of Ma’ariv, according to many, l’chatchilah, it is permissible to recite the Amidah all night long (see further in this book, 25, note 8). If so, according to this approach, one can recite Shema before chatzot, and the Amidah after that. If he begins his trip at the time of tzeit hakochavim (appearance of the stars) and is concerned that after the trip he will forget to recite Ma’ariv, it is better that he pray Ma’ariv at plag haminchah while standing and recite Keriat Shema after tzeit hakochavim (ibid., 14:18). See earlier in this book 11:7-8, regarding the laws of traveling before Shacharit.
^ 14.Concerning praying on a bus that is specifically arranged for prayer, there are still a few aspects that render this prayer b’dieved. Among them: 1) it is proper to pray in a synagogue, as explained in Shulchan Aruch 90:9. 2) It is proper to pray in a place that is not open to the public domain, one in which people cannot look outside, and in which the prayer will not seem to be a burden (ibid., 90:20). 3) When standing on a bus, it is necessary to lean on something to remain balanced, which is a b’dieved situation, as clarified in Shulchan Aruch 94:8 and Mishnah Berurah 22. However, it seems that if the prayer on the bus is conducted in a more composed manner, whereas in a synagogue the people would rush to finish their prayer and hurry to get to work on time, it is better that they pray on that kind of bus, since it possesses the primary laws of prayer – that there is a minyan and that the people are standing. Even though when the bus is moving, those standing in it are considered walking nevertheless the Taz 94:4 writes that concerning the Amidah, the most important factor is that they themselves are standing.
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