This week’s article is a continuation of last week’s article and focuses on the practical aspects that result from the importance of designating a spot for regular prayers. Is it enough to pray in the same shul every day, or does the exact seat also have to be the same? Should people have a corner for prayer also at home — for ladies, or for a man in case of an emergency? Does a house have to have a study for learning Torah? Can a minyan participant use a side room to sing Psukei D’zimra out loud so as not to bother others? Does the obligation of having a regular seat include davening at the same set time and with the same minyan? How should one react when one comes to shul too find his regular seat occupied? When the regular seat is uncomfortable – due to too weak or too strong air conditioning for example — can one change his seat? When should a shul be split into two, and when is it recommended to leave it one big congregation? When should one change shuls? Can one decide to use one shul for part of the year and another for the rest? Of this and more in the coming article.
Last week’s article discussed the importance of having a designated spot for tefilla and the reward for it. The following points were made to explain the importance of having a permanent spot for prayer:
A fixed seat helps train us to stop everything that’s going on in our lives and focus on connecting with G-d. Through it we connect with the entirety of the Jewish Nation and all their prayers. This is why prayer should preferably take place in shul, with a minyan. When unable to attend a minyan, one should make an effort to pray at the same time as his regular minyan is praying – again, in order to unite with them in prayer, to solidify the congregation as one unit of love and connection with G-d. This shows that our prayer is not a random meeting but an integral part of our life. Just as people have one bed to sleep in, a regular spot at the table, they have a spot consecrated for the sacred activity of prayer. Prayer is the focus of our life.
Praying in a regular spot demonstrates that our prayers are not intended to garner dividends in a sort of spiritual ATM machine, but rather as a medium to connect with G-d. Prayer is mainly a way of serving as a conduit to glorify G-d’s Holy Name in the world. For this end we need our various needs and wishes met and that is why we include them in our prayers.
Prayer in a regular spot also minimizes disturbances and allows us to ensure that the area is respectable and clean.
This week we will focus on the practical aspect of having a regular prayer spot.
Rabbenu Yona (Brachos 6b) maintains that prayer in shul fulfills the obligation of having a designated spot for prayers, and no further action is necessary to invoke this merit. When praying at home one should designate a regular spot for his prayers. The Rosh (ibid), however, disagrees and maintains that even in shul one should have a regular seat.
The Shulchan Aruch rules (OC 90:19) that one should have a regular spot for his prayers, and changing it should only be done when necessary. According to the Shulchan Aruch having a regular shul is not enough; one should also have a regular seat in shul.
The Magen Avraham (90:33) and Mishna Brura (90:59) add that at home, too, one should have a regular spot for praying should he need to pray at home. The home setting makes concentrating difficult, therefore having a set spot for prayer is of double importance.
The Pri Megadim (OC 90:33) discusses a congregation that prays part of the year in one location and the rest of the year — in another. He refers to a Gemara (Bave Basre 4a) which mentions a similar scenario — a congregation that used one building during the winter because it had more insulation, and another, an airy and open one, for the summer. The Gemara rules that both are considered a regular shul and a set place for praying. Therefore, one who is used to pray part of the year in one spot and the rest of the year in another, may continue doing so.
The Yalkut Yosef instructs ladies to preferably have a regular spot for prayer (at home or in shul).
Psukei D’zimra in a Side Room
There are people who like to sing the Pesukei D’zimra slowly and out loud. Out of concern for his fellow congregants, one may go pray in a side room, joining the congregation only from Yishtabach, on. Do these people forfeit the merit of having a regular seat for prayers?
The Toras Chayim (90:20) and Ben Ish Chai (I, Mikeitz 4) write that this halacha of having a regular spot for prayer refers exclusively to the Shemone Esrei. This is also the opinion of the Rivevos Efraim (volume I chapter 67). Therefore, going to another spot for P’sukei D’zimra is not detrimental at all — on the contrary – one is rewarded for doing so. One who feels he might be mocked or interrupt others and goes to sing Hashem’s praises in a side room is laudable.
