Beit Midrash

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Chapter Twenty Five-Part One

The Ma’ariv Prayer


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

1.Keriat Shema and Its Berachot
The recital of Keriat Shema commands center stage at the beginning of the Ma’ariv prayer. It is a biblical commandment to recite Keriat Shema at night and in the morning, as written in the paragraphs of Shema and V’Hayah Im Shamo’a, "When you lie down and when you get up." It is also a mitzvah to remember the Exodus from Egypt during the day and at night, as it is written (Deuteronomy 16:3), "Therefore you will remember the day you left Egypt all the days of your life." From the words " all the days" ( kol yemei chayechah), Chazal learn that it is a mitzvah to remember the Exodus from Egypt both at day and at night (Mishnah Berachot 12:2). For that reason, the Vayomer paragraph is also recited at night, since the Exodus from Egypt is mentioned at its end. The Vayomer paragraph, which discusses the mitzvah of tzitzit, primarily applies to the day, and although one can fulfill the nighttime mitzvah of remembering the Exodus from Egypt with other verses, it is customary to remember the Exodus by reciting Vayomer, since these verses are familiar to all (Tosafot Yom Tov there). In addition, combined with the first two paragraphs of Shema, it contains 248 words (paralleling the 248 organs in the body as explained earlier in this book 15:12), and by reciting all three paragraphs, one completely accepts upon himself the yoke of Heaven (see 15:3-4 in this book. The detailed laws of Keriat Shema are clarified in chapter 15).
Anshei Knesset HaGedolah added the recital of two berachot before Keriat Shema and two berachot after it. The first, "Ma’ariv Aravim," is a blessing of praise concerning the passage of time from day to night, and parallels Birkat Yotzer Or in Shacharit. The second, "Ahavat Olam," is praise that refers to Hashem’s love for Israel and the giving of the Torah. The third, "Emet V’Emunah," is praise about the redemption. In the fourth, "Hashkiveinu," we ask Hashem to protect us at night and watch over us when we sleep (see also earlier in this book 16:1). Hence, Birkot Keriat Shema are comprised of seven blessings, three in Shacharit and four in Ma’ariv; and the Yerushalmi (Berachot, chapter 1, halachah 5) states that they were instituted based on the verse (Psalms, 119:164), "Sheva bayom hillalticha" ("I praise You seven times daily.")

2.The Ma’ariv Amidah
Yaakov Avinu established the Ma’ariv prayer, and based on this, Anshei Knesset HaGedolah instituted praying Shemoneh Esrei at night. They set the time of Ma’ariv to correspond to the offering of the organs and fats of the sacrifices, for whatever they did not succeed in burning during the day would be burned throughout the night (Berachot 26b). However, Ma’ariv is optional (reshut). It is a mitzvah to recite Ma’ariv, but not an obligation. Whoever wanted to engage himself in a different mitzvah, or had already gone to sleep, or found it difficult to pray Ma’ariv for another reason, was not required to do so. The reason that Shacharit and Minchah are different from Ma’ariv is that Shacharit and Minchah were instituted to correspond to the Tamid offering of the morning and afternoon, specifically, to correspond to the sprinkling of their blood. Just as a person who does not sprinkle the blood does not fulfill his obligation of bringing the offering, so too, one is obligated to pray Shacharit and Minchah. However, Ma’ariv was instituted to correspond to the offering of the organs and fats upon the altar. Although it is a mitzvah to bring them, if they were not brought, the offering still remained valid. Therefore, the Ma’ariv prayer is optional.
Nonetheless, throughout the generations, all of Israel became accustomed to praying Ma’ariv. Therefore, at the time of the Rishonim it was established as obligatory. Even so, Chazarat HaShatz is not recited in it, since, in essence, the prayer is optional. Thus, Chazal did not institute an Amidah repetition for it, to fulfill the obligation of the uneducated (Shulchan Aruch 237:1). 1
Women are exempt from praying Ma’ariv, even according to those who maintain that women are obligated to pray all the prayers instituted by the Chachamim. A woman’s obligation pertains to Shacharit and Minchah, which were established as obligatory, however, she is exempt from Ma’ariv which is optional. The men’s minhag of accepting upon themselves the recitation of Ma’ariv as an obligation does not apply to women.

