Reciting Prayers as a Tzibur

And they should gather all of the food in these approaching good years and assemble the grain under Paroh’s authority as food for the cities and they should guard it. (Sefer Beresheit 41:35)

1. Yosef’s strategy for saving Egypt

Parshat Meketz describes Yosef’s ascent to power. Paroh has two dreams. He senses that the dreams have an important message which he must uncover. His advisors provide interpretations but he does not find these convincing. He learns of the prisoner, Yosef, who has demonstrated a remarkable ability to interpret dreams. He summons Yosef.

Yosef interprets Paroh’s dreams. Egypt will experience seven years of remarkable abundance. These will be followed by seven years of devastating famine. Yosef tells Paroh that the dream is not just a harbinger of the future. It is also a timely warning. Hashem is providing Paroh with the opportunity to prepare for the famine and to avoid its devastation. He should appoint a minister who will be responsible for creating a system for collecting and storing the grain produced during the first seven years – the years of plenty. This grain will be stored and held in reserve for the years of famine.

Paroh is impressed by Yosef’s interpretation and senses that it is accurate. He also appreciates the wisdom of Yosef’s strategy for planning for the famine. He appoints Yosef as his prime minister and charges him with the responsibility of implementing the measures he described.

2. Yosef gathered and assembled the grain

In the first of the passages above, Yosef describes to Paroh his strategy for preparing for the famine. He suggests that the grain should be “gathered” and “assembled” under Paroh’s authority. These seem to be two separate elements within the plan. This interpretation is confirmed by the second set of passages above. This set of passages describes the implementation of the measures described by Yosef. He “gathered” the grain and then he “assembled” it. Again, two discrete steps are described. What is the difference between these two steps?

Rashbam suggests that the term “gather” means to bring together elements from disparate places or sources. The term used in the passage is a derivative of the verb kibetz. We use this term in the weekday Amidah when we petition Hashem to “gather” the dispersed of Israel. We are asking that He gather Jewish people from all of the lands of their dispersion. The verb kibetz is appropriate because the petition describes the process of bringing together elements – in this instance, the Jewish people – from disparate places. The first step of Yosef’s plan was to gather the grain from the farmers. A tax was implemented and each farmer was required to relinquish his rights to this portion of his harvest. The term kibetz is appropriate because the grain was to be gathered from many farmers throughout the Land of Egypt.

The second step in Yosef’s plan was to “assemble” the grain under Paroh’s authority. This verb used to describe this process is a form of the noun tzibur. A tzibur is an assembly. This term is used in halachah to describe an assembly of people required to perform a group activity. For example, the quorum that is required for reading of the Torah – as it is read in synagogue – requires a tzibur. In order to recite the entire prayer service in the morning, afternoon, or evening, a tzibur is required. A tzibur is more than a number of individuals gathered together from various places. It is a group assembled for a shared purpose. The second step of Yosef’s plan was to assemble the grain under Paroh’s authority. The grain gathered from the various farmers was to be brought together and assembled as a stockpile – to be held under Paroh’s authority. The appropriate term for describing the assembled resources is a form of the noun tzibur.[1]

The order for the prayers of the tzibur is as follows: In the morning the entire group sits and the leader takes his place before the pulpit and begins… He begins to recite aloud the Shema with its benedictions and they respond “amen” after each benediction… until he recites the benediction of “He who redeemed Israel.” Then everyone immediately stands and recites the Amidah silently. (Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Laws of Prayer 9:1-2)

At Minchah the leader recites Ashrai… He reads and the people are sitting. The leader stands and recites Kadish. They stand following him and respond appropriately and they all silently recite the Amidah…

At night all the people sit and he (the leader) stands… and afterwards they all stand and silently recite the Amidah… (Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Laws of Prayer 9:8-9)

3. The tzibur sits during the prayers leading up to the Amidah and then arises

Three prayer services take place on weekdays. Shacharit takes place in the morning, Minchah in the afternoon, and Aravit or Ma’ariv in the evening. Each of these services is constructed around the recitation of the Amidah. The Amidah is the exclusive focus of the Minchah service. The Amidah shares its central role with the Shema in Shacharit and Aravit. In the above selections, Maimonides describes the physical mechanics of the three prayer services. He explains that in each service the congregation is required to sit until the point at which the Amidah is silently recited by the group. Upon reaching this point, the congregation – in unison – arises and silently recites the Amidah.

The requirement that we stand for the Amidah makes sense. When reciting the Amidah, we are required to see ourselves as if we stand before Hashem.[2] The very name Amidah means “standing prayer.” However, Maimonides seems to also rule that we are required to sit up to the point at which we arise for the Amidah. This is an odd requirement. There is nothing in the character of the prayers that are being recited that suggests that one should be sitting when they are recited. Why is it necessary for the congregation to sit during the portion of the service leading up to the Amidah and then arise in unison?

4. A tzibur must share a common space

In order to answer this question, it will be helpful to consider another ruling of Maimonides. He explains in the previous chapter of his Mishne Torah that whenever an assembly of ten individuals is required to recite a prayer – presumably also for Torah reading – all ten must be in a single place.[3] Why must the ten participants be in a single place? Rashbam’s insight helps resolve this question. An assembly – a tzibur – is not created by simply gathering ten individuals. The participants must merge into an organic whole. They must be an assembly. In order to meet the requirement of forming an assembly – a tzibur, the participants must be in a single place.

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik Zt”l explains that Maimonides’ ruling regarding the mechanics of the prayer services. The identity of tzibur does not emerge simply through existing in a shared place. The participants must sit together in the shared place. In other words, a group of people walking around in a room does not constitute and tzibur. The participants must “settle into” the space through sitting down together. Therefore, each service begins with the participants sitting together. In this manner they form a tzibur. Once the individuals are assembled and merge into a tzibur, then the tzibur arises in unison to silently recite the Amidah. Because they have first sat together and merged into a tzibur, when they arise in unison to recite the Amidah, they recite it as a tzibur and not as individual.[4],[5] The tzibur is not required to sit together because of the character of the prayers recited. They are required to sit together in order to merge into a tzibur.

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[1] Rabbaynu Shemuel ben Meir (Rashbam) Commentary on Sefer Beresheit 41:35
[2] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Tefilah 4:16.
[3] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam / Maimonides) Mishne Torah, Hilchot Tefilah 8:7.
[4] Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, Nefesh HaRav p 151.
[5] It follows from Rav Soloveitchik’s ruling that it is not appropriate for the members of the congregation to wander around the synagogue while reciting the prayers leading up to the Amidah. Maimonides clearly rules that this is not appropriate; the tzibur should sit together. Rav Soloveitchik understood this as a literal requirement.