Talmud Tips

For the week ending 21 August 2021 / 13 Elul 5781

Ki Teitzei: Succah 34 - 40

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Tefillah and the Torah

Rava said, “There is no contradiction — lulav is a Torah mitzvah and tefillah (prayer) was enacted by our Rabbis.”

This answer on our daf resolves the difficulty posed by the gemara between what ourmishna states and what a mishna in Masechet Shabbat teaches. Let us explore the gemara’s question, Rava’s answer, and how his answer may shed light on the exact nature of the mitzvah of tefillah. The nature and status of this mitzvah are certainly matters of significant consequence in many ways.

The question: Our mishna states that if a person who was travelling without a lulav arrives to his place on Succot, he should find a lulav and fulfill the mitzvah that day as soon as possible. And if he did not have a lulav upon arrival, and he began his meal, if he receives a lulav in the middle of eating, he must interrupt his meal to fulfill the mitzvah. However, elsewhere we are taught that if a person began his meal before the time to daven mincha, he is not required to interrupt his meal in order to daven mincha when the window of time for mincha begins. Why, asks the gemara, does a person need to stop for lulav but not for mincha?

Rava’s answer: “There is no contradiction between the halachas taught in these two mishnas — the mitzvah of lulav is a Torah mitzvah, whereas the mitzvah to daven mincha (i.e. the mitzvah of tefillah) was enacted by the Rabbis but is not a Torah mitzvah.” Therefore, a person must interrupt his meal to fulfill the Torah mitzvah of lulav but not to fulfill the Rabbinic mitzvah of tefillah.

Rava’s answer appears to clearly teach that the mitzvah of daily tefillah is not a Torah mitzvah. Yet, if we learn the teachings of the Rambam, we see that the mitzvah of tefillah is indeed a Torah mitzvah! The Rambam authored a classic work called Sefer Hamitzvot, in which he lists all of the 613 Torah mitzvahs — and his elaborate, precise and consistent methodology for determining what should be counted as a mitzvah on that list. Mitzvah Aseh number five (the fifth of mitzvah on the list that involves doing something) is the Torah mitzvah of tefillah. A proof to this ruling is a teaching in a beraita at the beginning of Masechet Ta’anit: “The verse states: ‘To love Hashem and to serve Him with all of your heart’ (Devarim 11:13). What service is done with the heart? You must say that this is tefillah.”

However, the Ramban disagrees with the Rambam’s ruling on this matter of the mitzvah of daily tefillah being a Torah mitzvah. His challenge is based on a number of Talmudic sources. The Ramban’s position is that daily tefillah is a Rabbinic mitzvah, a position that appears to be supported by Rava’s answer in our sugya. (Note: Although the Ramban does not count daily tefillah as one of the 613 Torah mitzvahs, he agrees that there is indeed a Torah mitzvah to pray to Hashem for help when there is an impending danger or enemy that faces the Jewish People, a mitzvah that he derives from a different verse. In fact, there are other mitzvahs that the Rambam counts in his list, which the Ramban does not, and, likewise, the Ramban complies a number of mitzvahs that he counts but the Rambam does not — to complete his own list of 613 Torah mitzvahs — a compilation that the Ramban euphemistically refers to as Mitzvahs that the Rav (i.e. the Rambam ‘Forgot.’ Perhaps the most well-known example is what is commonly referred as to the mitzvah to live in the Land of Israel. It is not in the Rambam’s list since he seems to understand the verse mandating the Jewish People to conquer and settle the Land of Israel as referring specifically to the one time when it applied under the leadership of Yehoshua bin Nun. According to the Rambam’s methodology, a mitzvah that does not apply throughout history should not be on the list of the 613 mitzvahs. The Ramban, however, says that it is a mitzvah not limited to the original settling of the Land of Israel, and therefore — even according to the Rambam’s rules — should be counted as one of the 613 Torah mitzvahs. Of course, this subject is mentioned here in only the most superficial of manners, and very many great Torah writings address and expound on the topic of a mitzvah to live in Israel nowadays.)

Back to our gemara. Rava’s answer — that tefillah is a Rabbinic mitzvah — seems to be a strong challenge to the Rambam’s position that it is Torah mitzvah. However, none other than the Ramban — whose position is that daily tefillah is not a Torah mitzvah — provides an answer to this question on the Rambam’s position. The Ramban quotes the Rambam’s teaching in the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah (Hilchot Tefillah 1:1), which states that although daily tefillah is a Torah mitzvah, the time, the frequency and text of the daily tefillah or tefillahs are of Rabbinic origin and not a Torah mitzvah. Rava’s answer in our sugya that tefillah is a Rabbinic mitzvah refers to the mitzvah for three daily tefillahs (on a normal weekday), a requirement that is not a Torah mitzvah, but rather a mitzvah enacted by the Rabbis.

  • Succah 38a

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