Regular Spot – Definition
The Magen Avraham (footnote 34) and Mishna Brurah (footnote 60) write that anywhere within 4 amos (2.4 meters) of one’s regular seat is considered the same spot, and there is no need to sit in exactly the same seat. Therefore, if the regular spot is occupied or otherwise inaccessible, standing within 4 amos of it is fine.
Rav Moshe Sternbach shlita (Teshuvos V’hanhagos, volume V, chapter 43) adds that davening with the same crowd every day is even more important than praying in one’s regular spot where the congregants are random passersby, or praying in the same spot, but at different times.
Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein (Chishukei Chemed Brachos 7b) was presented a question: what should one do when he comes to shul and finds his spot occupied by a guest? What is preferable — to insist the guest vacate the spot (the question was asked in wartime, when the petitioner wanted the extra protection afforded by a regular seat – “his enemies fall before him”) or forgo the merit for the mitzva of welcoming a guest?
Rav Zilberstein quotes the Sefer Hachinuch (mitzva 431) – The Mitzva of Loving a Convert. This mitzva teaches that a stranger in town is like a convert and is therefore included in this mitzvah. The Torah cautions us in thirty-six places to treat a convert properly (Bava Metzia 59b). One who shows a stranger mercy and treats him kindly, G-d will treat him likewise, and G-d’s blessings will be bestowed on him.
Therefore, explains Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein, if one’s seat is taken it is preferable to welcome the guest kindly and quietly look for another seat, rather than give another person the feeling he is unwanted. In merit of the mitzva, G-d will assist him, his prayers will be answered, and G-d will show him mercy. Yalkut Yosef (OC 90:30) adds that this is called a necessary situation in which changing one seat is called for. Besides this often one can find a place within four amos of his regular seat and thus will treat the guest properly and yet pray in his usual place.
Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank (Toldos Ze’ev, Brachos 6b, Tzitz Eliezer 18:63) makes an interesting point. The Gemara writes that when eulogizing a person who had a regular place for praying, the angels cry out “Where is the pious, humble one?” While pious is understandable – one who was careful to fulfill the mitzva of prayer properly is certainly pious, humble remains to be explained. What’s the connection between having a regular spot for praying and humility?
Rav Tzvi Pesach explains that one who has a regular spot for prayer must be humble. Shul is a place where people meet each other and since “two people have three opinions” it naturally invites disagreements. When meeting with adversary, a proud person will simply move away to get out of the uncomfortable situation. One who managed to go through life in the same seat proves that he was humble enough to get along with his fellow congregants, doesn’t get angry or argue. Rav Moshe Sternbach adds (Teshuvos V’hanhagos V, 43) that a humble person is one who is not proud or sure of his piety. He is not sure his prayers will be accepted on his own merit, so he utilizes other means to ensure his prayers are accepted.
Often one can come to shul and find his seat uncomfortable. Should one make an effort to pray in his regular spot despite the discomfort at the price of compromised concentration, or should he rather find a different spot?
In general, concentration in prayer takes precedence. Therefore, it is preferable to find a comfortable seat instead of remaining in one’s uncomfortable regular seat. If it is possible to find one in close proximity to the regular spot, sitting there is preferable (Kaf Hachayim 11:10), and if not – one should find another spot for himself.
If one’s concentration will be compromised equally from the interruption or the change of seat, one should prefer his regular spot over changing it.
Rabbi Ezra Piggo (Bina L’ittim 61) tells of an occasion in which praying in a regular spot was life threatening. When Daryavesh (Darius) king of Persia outlawed prayer, Daniel endangered his life and prayed in his usual spot. As a result, he was thrown into the lion’s den and miraculously saved.
Why did Daniel endanger himself to pray in public? Couldn’t he have prayed just the same in a secluded spot? Since Daniel’s regular prayer spot was near a window, he did not want to change it and remained there despite the danger. (Why he was permitted to endanger himself to pray in his regular spot is a topic for further discussion. Our mention here is to illustrate the importance of designating a regular spot for prayer.)
