Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 18 November 2017 / 29 Heshvan 5778

Laws of Barchu

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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Before the blessings of Shema, the shliach tzibur (congregation leader) recites in a loud voice and in the presence of at least ten men, “Bless G-d, the blessed One,” and the tzibur (congregation) responds, “Blessed is G-d, the blessed One, for all eternity.” After calling upon the tzibur to bless G-d, the leader must repeat after them, so as not to give the appearance that he is excluding himself from the obligation to bless G-d. (Tur and Shulchan Aruch O.C. 57:1)

It is very important to make sure to say Barchu with a minyan each day, for it is taught in Midrash Ruth that the soul does not fully settle in the body until one answers to the Barchu prayer… thus one must make an effort to pray with a minyan (Kaf HaChaim in the name of Shalmi Tzibur). It is also written in the name of the Arizal that even one who rises early to learn Torah does not fully “receive” his soul until he prays and answers to Barchu, at which point the soul settles within the person. This is the reason that the response to Barchu has five words in it — corresponding to the five names of the soul: Nefesh, Ruach, Neshama, Chaiyah and Yechida. (Kaf HaChaim)

Reciting Barchu is so important for one’s soul that it is the custom in some places to say it at the end of the morning prayers for those that missed it. We also find in the early writings (Rokeach, mentioned in the Beit Yosef) a remedy for someone who prayed without a minyan: to say a beraita of Rabbi Akiva which mentions the Barchu praise in it. One should not say it in the middle of the prayers so as not to cause an interruption. Rather, it should be said at the end of prayers before Aleinu. Yet there are some who are of the opinion that G-d’s name should not be recited when reading the beraita, and therefore each person should consult a rabbi to determine the proper custom for him (see Ben Ish Chai and Piskei Tshuvot).

The custom is to bow when saying Barchu, and there is a source for this in the Rishonim. However, one should not bow as deeply as is done for the Shemoneh Esrei, but rather should bow slightly. One should take care to be in the upright position when saying G-d’s name, and to be facing the Aron Kodesh (East) when bowing (Piskei Teshuvot).

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