The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit
The Laws of Prayer
Yeshivat Har Etzion
Shiur 18: Viddui and Nefilat Appayim
Last week we concluded
our study of Birkat Kohanim.
This week, we will begin our study of the prayers recited immediately
following Shemoneh Esreh during both
Shacharit and Mincha. These prayers are known as Viddui (confession) and Nefilat Appayim (literally, falling on one's face; also
known as Tachanun, supplication).
a previous shiur (which can be found at http://vbm-torah.org/archive/tefila/07tefila.htm),
we noted the ancient practice of reciting additional supplications upon
completing one's Shemoneh Esreh.
The Talmud (Berakhot 29b)
"Rabbi Eliezer says:
'Whoever makes his prayer a fixed task (keva), his prayers are not
supplications'" — what is meant by a "FIXED TASK"?
Rabbi Yaakov son of Idi
said in the name of Rabbi Oshaya: "Anyone whose prayer is like a heavy burden
The rabbis say: "Whoever
does not say it in the manner of supplication."
Rabba and Rav Yosef both
say: "Whoever is not able to insert something fresh into
In other words, in
addition to the rigid and fixed text of Shemoneh Esreh, the rabbis encourage
adding personal supplications to one's prayer.
In fact, Rav Amram Gaon,
in his Seder Ha-tefilla,
From here onward (i.e.,
after Shemoneh Esreh), it is
forbidden to speak about the praises of God… However, after completing one's prayer,
if one wishes to recite Viddui or to
petition God, he certainly may.
According to Rav Amram
Gaon, the moments after reciting Shemoneh
Esreh are deemed appropriate for additional supplications or Viddui.
on a "regular" day, the half-Kaddish recited before Keriat Ha-Torah or before Ashrei,
which distinguishes between Shemoneh
Esreh and the prayers recited afterwards, is delayed until after Viddui and Tachanun are recited.
Kol Bo, a late fifteenth-century collection of ritual and civil laws, records
some of the prevalent customs.
There are places where
they are accustomed to recite the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy (Shemot
34:6-7) after the prayer "Ve-Hu rachum"
(Tehillim 78:38, the first verse
of Tachanun), and there are places where the
whole section is recited before "Ve-Hu
rachum," and there are places where they do not recite the Thirteen
Attributes at all. Each area
follows its own practice. Then the
cantor falls on his face… and says: "Lord, God of Israel" and one of the
supplicatory poems. After the
supplication he says (II Divrei Ha-yamim 20:12): "Va-anachnu lo
neida," "And we do not know," etc.
This means that after we have recited these prayers we do not know what
else we can do: "It is to You, that we turn our eyes"
practice seems to imply that one's Shemoneh Esreh is almost incomplete
before one recites Viddui, the
Thirteen Attributes of Mercy and Tachanun!
are different custom regarding the recitation of Viddui and the Thirteen Attributes after
Shemoneh Esreh. Sephardim, as well as those who pray
according to nussach Sefarad, recite Viddui daily. Amongst those who pray using nussach
Ashkenaz, some recite Viddui and
the Thirteen Attributes only on Monday and Thursday, the days on which we recite
the longer Tachanun and read from the
Torah, while others do not recite Viddui at all.
one might suggest two approaches to understanding the custom to recite Viddui and the Thirteen Attributes after
the one hand, Viddui might be viewed
as an extension of or addition to Shemoneh Esreh. We described above how one's formal
tefillat keva should preferably be accompanied by an informal
supplication. Thus the Talmud (Berakhot 17a) records various prayers
recited by the rabbis upon their concluding Shemoneh Esreh.
one might even suggest that Viddui and Shemoneh Esreh share a common theme. The Machzor Vitry (19), for example,
We recite Shemoneh Esreh silently because in it a
person confesses his sins. This is
something that the person next to him should not be able to hear. However, other prayers which do not
involve confession, like the berakhot
before Keriat Shema and after
Keriat Shema, need not be
According to the Machzor
Vitry, Shemoneh Esreh and Viddui share similar qualities. If so, then what does Viddui add? What aspect of "confession" is achieved
through this Viddui which is not
achieved during Shemoneh Esreh? We might suggest that Viddui represents a communal confession,
recited after the individual Viddui,
similar to our practice on Yom Kippur.
