Siman 90:1-15 The Height of the Sheliach Tzibbur's Place

  • Rav Asher Meir
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mishna Berura
Yeshivat Har Etzion


SHIUR #51:Siman 90:1-15

Pages 241-245


by Rav Asher Meir





"And R. Yosi bar Chanina said in the name of R. Eliezer ben Yaakov, One should not stand in a high place and pray, rather one should stand in a low place and pray, as it is said 'From the depths I have called to You, HaShem' (Tehillim 130).  Thus it is taught in a beraita:

*A person should not stand on a chair, nor on a bench,

*and not in a high place and pray,

*but rather in a low place and pray,

as there is no high station before God, as it is said 'From the depths I have called to You, Hashem' and it is written 'The prayer of a poor man as he wraps himself.'"  (Berakhot 17)


            The MB gives three different reasons why one should not pray from a high place; I have presented the beraita in such a way that each reason finds a source in a different line.  There are specific halakhic consequences for each reason.


A. One should not stand on a chair or a bench - for the reason mentioned in MB 1.

B. Not in a high place - for the reason mentioned in the beraita cited in MB 3.

C. But rather in a low place - for the reason mentioned in the beraita and cited in MB 5, at the end.


            One difference between the first two reasons is that mentioned in the Rema in se'if 1.  It's bad to fall even from a low chair, but such a chair is not haughty.


            A difference between the second and third reasons regards a "bima" - the raised platform from which the Torah is read.  Since this is usually a separate domain, as explained in the SA in se'if 2, it is not considered a "high place."  Therefore, an individual may pray there.  However, one can not "descend" to the bima, and therefore the shaliach tzibur should preferably not pray from there, since he does not then "descend before the ark."  This is the conclusion of Minchat Yitzchak III:8 and Igrot Moshe OC II:28.


            According to the SA, the need to make the chazan heard permits even the first - and most stringent - limitation.  So it should logically be permissible to put the chazan on the bima if this is necessary to make him heard.  R. Bleich's "Contemporary Halachic Problems" discusses this issue, as well as the above points, in an article on page 65.


            A famous dispute arose regarding the placement of the bima.  Early Reform temples placed the platform at the front of the sanctuary.  This imitated the prevalent non-Jewish custom - where a clergyman performs the service on behalf of the congregation - in form and function.  This naturally aroused the ire of traditionalists, both on account of it being an innovation, and of course because of the symbolic significance of taking the Torah out from amidst the people.




"And R. Chiya Bar Abba said in the name of R. Yochanan, One should pray only in a house which has windows, as it is said (Daniel 6:?) 'And his upper floor had windows opened facing Yerushalayim.'  R. Kahana said, I consider it insolent (chatzuf) to pray in an open field.  And R. Kahana [also] said, I consider it insolent to publicize one's sins, as it is said (Tehillim 32:1) 'Happy is one whose sins are concealed.'" (Berakhot 34b, at end of page)


            The statements of R. Yochanan and R. Kahana tend in opposite directions: R. Yochanan is concerned that one not be too isolated from the outside, natural world; R. Kahana is concerned that one not be too united with it.  Both statements contain very important insights into prayer.


            On the one hand, a person's prayers should not be too isolated from the actual material needs and concerns of the world.  While praises of and thanks to God constitute the framework of our prayers, the heart of our prayers consists of our mundane requests.  One of the "legends" of the Har Etzion Yeshiva (host to the VBM) is that the architects of the stone building originally wanted the beit midrash to be built without any windows, considering that this would make it fit in better into the rocky environment of the surrounding Judean Hills.  Our Rosh Yeshiva, R. Amital, is supposed to have objected, 'you want the building to fit into the environment, but not the students inside?'  And indeed, R. Amital is constantly urging the students not to view the Yeshiva as a cocoon, but on the contrary to be vitally conscious of all the world's needs.  Of course, the main concern is with our human environment, but one must also be in harmony with the natural environment.


            On the other hand, Judaism is very far from paganism.  Jews are certainly bidden to appreciate nature - special blessings are recited on seeing nature's wonders.  But we stop short of "communing" with nature.  Again, it is R. Amital who every year reminds the students that the natural world is not perfect, that we must reaffirm our abhorrence of "Pe'orism," the essence of which, according to our Sages, was the elevating of mundane bodily functions into an act of pagan worship.  Paganism is the ultimate in insolence - thinking that idols which WE create and forces of nature which WE take part in are worthy of worship is just another way of idolizing ourselves.


            The Zohar (Parashat Pekudei 251a - cited in the Beit Yosef) refers to the verse from Shir HaShirim "Behold, this one stands behind our wall, supervising our activities from the windows and peering through the openings in the lattice," and explains that "supervising" (mashgiach) refers to Divine supervision (hashgacha).  This refers particularly to Rosh HaShana, when God examines the world closely to determine its judgment for the coming year.  The text continues: "These openings in the lattice, and these windows, all exist in order to unify all of the prayers which arise from the depths skyward, in order to supervise them so as to elevate them before the Holy One blessed be He.  Therefore, a beit knesset which does not have windows is not a place where one can pray appropriately.  For an earthly beit knesset is aligned with the Supernal beit knesset.  Just as the Supernal beit knesset has windows, as we have said [that God peers through windows and shutters - broad and narrow viewpoints - in exercising Divine supervision], so also on earth.  The supernal Great Assembly [Knesset HaGedola - this term usually refers to the Sanhedrin] has twelve windows, and so too should an earthly beit knesset."  [Previously, the Zohar explained that of the twelve windows some have the point of view of loving-kindness and others the point of view of strict judgment; presumably the former are the broad "windows" and the latter the narrow spaces in  the "lattice."]