3.The Order of the Ma’ariv Prayer
The Rishonim write that before Barchu it is customary to recite three verses, which open with the words, "V’Hu Rachum yechaper avon," ("He, the merciful One, atones iniquity"), to request atonement for the sins that we committed throughout the day. Furthermore, at night, the Divine attribute of judgment is in force and mechablim (destructive spiritual agents) are given permission to harm. Therefore, we ask, "V’Hu Rachum yechaper avon…" (see Tur and Beit Yosef 237 and Kaf HaChaim 235:5). On Shabbat and Festivals, V’Hu Rachum is not recited.
According to the Sephardic minhag, three verses beginning with the words, "Hashem Tzevakot…" are recited before the beginning of Ma’ariv, and according to the minhag of the Chassidim, "Shir HaMa’alot…" is recited. Followers of both minhagim recite Half-Kaddish afterwards and then V’Hu Rachum. If Torah learning was conducted before the prayer service, at the end of which Kaddish Al Yisrael was recited, it is unnecessary to recite Half-Kaddish as well, so as to avoid saying too many Kaddishim (Yalkut Yosef, part 3, 236:1).
By reciting Barchu we introduce Birkot Keriat Shema, and therefore it is forbidden to talk after Barchu, similar to the law concerning someone who is in the middle of a passage of the Shema (Mishnah Berurah 236:1; 54:14; see earlier in this book 16:4). Therefore, whoever did not succeed in saying V’Hu Rachum before Barchu does not recite it after Barchu, so as not to interrupt in the middle of Birkot Keriat Shema (see Yabia Omer 2:5).
The majority of Sephardim have the custom not to answer Amen after the berachot of the chazan to prevent interruption in the middle of Birkot Keriat Shema. It is best to finish the berachah with the chazan or slightly after him, so that according to all opinions there will be no need to respond Amen. After Birkat Hashkiveinu, some answer Amen (Yalkut Yosef, part 3, 236:6) and some do not (Ben Ish Chai, Pekudei 5). According to the Ashkenazic minhag, Amen is answered after the chazan’s blessings, and is not considered an interruption. However, even the Ashkenazim try not to answer Amen after Birkat Ahavat Olam so as not interrupt between the berachah and Keriat Shema, and they do this by finishing the berachah together with the chazan or after him (see earlier in this book 16:4; all matters concerning Birkot Keriat Shema are clarified in chapter 16).
At the end of Birkat Hashkiveinu, Sephardim are accustomed to responding Amen to their own blessing, since it is a conclusion of a series of berachot. However, Ashkenazim do not answer Amen to their own berachot, with one exception, following Birkat Boneh Yerushalayim in Birkat Hamazon (Shulchan Aruch 215:1; 236:4).
Between Birkot Keriat Shema and the Amidah, the chazan recites Half-Kaddish, and after the Amidah he says Kaddish-Titkabal. After that, according to the Sephardic minhag, Shir HaMa’alot Esa Einai is recited, following which those in mourning recite Mourner’s Kaddish, one of whom says Barchu. Subsequently, Aleinu L’Shabe’ach is recited and there is no Kaddish said after it. According to the Ashkenazic minhag, immediately after Kaddish-Titkabal, Aleinu L’Shabe’ach is recited, followed by the recital of the Mourner’s Kaddish by the mourners, one of whom says Barchu.

4.Adjoining Redemption to Prayer
The main part of the Exodus occurred during the day, when the Jewish people left Egypt. Therefore, the primary obligation of adjoining redemption to prayer is in Shacharit. Nevertheless, because the redemption began at night, there is also a mitzvah to adjoin redemption to prayer at night. Yet, we are not as meticulous in adjoining redemption to prayer in Ma’ariv as we are in Shacharit. Therefore, the Chachamim instituted Birkat Hashkiveinu after Birkat Ga’al Yisrael and considered it a continuation of Birkat Ga’al Yisrael, for in Birkat Ga’al Yisrael the blessing concerns the redemption of all Jews as a collective whole, while in Hashkiveinu we request the redemption of the individual from the dangers of the night. Were we to be strict about adjoining redemption to prayer, it would be impossible to say Birkat Hashkiveinu after the blessing regarding the redemption.
Similarly, Half-Kaddish is recited between Birkot Keriat Shema and the Amidah, for that is the order of the prayer; at every transition point from one stage to another in the prayer service, Chazal established saying Kaddish. Although in Shacharit, Kaddish is not recited immediately before the Amidah because of the great importance of not interrupting between redemption and prayer, in Ma’ariv, in which there is no need to be as meticulous in adjoining redemption to prayer, Kaddish is recited between Birkot Keriat Shema and the Amidah.
The custom in many places on Rosh Chodesh night is that the gabbai announces the words "Ya’aleh V’Yavo" before the Amidah prayer, and on the night of the seventh of Cheshvan, when we begin to ask for rain, the gabbai declares, "Tal U’Matar." In Shacharit, we cannot interrupt with speech; instead, the gabbai or chazan reminds the congregation that there is something different in this Amidah by pounding on the pulpit. Yet, in Ma’ariv, we are lenient and express this reminder verbally (Shulchan Aruch 236:2; Mishnah Berurah 7). Still, there are those who pound on the pulpit in Ma’ariv as well, so as not to interrupt with speech (see Kaf HaChaim 336:17; Piskei Teshuvot 236:6).
One who arrives late, when the congregation is about to start praying the Amidah, should recite the Amidah with the minyan, and then make up Birkot Keriat Shema afterwards. In Shacharit, the halachah is that he must recite the prayers in order because adjoining redemption to prayer is more important than praying in a minyan. However, in Ma’ariv, prayer in a minyan takes precedence, and therefore he prays with the congregation and afterwards makes up Birkot Keriat Shema (Shulchan Aruch 236:3). 2

