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Prayers Recited After Shemoneh Esreh III

  • Rav David Brofsky



Last week we examined some of the prayers recited after the Shemoneh Esreh.  We discussed Kedusha De-sidra, which plays a central role in the "U-va le-Tziyyon" prayer.  Regarding Aleinu, we traced its origins, as well as its role in the Jewish-Christian polemics of the Middle Ages.


This week, we will conclude our study of the prayers recited after Shemoneh Esreh as we investigate the origins and significance of Shir shel Yom and Pittum Ha-ketoret.


Shir shel Yom (Song of the Day):


The last mishna in Tamid (7:4) enumerates the psalms which the Levites would recite each day in the Beit Ha-mikdash (Temple), after offering the tamid shel shachar.  The tamid was a lamb offered twice daily in the Temple (Bamidbar 28:4), in the morning (shachar) and afternoon (bein ha-arbayim).  The Gemara (Rosh Ha-shana 31a) explains why each chapter was chosen to be recited on each specific day.


The earliest record of specific psalms being identified with certain days may be found in the Book of Tehillim itself, as 92:1 introduces the psalm as a "song for the Sabbath day."


Furthermore, the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Bible by seventy-two Jewish elders (Megilla 9a-b), introduces certain psalms with the day upon which they were recited by the Levites in the Beit Ha-mikdash.   


While originally only the Levites sang Shir shel Yom as the korban tamid was offered, Massekhet Soferim (18:2), after citing the source from Tamid, adds, "one who mentions the verse in its proper time is considered as if he has built a new altar and brought a sacrifice upon it."


Furthermore, the Machzor Vitry (pg. 712) cites the Talmud Yerushalmi (Ta'anit 4:5), which questions whether Shir shel Yom may be recited "without libations," i.e., outside the sacrificial service, concluding that one may do so.  We preface each psalm as that which "the Levites used to say in the Beit Ha-mikdash."


The Rambam, in his Nussach Ha-tefilla, found at the end of Sefer Ahava, writes that SOME are accustomed to recite Shir shel Yom.  However, the Siddur of Rav Amram Gaon simply instructs that one should recite Shir shel Yom


There are different customs regarding the recitation of Shir shel Yom.  According to the Ashkenazic custom (Rema OC 123:2), Shir shel Yom is recited AFTER Aleinu.  According the Sephardic custom, one recites Shir shel Yom immediately following the Kaddish of "U-va le-Tziyyon," and only afterwards does one recite Aleinu.


As Shir shel Yom corresponds to the song recited with the tamid shel shachar, one might question why we do not recite it at Mincha as well, as the tamid shel bein ha-arbayim, which Mincha reflects, was offered in the afternoon.  Indeed, the Mishna (Rosh Ha-shana 4:4) implies that Shir shel Yom was recited at Mincha too!


The Mishna Berura (122:16) explains that in the Beit Ha-mikdash they often omitted Shir shel Yom at Mincha, as the libations brought with the tamid shel bein ha-arbayim often lasted until after dark. 


Alternatively, the Arukh Ha-shulchan (123:2) explains simply that as reciting the song of the day is merely a "remembrance" of the practices in the Beit Ha-mikdash, one daily recitation suffices.   


On days upon which Tefillat Musaf is recited, some communities recite Shir shel Yom after Shacharit and before the Torah reading, while some recite it after Musaf (see Magen Avraham 122:4).


Interestingly, the Ramban (Shemot 20:7) posits that whenever one refers to a weekday by its ordinal (e.g., referring to Tuesday as "the third day," counting toward Shabbat), he fulfills the Biblical commandment to remember the Sabbath.  Thus, we fulfill a mitzva when we recite Shir shel Yom with the introduction "Today is the _______ day of the week."


Pittum Ha-ketoret (The Incense Recipe):


The Torah (Shemot 30:34-36) instructs that incense must be offered as part of the daily service.


And God said to Moshe: "Take for yourself sweet spices — stacte and onycha and galbanum — sweet spices with pure frankincense; they are all to be of equal weight.  You shall make of it incense, a perfume after the art of the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy.  You are to grind some of it finely and place some of it before the Testimony in the Tent of Meeting, where I will meet with you; it shall be for you most holy."


Our Siddur conflates passages from the Talmud Bavli (Keritot 6a) and Talmud Yerushalmi (Yoma 4:5) and describes the composition and the preparations of the Ketoret.  This text is reciting each morning, after the Biblical passage of incense, cited above, as part of the unit of Korbanot.