If so, then maybe Viddui
should only be recited when praying with a minyan.
Alternatively, Viddui might be a preparation for the
Thirteen Attributes or Tachanun,
further humbling the mitpallel (the
one who prays) before he falls upon his face in desperation, as we shall study
later in this shiur.
While the laws of the
recitation of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy are beyond the scope of this
shiur, I would like to briefly relate to the character and function of their
recitation in general and their invocation after Shemoneh Esreh in specific.
The Gemara (Rosh Ha-shana 17a)
"And God passed before
him and proclaimed" (Shemot 34:6) — Rabbi Yochanan said: "Were it not
written in the text, it would be impossible for us to say such a thing: this
verse teaches us that God enwrapped Himself like the sheliach tzibbur
(prayer leader) and showed Moshe the order of prayer. He said to him: 'Whenever Israel sin,
let them perform this service before Me, and I will forgive
Rav Yehuda said: "There
is a covenant made concerning the Thirteen Attributes, that they never return
empty-handed, as it is written (ibid., v. 10), 'Behold, I am making a
According to the Talmud,
whenever the Jewish people sin — or, according to other sources (see Eliyyahu
Zuta 23), whenever the Jewish people are in crisis — they are instructed to
recite the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, and they will be forgiven.
Yosef (Rosh Ha-shana 17a; see also Alshikh al Ha-Torah, Parashat
Shelach Lekha) cites Rabbi Moshe Alshikh (1508-1593,
who struggles with the issue that many have recited the Thirteen Attributes of
Mercy without witnessing results and explains, in the name of the author of
this very reason, it does not say: recite this service, but rather: "Perform
this service" – implying that [forgiveness] is not dependent upon speech alone,
but rather upon performance… If you emulate these attributes, you will not
Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (16th-century Tzefat) bases his entire work
Tomer Devora, a book of ethical teaching, on the Thirteen Attributes and
how to emulate them.
In other words, the
Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, according to the Alshikh, are no magical formula
of attaining forgiveness, but rather a spiritual and ethical program which
should make a person worthy of forgiveness.
One might suggest that
the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy follow Viddui, as they provide the mitpallel with a program of repentance,
which, he hopes, will assist him to attain forgiveness.
The Tur (OC 131)
The reason [for reciting
Tachanun] is that we pray in every
possible manner. A man should pray
while sitting, then standing, then falling upon his face — just as Moshe did, as
it says, "And I sat upon the mountain" (Devarim 9:9); "And I
stood upon the mountain" (ibid. 10:10); "And I fell before God"
(ibid. 9:18). Since we have no
strength to pray another way, we say, "And we do not
According to the Tur, Tachanun concludes our three-pronged
approach to prayer: sitting [praising God], standing [supplication and petition]
and falling on our faces out of humility and shame [Nefilat Appayim].
The Talmud (Megilla 22b) refers to the custom in
Babylonia to "fall upon one's face."
Furthermore, another gemara
(Bava Metzia 59b) emphasizes the apparent efficacy of the custom of
falling upon one's face.
Imma Shalom was Rabbi
Eliezer's wife and Rabban Gamliel's sister. From the time of this incident [when
Rabbi Eliezer was excommunicated by the Sanhedrin, of which Rabban Gamliel was
the head] onwards, she did not permit [Rabbi Eliezer] to fall upon his face [out
of fear for her brother's life].
Now [she thought that] a
certain day was the New Moon, but she mistook a defective month for a full one;
others say, a poor man came and stood at the door, and she took out some bread
to him. [On her return,] she found
him fallen on his face.
"Arise," she cried out
to him, "you have slain my brother!"
In the meanwhile, an
announcement was made from the house of Rabban Gamliel that he had died. "How do you know this?" he asked
"I have this tradition
from my father's house: all gates are locked, except the gates of wounded
Leaving aside the
specifics of this particular incident, the gemara implies the power of one's
"wounded feelings" in the context of Nefilat Appayim.
The Geonim, as well as
the Rishonim (see Rambam, Hilkhot Tefilla 5:14, for example), cite this
custom but generally do not specify which text to recite, emphasizing the
personal character of Nefilat
Appayim. An established text
for Nefilat Appayim emerged only
later, differing between the Ashkenazic and Sephardic communities.
