Shabbat Parashat Miketz| 5764
Ask the Rabbi
Question: I am studying on a campus with a small Jewish population. We sometimes have a minyan and sometimes do not. Is it true that it is anyway better to daven vatikin (at sunrise) than to daven with a minyan?
Answer: It is difficult to choose between different preferences for tefilla. Let us start with introductory background.
The best time to recite Kriat Shma is before (according to some, at) sunrise. The proper time to daven Shmoneh Esrei is right after sunrise. One should go from the last beracha after Kriat Shma directly into Shmoneh Esrei. The practice of davening like vatikin (the diligent) enables one to have the best of all worlds, by finishing Kriat Shma just before and starting Shmoneh Esrei just after sunrise (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 58:1).
But what if one doesn’t have a minyan to daven at that time? The mishna (Berachot 22b) discusses a man who is coming out of the mikveh in the morning and barely has time to say Kriat Shma before sunrise. It says that he covers himself up and recites Kriat Shma. It is clear that he doesn’t have a minyan and doesn’t even have the opportunity to put on tefillin. Although it is problematic to say Kriat Shma (where it mentions putting on tefillin) without wearing them, he does not wait. The gemara (Berachot 25b) has two explanations for his haste: 1. The mishna follows the (rejected) opinion that one must recite Kriat Shma before sunrise; 2. It is referring to the approach of vatikin. This is the basis of the following proof (Biur Halacha, 58:1). It is more important to say Kriat Shma followed by Shmoneh Esrei with tefillin than to daven with a minyan (Magen Avraham 66:12). Thus, one can deduce through a kal vachomer that vatikin is preferable to davening with a minyan. However, we contend that the Biur Halacha’s suggestion is not recommended in many cases, as we shall demonstrate:
1. The Biur Halacha (ibid.) and several others (see Ishei Yisrael 18:8) give precedence to vatikin to such an extent only when one consistently follows the practice of vatikin.
2. For tefilla to be accepted as desired, it must either be said with exceptional concentration or with a minyan (see Ta’anit 8a). Therefore, only one who is confident about his level of concentration should daven without a minyan because of vatikin (Yalkut Yosef vol. 1, pg. 139).
3. Since it is hard to calculate the exact time of vatikin (see Moadim U’zmanim IV, 321), it is not clear that we receive its full effect. Therefore, tefilla with a minyan is preferable (Tefilla K’hilchata 3:(35) in the name of Rav M. Feinstein).
4. One whose ability to function during the day is affected by vatikin should think twice if the gain justifies the loss (Rav S.Z. Orbach said that for this reason, he didn’t daven vatikin).
In the case you describe there is an additional, crucial factor that you should consider. In a small campus community, it is crucial that those who are interested in having a minyan strengthen each other. Even if and when the tefilla like vatikin would be preferable halachically, your obligation to help strengthen your present community, in general, and increase the chance of a minyan, specifically, outweighs the gain of vatikin.
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