^ 1.In Berachot 27b, according to Rabban Gamliel the Ma’ariv prayer is obligatory, whereas according to Rabbi Yehoshua it is optional. According to Abayei it is obligatory, whereas according to Rava it is optional, and the halachah follows Rava. The majority of Rishonim, among them Tosafot, Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah, and the Rosh (chapter 4, 2:7), maintain that "optional" (reshut) here means that, indeed, there is a mitzvah to recite Ma’ariv, and it may not be cancelled without justification, though it may be cancelled for a minor reason, as I have written above. By contrast, according to Ba’al Halachot Gedolot, the word "optional" means that a person is permitted to abstain from praying Ma’ariv for no specific reason, although he maintains that if one customarily prays Ma’ariv, his minhag obligates him to pray daily.
The Rif writes that today, there is an obligation to pray Ma’ariv. The Rosh and Tur section 235 write this as well. In Seder Rav Amram Gaon, he writes that Half-Kaddish is recited between Birkot Keriat Shema and the Amidah, so as to separate between the obligatory and the optional sections. Even though, today, the prayer is obligatory, the minhag to recite Kaddish remains, in keeping with the essence of the original enactment. The opinions are summarized in Beirur Halachah Berachot 4b.
Most poskim say that someone who begins praying Ma’ariv and remembers in the middle of the Amidah that he already prayed must stop praying immediately, like the law regarding Shacharit and Minchah, for indeed, everything that he prayed was to fulfill his obligation, but when it is clear that he already fulfilled it, he must stop (Bei’ur Halachah 107:1, s.v. "Posek," and according to many, that is also what is implied from the Shulchan Aruch there). However, according to the Rambam (10:6), he should continue his Amidah as a voluntary prayer (tefillat nedavah). The reason for this is that even nowadays Ma’ariv is, in essence, optional, therefore the basic element of nedavah within it remains (that is also how Yalkut Yosef, part 3, 236:11 rules). One who is uncertain as to whether or not he prayed Shacharit or Minchah must repeat his prayer, but regarding Ma’ariv, the Acharonim disagree. The Mishnah Berurah 107:2 writes that one should pray and add something new in the Amidah (see earlier in this book 18:3). According to all opinions, one who forgot to pray Ma’ariv must make it up after Shacharit (tashlumim), and similarly, one who mistakenly forgot to recite Ya’aleh V’Yavo in Ma’ariv of Chol HaMo’ed must repeat the Amidah (see Beirur Halachah 27b).
^ 2.Although Kaf HaChaim 111:12 writes that according to the Kabbalah, even in Ma’ariv it is forbidden to switch the order of the prayers in the service, nevertheless, the Mishnah Berurah rules like the Shulchan Aruch, as do Yalkut Yosef, part 3, p. 661 and Rabbi Chaim Palaggi.
There is an old custom to recite Birkat Yir’u Eineinu after Hashkiveinu, for it contains eighteen verses; see Mishnah Berurah 236:5 where he writes that its recital was instituted to replace the Shemoneh Esrei. There are Rishonim who maintain that there was no authority to institute its recital after the time of the completion of the Talmud, and therefore it is not to be recited (Meiri). Even so, many do have the custom to recite it. Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah write that the recital of Yir’u Eineinu was instituted instead of the Ma’ariv prayer which is optional, and even after people accepted Ma’ariv as an obligation, the custom to recite Yir’u Eineinu was not cancelled. There are poskim who prove from the custom of reciting Yir’u Eineinu that there is no need to adjoin redemption to prayer in Ma’ariv. That is also the opinion of Rav Amram Gaon. Hence, Kaddish is also recited after Birkot Keriat Shema. Nevertheless, the Ramban and the Rashbam did not recite Yir’u Eineninu or Kaddish, so as not to interrupt between redemption and prayer.
Already from the end of the time of the Rishonim, it had become customary not to recite Birkat Yir’u Eineinu in Sephardic congregations, although there were Ashkenazim who still recited it. Nowadays, in Israel it is not customary to recite it (see Kaf HaChaim 236:12 and Piskei Teshuvot 7). However, Kaddish is recited by all. Although it is the opinion of many Rishonim not to recite this Kaddish, so as not to interrupt the adjoining of redemption to prayer; nonetheless, all are accustomed to reciting it. The explanation of this is as I wrote above. Aruch HaShulchan 236:8 writes that Kaddish is a sort of redemption, so that the respect of Heaven will be revealed in the world, and therefore it is not considered as much of an interruption. See Beirur Halachah, Berachot 4b.
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