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6 Ellul 5762 - August 14, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Who Shall Stand Before the `Omud'?

by R' A. Cheifetz

A painful phenomenon -- an `orphaned' omud

In the course of a mussar shmuess in the beis midrash of Yeshivas Kol Torah, the Mashgiach HaRav Y. Borodiansky complained about the new phenomenon that has lately crept into certain botei knesses including minyanim of bnei Torah. The subject: someone to lead the pesukei dezimrah before the congregation.

In yeshivos throughout the generations and in all self- respecting synagogues, it has always been mandatory for someone to lead the prayers from the very beginning. Even if this is not altogether required by the halacha itself, still this is certainly obligatory from the aspect of the order and decorum of the prayer service itself.

And yet, we find too often nowadays that the omud remains orphaned until the very last moment, until Yishtabach and Borchu. Perhaps the reason for this is the difficulty in finding someone to lead the prayers, but the outcome is an official slighting of the pesukei dezimrah prayers. The `bereaved' omud suggests the attitude that the beginning of the service is hardly important, G-d forbid, and those who come later lack the preparation and anticipation that soon the congregation will be intoning Borchu!

Many Torah sages have already remarked on this, and the propitiousness of this time of year, Elul, behooves us to quote certain passages from their rousing words, among them the outstanding talk given by HaRav Borodiansky. (These are not necessarily quoted according to the order of their delivery.)

It has always been customary in Yeshivas Ponevezh to designate a special baal tefilloh for the prayers up through pesukei dezimrah. One sage told that HaRav Elya Lopian zt'l found himself one time in a place where no chazan was representing the congregation for these passages and he insisted that this be amended; he stood his ground until arrangements were made to forthwith have someone lead this section of the prayers.

Rabbenu the Mashgiach of Ponevezh zt'l once expressed it thus: "The pesukei dezimrah are a song unto Hashem." He then quoted from Chazal the obligation to "stand and serve," from which we derive that serving (by Cohanim in the Beis Hamikdash) must necessarily be done while standing. He then concluded that it was, therefore, "obligatory to stand while reciting pesukei dezimrah."

One time, they shortened the recital of pesukei dezimrah by a minute. The Mashgiach was greatly distressed and said so, in so many words, "They stole from me today a chunk of pesukei dezimrah!" (Compare the wording of the Bais Yosef siman 51: "Those people who recite these chapters at express speed are not doing a seemly thing; they are like servants who curtail the praise of their Creator for their own convenience. Is there any ruler who will condone this?" This is why it was ruled in Shulchan Oruch that these passages must be said in a slow, deliberate fashion.)

In a eulogy on the Mashgiach, HaRav Sholom Schwadron zt'l told the following: He once approached the Mashgiach and said that since he was accustomed to praying with the netz, and sometimes he was short on time, he asked if it were permissible to skip over pesukei dezimrah in order to reach Shemoneh Esrei exactly at sunrise. And if, according to the halacha it was permissible still, he wished to know if it were advisable.

The Mashgiach reacted as follows: Praying Vosikin is truly an advantage, a desired practice in prayer. But if one skips over the preliminary pesukei dezimrah, how can one possibly be prepared to say the Shemoneh Esrei?

Venerable scholars who heard this eulogy were disconcerted by his words. How few of us, upon standing at Shemoneh Esrei, are actually aware whether we preceded this prayer with the full praises of pesukei dezimrah or not? Who remembers?

I also heard it said that HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt'l once said to his attendant after prayers that it were really advisable for the shaliach tzibbur to conclude aloud every psalm of the pesukei dezimrah so as to unite the entire congregation in its recital. To be sure, he only meant this as a preferred practice, but we can certainly infer therefrom his ardent desire that this section of the prayer be accorded its due and proper respect in practice, not that it is actually mandatory.

"And it shall be eikev . . . " Rashi notes that the particular use of this word [which is homonymous to the word for `heel'] denotes those commandments which a person is wont to tread upon as being of lesser significance. The heel is one of the ends of the body, but it grants a person locomotion. To be sure, it is the heart and the brain that command the body but without the extremities, there would be no motion or function. This teaches us that every living thing has its extremities, aside from the center core of that creature. These limbs enable the core to function and to move, to act.