Rav Yosef Karo, in
Beit Yosef (131), cites the Zohar, which describes the tikkun
(improvement, repair) of falling upon one's face while reciting Tehillim 25:
And this tikkun
should be recited with great sincerity; then God shows compassion to His people
and forgives their sins. Happy is
the person who can entice and serve his MASTER with will and sincerity, and woe
to the person who attempts to entice his Master with a distant heart and without
sincerity… which causes one to leave this world before one's
based upon this Zohar, recite Tehillim 25 upon concluding Shemoneh Esreh. The Ben Ish Chai (Parashat Ki
Tissa 13), fearing the Zohar's harsh sentence for one who recites this
chapter without sincere intention, concludes that one should recite this chapter
WITHOUT falling upon one's face.
Despite Rav Yosef Karo's ruling, in Shulchan Arukh (131:1), that
one should fall on one's face for Tachanun, Rav Ovadya Yosef (Yechavveh
Da'at 6:7) concurs with the Ben Ish Chai's position and rules that Sephardim
should refrain from performing Nefilat
The Magen Avraham
(131:5) bases the Ashkenazic custom upon the Zohar; he suggests that out of fear
that one may recite Tehillim 25,
while falling on one's face, with a "distant heart," Ashkenazim recite a
different passage (i.e. Tehillim
Before discussing Nefilat Appayim as it applies to
Ashkenazic communities, as well as the other laws of Tachanun, we must briefly discuss the
halakhic positions regarding prostration upon a stone floor and how they impact
upon the custom of falling on one's face for Tachanun.
Prostrating on a Stone
(Vayikra 26:1) teaches:
You shall make no idols;
you shall not set up a graven image or a pillar; you shall not place any
figured stone in your land, to bow down on it; for I am the LORD, your
Based upon the gemara (Megilla 22b), the Rishonim (Rambam,
Sefer Ha-mitzvot, Negative Command 12; Chinnukh 349; Semag, Negative
Command 43), count bowing upon a stone floor as a Biblical prohibition.
They differ, however, as
to the reason for this prohibition.
While Rashi (Megilla 22b, s.v.
Lo) implies that this prohibition protects the centrality of the Temple,
where one is permitted to bow on a stone floor, most Rishonim attribute this
prohibition to idolatry-related issues.
The Rambam (ibid.), for example, explains that the prohibition distances
us from the behavior of pagan worshippers.
We are enjoined not to imitate the mode of worship of the pagans, even if
the content of our worship is purely monotheistic. The Chinnukh (ibid.) differs, explaining
that one who prostrates upon a stone floor may actually be suspected of idolatry
What exactly does the
At the outset, we should
note that there are three forms of bowing and prostration. The gemara (Megilla 22b) teaches that while kidda involves bowing one's face to
the ground and keria entails going down on one's knees,
hishtachavaya entails stretching out one's arms and legs in full
prostration. (We should point out
that this "keria" should not be confused with the term used for "reading"
or "reciting," which is spelled differently in Hebrew — the former with the
letters kaf and ayin, the latter with the letters kuf
The gemara (Megilla 22b) teaches that "the Torah
prohibits only stretching out one's arms and feet" on a stone floor.
The gemara presents two opinions as to
whether full prostration (hishtachavaya) on a NON-stone floor is
Rav came to Bavel on a
public fast. He arose and read from
the [Torah] scroll…
Everybody fell on their
faces, but Rav did not fall on his face.
Why did Rav not fall on his face?
The floor was made of stone, and we have learned: "'You shall not place
any figured stone in your land, to bow down on it; for I am the LORD, your God'
— on it, you may not bow in your land, but you may bow on the stones of the
This is according to
(the opinion of) Ula, for Ula said: "The Torah has only forbidden a floor of
If this is so, why only
Rav - all of them also [should not have bowed down]? [The stone portion) was only in front of
Rav. If so, let him go closer to
the people and fall on his face [where there are no stones]!
According to the gemara, Rav did not fall on his face,
even on an area of the floor NOT made of stone. The gemara questions why he still refrained
from falling on his face, while the others did, and it
He did not want to
bother the public; alternatively, you may say that Rav would stretch out his
arms and feet (when bowing; i.e., he would prostrate himself completely), [so he
refrained] in accordance with Ula, for Ula said: "The Torah prohibited only
stretching out one's arms and feet."