            This seems to involve a similar idea.  God is not the impassive "first cause" of philosophy; rather, His providence takes account of all of the mundane needs of the world from varying viewpoints: the narrow viewpoint of strict judgment, which considers an act only according to its evident value, and the broad one of loving-kindness, which takes into account all possible mitigating circumstances.  Likewise, our prayers should take place in a location from which we can perceive the outside world and all its varying needs.


            The reason for having EXACTLY twelve windows is referred to in the Beit Yosef as a "hidden secret."  If one of the readers finds a source which reveals this secret, perhaps he or she could reveal it to me.




R. Yitzchak said to R. Nachman, why didn't  you come to beit knesset to pray?  He replied, I couldn't [I was feeling weak - Rashi].  He said to him, You should have assembled a minyan [in your house]!  He replied, it would have been too difficult.  Then you should have asked the shaliach tzibur to let you know when the congregation prays.  He [R. Nachman] asked, I need to go to such lengths?  He explained, because R. Yochanan said in the name of R. Shimon Bar Yochai, what is the meaning of the verse (Tehillim 69) 'And my prayers to You, HaShem, are in a time of favor' - when is a time of favor?  When the congregation prays.  R. Yose be-R. Chanina said, from this verse: (Yeshayahu 49) 'Thus says HaShem: In a time of favor I will answer you.'  R. Acha be-R. Chanina said, from this verse: (Iyov 36) 'God is indeed mighty, and will not despise' [He will not despise the prayer of the congregation - Rashi] and it is written (Tehillim 55) 'Redeem my soul in peace from my conflicts, for the many ['rabim' meaning a minyan]  were with me.'"


            This is also taught in a beraita:


"R. Natan says, whence do we learn that the Holy One blessed be He does not despise the prayers of the congregation, as it is said, 'God is indeed mighty and will not despise,' and it is written, 'Redeem my soul in peace from my conflicts, for the many were with me.'  The Holy One, blessed be He, says, Anyone who occupies himself with Torah and with good deeds and prays with the congregation, I consider it as if he redeemed Me and My children from among the gentiles.  Reish Lakish said, Anyone who has a beit knesset in his city and does not pray there is called a bad neighbor, as it is said: 'Thus says HaShem, about all My bad neighbors who encroach on the inheritance which I have bequeathed to My people, to Israel.'  Furthermore, he causes exile to himself and his children, as it is said, 'Behold, I desert them from their land and the House of Judah I will desert from among them.'"  (Berakhot 7b and 8a)


            This passage (which continues with even more discussions of the importance of praying in the appropriate place and time) mentions all three elements discussed in this se'if: Praying in synagogue together with the congregation (the first "option" suggested to R. Nachman), praying with a minyan at home (the second "option"), praying at the TIME of the congregational prayer (the last option), and the importance of praying in beit knesset even without a minyan.  From the gemara, we do not know where to place praying in synagogue WITHOUT a minyan in relation to the other three options, but the MB tells us - s.k. 28.




            The MB (s.k. 29) points out that a person does not have to suffer a loss in order to pray with a minyan.  This leniency should preferably be relied upon only in an exceptional situation - one needs to stay late at work once in a while and will miss Maariv (but see MB s.k. 52), or for some particular reason one has to come early and will miss Shacharit.  One should strive to find a line of work which will permit praying with a minyan on a regular basis.


            "Loss" versus "forgone gain:" the distinction is not always so clear-cut.  Let us take the case mentioned in MB s.k. 29.  If the person approached was not a gem dealer, then certainly the opportunity to buy gems at a bargain price is a case of forgone gain.  If the person was a gem dealer who buys from fixed suppliers on a regular basis, then this is also likely a case of forgone gain.  But if the person approached with the deal is a jobber, for whom "metzies" are a regular part of his business and a meaningful component of his income, then having to forgo such a find would likely be considered a loss, and therefore making the deal could permissibly come at the expense of praying with a minyan.


            Studying Torah: Many students find the late night hours the ideal time for study.  Since a person needs adequate sleep in order to learn, these same students find late prayers the ideal.  A yeshiva student may find that having to get up early may require a schedule change which will have a negative impact on his learning.  And, ultimately, learning may be considered more important than davening - more about this when we get to siman 106.  How does the MB resolve this conflict?  See s.k. 29 for the answer as well as the rationale.  (The reason the MB gives can help explain the seeming contradiction to the ruling of the Bach brought by the MB in s.k. 34.)  The same conclusion is reached in Igrot Moshe OC II:27, where other reasons are also presented.


            However, there is no disgrace in going to a late minyan, as long as Kriat Shema is said on time.  I once asked R. Avraham Shapira a question about how we should conduct the "vatikin" minyan at Merkaz HaRav, and he looked at me a bit disapprovingly, saying: It's customary for "benei Torah" to daven late!  [Derekh shel benei Torah lehitpalel me'uchar.  The congregation at the Zupnick shul in Givat Shaul can testify that quite a few students are faithful to the approach of the Rosh Yeshiva.]