Interestingly, in the Siddur of Rav Amram Gaon, we find that one recites the Pittum Ha-ketoret AFTER the Tefilla, with no mention of the custom of reciting Korbanot BEFORE Shemoneh Esreh.  Apparently, the custom of reciting Korbanot BEFORE Tefilla — specifically, before Pesukei De-zimra — developed later. 


In addition to reciting Pittum Ha-ketoret BEFORE Pesukei De-zimra, many still recite the Ketoret passage after the final Kaddish, next to Shir shel Yom


The Beit Yosef (132) cites the Mahari Abuhav, who writes that one should read the Ketoret passage from a text, lest one omit one of the spices and incur the death penalty, as the Talmud (Keritot 6a) teaches, "and if he omits one of the spices, he incurs the death penalty."  He adds that possibly due to this reason, many omit the recitation of the Ketoret entirely.  The Beit Yosef disagrees; he notes that according to Rashi, the "death penalty" is clearly referring to one who offers a deficient incense on Yom Kippur!  While the Rambam (Hilkhot Kelei Ha-mikdash 2:8) implies that this punishment applies even during the year, he attributes it to the fact that by omitting a spice, one is considered to have entered the Beit Ha-mikdash improperly, which certainly does not apply to the mere recitation of Pittum Ha-ketoret.


The Rema (132:2) writes that one should recite Pittum Ha-ketoret twice daily, morning and afternoon, after the Tefilla (as the incense was also offered twice daily).  He adds, however, that due to the concerns expressed by the Mahari Abuhav, cited above, congregations commonly omit Pittum Ha-ketoret on weekdays, as people are generally rushing to work and unable to recite the passage with proper precision. 


While those who pray according to the Ashkenazic custom outside of Israel generally omit Pittum Ha-ketoret during the week, it is customary in Israel, possibly due to the instructions of the Vilna Gaon to his students who settled in Israel, for all to recite this passage.


The Acharonim disagree as to whether Shir shel Yom should precede Pittum Ha-ketoret.  The Rema (123:2), following the Tur (123) and the Siddur of Rav Amram Gaon, places Pittum Ha-ketoret BEFORE Shir shel Yom.  The Arizal (see Kaf Ha-chayyim 48), however, based upon a Kabbalistic understanding of the order of the prayers, would recite Shir shel Yom BEFORE Pittum Ha-ketoret


Pittum Ha-ketoret is preceded by the poem "Ein k-Elokeinu" ("There is none like our God").  Rav Tzidkiyya ben Rav Avraham Ha-rofeh, in his Shibbolei Ha-leket (Inyan Tefilla 1), citing Rashi, explains that "Ein k-Elokeinu" comes to compensate for the net loss of twelve blessings in the Shemoneh Esreh of Shabbat and Yom Tov, when the Shemoneh Esreh is comprised of only seven and not nineteen blessings.  In order to fulfill the mitzva of reciting one hundred blessings each day (Menachot 43b), the recitation of "Ein k-Elokeinu" was instituted on Shabbat and Yom Tov. The first three lines of "Ein k-Elokeinu" spell out an acrostic of "Amen," while the last two lines begin with "Barukh" and "Atta" respectively; thus they represent the basic components of a standard blessing.  Multiplied by the four iterations within each line, we end up with a dozen extra "blessings," so that the total remains the same as on a weekday.


After the Pittum Ha-ketoret, we recite a passage from Tanna De-vei Eliyyahu, cited in the Talmud (Nidda 73a), which extols one who studies halakhot each day.


Finally, we recite the final passage of Tractate Berakhot 64a (as well as Yevamot, Nazir and Keritot!), which teaches:


Rabbi Elazar said in the name of Rabbi Chanina: "Talmidei chakhamim increase peace in the world as it says (Yeshayahu 54:13), 'And all your children shall be taught of God, and great (rav) shall be the peace of your children.'"


While some have cynically pointed to this passage as an example of Talmudic humor, Rav Kook (Olat Re'iyya, pg. 330) explains:


There are many who mistakenly think that world peace will be brought about through uniformity of opinions and characteristics, and therefore when they see scholars investigating wisdom and knowledge of Torah, and through this study different aspects and opinions emerge, they believe that this causes dispute, which is the opposite of peace.  The truth is otherwise, that true peace can only emerge through the proliferation of peace, and the proliferation of peace entails seeing all the aspects and opinions.


Apparently, this message is not only crucial upon completing a tractate of Talmud, within which we witness the scholarly debate of the sages, but even upon concluding our prayers, before venturing into the world around us.



Next week will begin our study of the Mincha prayer.