Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 15 July 2017 / 21 Tammuz 5777

Laws of the "Shema" - Part 3

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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If one did not recite Shema before sunrise he should recite it after sunrise as soon as possible (Shulchan Aruch 58:2). This ruling is based on the principle that one must perform a mitzvah as soon as possible, “zrizim makdimim l’mitzvot. (Mishneh Berurah).

According to the above principle we can ask the following question: Since the time of reciting Shema begins one half-hour to one hour before sunrise, why did the vatikin (people that cherished the mitzvot, doing them in the best way possible) wait until just before sunrise to recite the Shema?

Though reciting Shema and praying Shemoneh Esrei are two separate mitzvot, there is a special mitzvah to say them together, and to join the last blessing of the Shema with the beginning of Shemoneh Esrei. This is called Joining Redemption to Prayer − l’smoch geulah l’tefillah. That is why the morning prayers are preceded by the Shema. The Sages also teach that the ideal time to say Shemoneh Esrei is at the beginning of sunrise based on the verse “They will fear You together (i.e. at a time) with the sun”. Thus, in order to say Shemoneh Esrei at its best time and also say it together with the Shema, the vatikin delayed saying Shema until just before sunrise. In this instance fulfilling these mitzvot in the best possible way pushes off the principle of performing a mitzvah as soon as possible.

The above applies when praying at sunrise, but what would be the law for one who prays after sunrise? There are two general opinions what one should do. According to the first and main opinion nothing would change, and just as it is best to say Shema and Shemoneh Esrei together at sunrise, it is better to say them together after sunrise, even though one will delay reciting Shema even longer. The other opinion maintains that since most people have already started their day by sunrise, with only a minority of people still in bed at that time, the ideal time to recite Shema extends only until sunrise. According to them, if one is praying after sunrise for whatever reason, he should say Shema before sunrise instead of joining prayer and redemption.

The halacha follows the first opinion. However, according to Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbuch, someone who is praying after sunrise should recite Shema before sunrise without the blessings, and say the Shema again later with its blessings when he prays, thereby joining prayer with redemption. When doing this he should make a condition that if, in truth, the halacha is like the first opinion, then his first reading is not to fulfill the mitzvah, and if the halacha is like the second opinion, then his first reading is indeed to fulfill the mitzvah.

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