The Radvaz (III chapter 472) writes that a city with a variety of Jews from all over the world should have separate shuls for every community so they can each maintain their distinct customs and pronunciation. Having everyone together can cause discord, therefore splitting into separate shuls is necessary to maintain peace. Peace even overrides one’s personal or family customs – if a shul is filled with quarreling congregants, one must leave that community, even if his family belonged to it for generations.
Furthermore, one whose father prays in one shul but finds praying there difficult should change to a different shul, because connection with Hashem in prayer can only occur when praying where one is not disturbed. Since moving is for a mitzva, the concern of honoring one’s parent should not be a factor, and one should make himself a regular spot in a different shul.
Skipping Parts of Prayers
There are certain days of the year in which the prayers take a large portion of the day due to additional piyyutim (liturgical additions). Is it permissible to join a small minyan in which these parts will be skipped?
The Geonim (New Responsa, p. 186:99) addressed a similar question: talmidei chachomim wanted to create their own minyan in which optional parts of prayer would be omitted to leave them time for Torah study. Is this permissible? The Geonim answered that this practice is not recommended for several reasons: They would be losing the merit of praying in their regular spot; prayers in a smaller minyan are less accepted; and splitting up a minyan can sow discord among the members of the congregation.
The Beis Shearim (OC 62) was presented with an interesting question.
In Hungary there were three towns located adjacent one to the other: Szentendre, Benszallas, and Ozd. The first two had three and four Jews each, while Ozd, the last in the line, had a full minyan. The people of all three towns agreed to meet in the middle town, Benszallas, every week for Shabbos prayers. This way, residents of two towns walked halfway, and met in the middle town for their minyan. The shul, however, was merely a rented space, and every so often they would be forced to move.
Eventually, the residents of Ozd decided they wanted a regular shul in a permanent location. The residents of Benszallas didn’t argue, since the town was pretty close to them, but those from Szentendre disagreed – the distance was too great for them to walk every Shabbos, and building the shul in Ozd would prevent them from praying with a minyan. They demanded the rented shul in Benszallas remain.
The Beis She’arim ruled that having a permanent spot for prayer takes precedence over convenience. Therefore, the locals of Ozd should proceed with building a regular shul, and doing so is permitted even at the price of closing the previous one. A new shul building need not be in the same location as the old one, and the residents of Ozd are not responsible for those of Szentendre. Rather, it is the latter’s responsibility to make the extra effort to walk to shul.
Succah vs. Regular Spot
One who is forced to pray at home on Succos and is unsure where to pray – should he pray in his regular spot at home or in the holy succah? The Rambam (Succah 6:9) maintains that one who wishes to pray in the succah may do so, and one who is able to concentrate better outside of it – can pray there.
In addition to the importance of having a regular spot for prayer, several sources see importance in having a regular spot for Torah study as well. The Rif reads the Gemara (Brachos 7b): “Having a regular spot for his Torah, his enemies fall before him”. Several commentaries explain that the Rif here indicates one should have a regular spot for Torah study as well. This is also the meaning of the Rama (OC 155:1) that one should go to a shul or have a set seat for his regular Torah learning.
The Kav Hayashar (24:12), when listing reasons why a house sometimes is destroyed, mentions a home in which there is no permanent spot for Torah study. One should have a designated spot for Torah study at home if one does not learn in a beis hamedrash. And Kav Hayashar ends: “Praiseworthy is he who chooses a nice place to study Torah, for Hashem is present where Torah is studied…”.
The Tiferes Yisreol (Avos 1:15) explains the Mishna: “Make your [study of the] Torah a fixed practice”: one must be careful not to change the way he studies. He should learn one topic or two, and even when doing so, try to stick to one publication, remain in the same room, etc, because consistency in these matters, even in the small things, helps internalize the Torah that he learns. Additionally, Torah should not be studied in a lazy manner such as lying down or while eating or engaging in other activities.
The Shevet Halevi (10 chapter 135) was asked if it would be possible to move to a new house during inappropriate times (the Nine Days, for example). He answers that if the new house will have a seforim room, or a corner designated for prayer and the present one does not, moving is being done for a mitzva and there is no problem in doing so despite the period.