So let him fall on his
face and not stretch out his arms and feet! He did not want to change his
The gemara explains that Rav stood on an
area of the floor made of stone, but he still did not prostrate himself. Tosafot (s.v. Ve-ibba'it eima) explains that according
to the FIRST opinion, apparently he did not prostrate himself, even partially,
as incomplete prostration on a stone floor is still prohibited mi-derabbanan (on a rabbinical level).
According to the SECOND opinion,
however, while incomplete prostration may have been permitted, Rav was unwilling
to change his custom and bow in a different manner.
The Rambam (Hilkhot Avodat Kokhavim 6:8; Kesef Mishneh
ibid.) rules in accordance with the first opinion, that one who prostates
himself on a stone floor, even without extending one's arms and legs, violates a
prostration on a mat or rug, while the Rambam (6:7) permits it, the Rivash (412)
prohibits it because of the stones underneath. The Rema (131:8), who rules in
accordance with the Rivash, writes: "It is prohibited for a person to fall on
his face while fully spreading his arms and legs, EVEN if the floor is not of
The Mishna Berura
(131:40) explains that mi-deoraita (on a biblical level), it is
prohibited to fully prostrate oneself upon a stone floor; mi-derabbanan, one may not perform
hishtachavaya on a non-stone floor OR even kidda on a stone floor. However, to partially prostrate oneself
on a non-stone floor would be permitted.
Are there any cases,
according to the Rema, in which one may fully prostrate himself? The Acharonim differ as to how to
interpret the Rema (131:8) and whether there are one or two other scenarios in
which one may perform hishtachavaya.
The gemara (Megilla 22b-23a), according to some,
adds another case in which one may prostrate on a stone
Rabbi Elazar said: "An
important person is not permitted to fall on his face unless he is assured that
he will be answered like Yehoshua bin Nun, concerning whom it is written
(Yehoshua 7:10), 'God said to Yehoshua: "Arise and
Rav Chiyya bar Abbin
said: "I saw that Abbayyei and Rava would incline
The gemara relates that an "important
person" should not fall on his face unless he is confident that his prayers will
be answered. The Rishonim differ as
to how to understand this gemara. Some, for example, explain that this is
in order to protect the dignity of the "important person" if his prayers are not
More important, for our
purposes, is the behavior of Abbayyei and Rava. Why did they "incline" during their Nefilat Appayim?
Some Rishonim (see Rashi
23a; Rambam, Hilkhot Tefilla 5:14) explain that Abbayyei and
Rava, as "important people," preferred not to perform a full Nefilat Appayim; rather, they merely
leaned their heads to one side, similar to the manner in which we recite Tachanun.
Others, including the
Rosh (Megilla 3:4) and Tosafot (s.v.
Ve-ibba'it eima), explain that
Abbayyei and Rava "inclined" in order to avoid the prohibition of full
prostration on a stone floor. If
so, according to these opinions, one may fully prostrate oneself (perform hishtachavaya) even on a stone floor, if
one inclines one's head to the side (see also Rambam, Hilkhot Avodat Kokhavim
The Acharonim differ as
to how the Rema (131:8) rules. He
It is prohibited for a
person to fall on his face while fully spreading his arms and legs, even if the
floor is not of figured stone.
However, if he tilts a bit to the side, it is permitted if the floor is
not of figured stone, and that is what people should do when they fall on their
faces on Yom Kippur, if they spread out grass in order to separate between them
and the floor, and that is the custom.
The Taz (22) cites two
interpretations of the Rema.
According to one interpretation, if one spreads out grass over a stone
floor, then one may fully prostrate while inclining to this side. In other words, inclining solves the
problem of hishtachavaya if the floor
is made out of another material or if there is another material separating the
person from the floor.
According to a second
interpretation, the Rema is offering a SECOND case in which one may fully
prostrate. Not only may one
prostrate on a NON-stone surface if one inclines, but even over a stone surface
— if one puts anther separation between the stone floor and the person, such as
grass or a mat — then one may fully prostrate, even without inclining. That, the Magen Avraham notes, is our
practice on Yom Kippur, when we prostrate during our recitation of the Temple
Next week we will
continue our study of the laws of Tachanun.