Applied to the thought at hand: the commandments are the actual life in flux, but they have a certain order and process whereby they are able to function. It is the relatively simpler commandments, the ones we may slight, overlook, disregard, that enable the body of the commandments to function at all!

"The service of the heart -- this is prayer." When a person stands before the King, he is veritably living. This is his main purpose in life, the heart of his existence! But we cannot access the interior of the heart, the essence of prayer, without the proper introduction and the necessary preparation. A person must arrange his praises of the Creator via the pesukei dezimrah so that he be able to arrive at the heart of the prayer. Without the extremities, without the limbs, his heart cannot function, move or live. Our sages were extremely meticulous in this matter and very precise in including the pesukei dezimrah as a very integral, necessary part of the order of public prayers.

HaRav Shmuel Auerbach cited a work, Leket Yosher written by a disciple of Trumas Hadeshen, in which the author writes about the practices of his master. On page 16, he writes:

"I recall once during the period of selichos that he chided those students who left the shul after the conclusion of selichos and before the commencement of the Shema which is said before pesukei dezimrah, even though some of them left in order to go and study. Even on weekdays from Rosh Chodesh Elul until after Yom Kippur, the Gaon used to chant the prayers from Boruch She'omar for almost a whole hour."

In other words, the Trumas Hadeshen would extend the duration of pesukei dezimrah alone for this forty day period of heavenly goodwill to almost an hour! And he urged his disciples to do likewise at the expense of any break they would have wanted to take between selichos and the morning prayers. (It was discussed whether he was referring to Boruch She'omar itself or to the entire section of pesukei dezimrah which is also referred to as Boruch She'omar. He probably meant the latter, though we find this practice referred to elsewhere, on page 17, somewhat differently, as follows: "He used to chant the Boruch She'omar for about forty-five minutes alone, aside from the rest of the mizmorim over which he also tarried." Perhaps, however, in referring to "the rest of the mizmorim" he did not only mean the psalms but instead the section beginning Vayevorech Dovid, whereas Boruch She'omar included the psalms that follow it.

What a marvelous service-practice of the Trumas Hadeshen for these significant, propitious days!


HaRav Yosef Tzubari zt'l brings the words of Rabbenu Avrohom, son of the Rambam, in his siddur Knesses Hagedola regarding standing during the recital of pesukei dezimrah. HaRav Borodiansky was deeply impressed by his words and publicized them:

"I was shown a great find in a work that was published in a new edition, a Hebrew translation from the Arabic - - the second section of Hamaspik le'Ovdei Hashem by R' Avrohom ben HaRambam. He extols the significance of the pesukei dezimrah, for which purpose it is advisable to appoint a shaliach tzibbur to lead them, as is quoted further:

"At first, R' Avrohom stresses the importance of praising Hashem while standing erect, for if one praises Hashem while sitting, the words of the prophet truly apply when he said, `If I am a Father, where is My honor, and if I am a Master, where is My awe?' Therefore, it is mandatory that at least the shaliach tzibbur stand and lead these prayers in order to glorify and praise.

"Rabbenu Avrohom, author of Hamaspik le'Ovdei Hashem, does not stop here. He continues to arouse with his words: `Were it not that Chazal said that one does not exert the congregation overmuch, it would be appropriate for the entire congregation to stand throughout the entire recital of pesukei dezimrah. But one can say that this is too much to ask of the entire congregation. But at least, they rely on the shaliach tzibbur to represent them by standing, himself. And if one were to ask why this is not asking too much of the shaliach tzibbur as well, we must answer that there is no comparison. The shaliach tzibbur is there to represent everyone, that is his function; he must lead the congregation, and all eyes are focused on him. There is certainly a significant difference between one who leads the prayers and praises and the congregation which follows his lead and listens to the praises or participates in them as followers.'

"So we see how accepted and common and obvious it was in the times of the Rishonim for a shaliach tzibbur to lead this section of the prayers."

Indeed, how obvious, how elementary that there is a different tone to the prayers and to the pesukei dezimrah when someone stands before the congregation and leads it in these praises -- from the very onset!

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