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Hashem Sefasai Tiftach

The Gemara says that the words Hashem Sefasai Tiftach before the first bracha of shmonei Esrai is like part of the tefila itself. How far do we considered this? If on a fast day the tzibur takes out the torah and I space out and instead start shmonei esrai with those words before baruch, should I continue? If I skip those words and just start with Baruch Ata Hashem, should I go back?


This is an interesting question.

The Gemara writes that the verse Hashem Sefasai Tiftach does not constitute a hefsek between Geulah and Tefillah, because it is considered a “long tefillah,” meaning a part of the shemoneh esrei prayer.

This ruling is extended by authorities to the question of interrupting between the pasuk and between the beginning of the shemoneh esrei. As Mishnah Berurah writes (66:35), if one reaches shemoneh esrei before the chazzan, and does not wish to answer amen (see Shulchan Aruch 66:7), one can begin the verse, and having begun the shemoneh esrei, one would not answer amen anymore. This halachah is stated in Lechem Chamudos (Berachos Chap. 1, no. 53), and cited by Magen Avraham (111:1), and is also mentioned in Levushei Serad (66:11).

Shut Be’er Moshe (Vol. 8, no. 50) writes further that one should not take the three steps back and forwards while saying the first pasuk, because it is a part of the prayer. There are, however, different customs in this.

[See also Likkutim Yekarim in the name of the Maggid of Mezritz (no. 44), who writes that upon commencing the verse Hashem Sefasai Tiftach a person in enveloped by the Shechinah, which speaks the words of prayer with the person davening.]

Yet, we find in Ben Ish Chai (1st year, Vayakhel 10; Rav Pe’alim Vol. 4, no. 4) that if a person has said the opening verse, and then encounters kaddish or kedushah, he should answer with the congregation, and then repeat the first pasuk again and begin davening. The rationale is that he can change his mind, and decide not to begin davening, and nothing is levatalah because he has not recited any blessing. Mekor Chaim (122:1) writes similarly that one can make a hefsek for the purpose of answering kaddish and kedushah.

From the poskim mentioned above, it is clear that there is no obligation to stop after the initial pasuk, answer amen, and to repeat the pasuk and begin davening. Yet, it would seem that there is no prohibition in so doing, as we find in Ben Ish Chai. Therefore, when there is a need for doing this — because starting early would mean losing tefillah be’tzibbur — it would seem to be proper to stop, and to begin again later.

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