Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Prayer As Two Mitzvot.

Rambam in Sefer Hamitzvot Positive Commandment 5 writes:

המצווה החמישית
היא הציווי שנצטווינו לעבדו יתעלה.
ונכפל הציווי הזה כמה פעמים ואמר
"ועבדתם את ה' אלקיכם" (שמות כג, כה); ואמר "ואתו תעבדו" (דברים יג, ה); ואמר "ואתו תעבד" (שם ו, יג); ואמר "ולעבדו" (שם יא, יג).
ואף על פי שגם הציווי הזה הוא מן הציוויים הכללים - כמו שביארנו בכלל הרביעי - הרי יש בו ייחוד, כי הוא ציווי על התפילה. ולשון ספרי:
"ולעבדו - זו תפלה". ואמרו עוד: "ולעבדו - זה תלמוד".
ובמשנתו של ר' אליעזר בנו של ר' יוסי הגלילי אמרו:
"מנין לעיקר תפילה בתוך המצוות? מהכא: את-ה' אלקיך תירא ואתו תעבד" (שם ו, יג). ואמרו: "עבדהו בתורתו, עבדהו במקדשו"-
הכוונה לשאוף להתפלל בו ונכחו כמו שביאר שלמה.

The Fifth Mitzvah is the commandment to worship Him. This commandment is repeated several times in Shemot 23:25, Devarim 13:5, 6:13 and 11:3. Although we explained in rule four that this would be considered a general commandment [and therefore should not be counted. Rambam at the outset of his listing the Mitzvot sets down 14 rules that govern which types of commandments should be listed. He explains that a general commandment such as worshipping God cannot be listed as a separate commandment as it is the underlying reason for keeping all Mitzvot.] However, prayer is a specific act that was designated to fulfill that commandment of worship [thus allowing it to be counted and included in the listing]. As Sifrei says the meaning of the verse “and to worship Him” is Tefilah. The Rabbis also said “and to worship Him” means to study [the word used is Talmud. Note Hilchot Talmud Torah 1:14 והעניינות הנקראין פרדס, בכלל התלמוד.] The Mishna of rabbi Eliezer the son of Rabbi Yossi Hagelili said: “where do we find the source for Tefilah among the Mitzvot?” and they quote the passuk in Devarim 6:13. They also said, worship him through His torah and worship Him through His Temple. They meant with that, that one should yearn to pray to Him in the Temple and in its direction as Shlomo expressed. (See Melachim 1:8).”

Rambam in positive Commandments 59 writes-

המצווה הנ"ט
הציווי שנצטווינו לתקוע בחצוצרות במקדש בעת הקרבת כל קורבן
מקורבנות הפרקים. והוא אמרו יתעלה: "וביום שמחתכם ובמועדיכם ובראשי חדשכם ותקעתם בחצוצרות" (שם י, י). ובפרוש אמרו, שמצוות היום בחצוצרות. וכבר נתבארנו דיני מצווה זו בספרי וראש השנה ותעניות, כי אנו מצווים
לתקוע בחצוצרות בזמן הצרות והרעות כשנזעק אליו יתעלה [כמו ש]אמר: "וכי
תבואו מלחמה בארצכם וגו'" (שם שם, ט).

The 59th commandment is to blow trumpets in the Beit Hamikdash when the periodical offerings are brought. That is the meaning of the verse in Bamidbar 10:10: “Also in the day of your gladness, and in your appointed seasons, and in your new moons, ye shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt-offerings and over the sacrifices of your peace-offerings”. The explanation [received from Sinai together with the written text] tells us that trumpets are used for that mitzvah on those days. The details of this Mitzvah are discussed in Sifrei, Massechet Rosh Hashana and Tanyot. That we are commanded to blow the trumpets in times of trouble and war as we pray to Him, it says in Bamidbar 10:9

ט וְכִי-תָבֹאוּ מִלְחָמָה בְּאַרְצְכֶם,
עַל-הַצַּר הַצֹּרֵר אֶתְכֶם--וַהֲרֵעֹתֶם, בַּחֲצֹצְרֹת;
וְנִזְכַּרְתֶּם, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, וְנוֹשַׁעְתֶּם
, מֵאֹיְבֵיכֶם

9 And when ye go to war in your land against the adversary, that oppresses you, then ye shall sound an alarm with the trumpets; and ye shall be remembered before the LORD your God and ye shall be saved from your enemies.

Rambam lists two separate Mitzvot for prayer where one is a component of general worship, Avodah, and the second is part of a process we are commanded to go through in times of trouble. The first is not time dependent; it is constant, while the second is to be performed on specific occasions. In fact the accompanying part of that second process, the blowing of the trumpets, is always time dependent. It is done either in times of trouble or during specific times during public offerings in the Beit Hamikdash. What are the concepts behind these two Mitzvot of prayer? Clearly there are different ideas underlying these two Mitzvot otherwise they would not be listed separately and in two different books Ahavah and Zemanim.

As the great organizer he is, Rambam places the first mitzvah, prayer as worship, in sefer Ahavah while the second one, the one for times of trouble, in Sefer Zemanim in Hilchot Ta’aniyot. Rambam at the beginning of each sefer in MT starts with a verse that gives a general overview of the concept that underlies the Halachot in that Sefer. Ahavah is introduced with a verse in Tehilim 119:97

מה אהבתי, תורתך: כל היום, היא שיחתי
O how love I Thy Torah! It is my meditation all the day.

Torah in this context are the laws but also their goal which is acquiring a knowledge of God and His ways so that we can emulate them, which is indeed, what we call Avodah or worship. It is this that we are supposed to meditate upon all day and at all times. The sefer Ahavah is composed of Mitzvot that are meant to keep us focused at all times to keep in mind that we are part of a world created by HKBH and we have a defined role to play in it. Hilchot Tefilah is placed in Sefer Ahavah. Its purpose is therefore to constantly remind us of our existential standing.

On the other hand, the Mitzvot in Sefer Zemanim, as the name implies, are time dependent. They are applicable either at set times or for specific occasions. Hilchot Ta’aniyot, where the second type of prayer is placed, is in Sefer Zemanim. There are therefore two different prayers where one is meant to keep us focused at all times on our goals while the other is meant to address a specific problem that might occur in our lives. To understand prayer we have to always keep in mind this dual role of prayer.

In the next post(s) I will discuss the two different types of prayer, their role in our life and their meaning.


  1. within the prayer that the rabbis developed we see this same duality. The first three blessings and the last three keep us focused on the general goals while the middle blessings deal specific problems that may occur in our lives

  2. David,
    I would assume that you are familiar with Rav Soloveitchik's explanation regarding the mackloket between the Ramban and Rambam as to whether Tefilla is of Torah origin. For Ramban, it is only in time of need, similar to what you quote in hilchot Ta'aniot. Buit for the Rambam, man is existentially in a time of need and that is why tefilla is min hatorah. According toy your analysis, the Rambam's position seems to be different, that there is a different type of tefilla that is of Torah origin.


  3. Neil, I am familiar and will hopefully address it. Notwithstanding your understanding of RYSB Rambam does list two Mitzvot as quoted.