74. Using the Bathroom Before Prayer

12:3 Koheles tells us (4:17), “Guard your feet (or legs) when you walk to the House of God.” The Talmud in Brachos (23a) explains that “legs” is a common euphemism for our bladders and bowels (based on the location of their exit points). Therefore, a person should tend to his bathroom needs before praying. If he has to go, even a little, he may not pray or even study Torah before taking care of it. If a person did pray while feeling the urge, was his prayer valid? That depends. If he could have waited the time it takes to walk a parsa (a “parsang,” about 2.5 miles), then his prayer is valid. (A parsa can be walked in 72 minutes.) If not, one must repeat the prayer, even if the time for prayer has already passed. (Mishnah Brurah 92:4 clarifies that he doesn’t actually have to wait 72 minutes, he just has to be able to.) Some authorities maintain that one may even pray at the outset if he can wait the 72 minutes to relieve himself. One may rely on this opinion if taking the time to relieve himself will cause him to miss the deadline for praying. (This is only the case when it comes to missing the deadline for prayer. Mishnah Brurah 92:5 says that if one’s choice is between praying together with the congregation or using the bathroom, it is preferable to tend to his physical needs.)

12:4 If a person knows for a fact that he will not be able to hold his gas until after saying the Shema and Shemoneh Esrei, he should not pray even if it means he will miss the deadline for prayer. If he misses the deadline, it’s not his fault as he was prevented by circumstance. If he knows that he can contain it while saying the Shema, he should put on tefillin immediately after the blessing that ends “HaBocheir b’amo Yisrael b’ahavah,” that God chooses His people Israel with love. He says the blessing over tefillin, then Shema. (Mishnah Brurah 80:4 says that a person can wear his tallis as per usual even if he has gas.)

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