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Shabbat Parashat Devarim| 5767

Ask The Rabbi

Question: I am often unable to take the three steps back at the end of Shemoneh Esrei because of a slow davener behind me. What may I say and do while in this situation?
Answer: First, let us review your assumption that you may not take the steps back. In general, one cannot encroach on the 4 amot of the person behind him during his Shemoneh Esrei even in order to take the three steps back (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 102:5). Many permit entering the 4 amot for the need of a mitzvah. However, your ability to daven need not be significantly impaired in this situation, as we will discuss. Do realize that many permit stepping backwards if he is behind you at an angle (see our discussion in Ask the Rabbi of Vayeitzei 5764).
 The gemara (Berachot 29b) identifies two factors that determine whether one has finished Shemoneh Esrei. (The application there is whether, upon realizing at that point that he forgot Ya’aleh V’yavo, one needs to return to the beginning of Shemoneh Esrei.) One factor is whether he has stepped back. The other is whether he usually says tachanunim (additional requests) at the end of Shemoneh Esrei. According to the version of the gemara we accept, even if one has not yet stepped back, if he does not say tachanunim, his Shemoneh Esrei is considered finished. It follows that one who says tachanunim but has completed them is also finished even before stepping back (see Mishna Berura 422:9). The question you raise is still valid: what can one do and what can he not?
 The Shulchan Aruch (ibid. 122:1) says that after finishing the last beracha of Shemoneh Esrei, one can still not answer Kedusha and the like until after saying Y’hiyu L’ratzon. The reason is that it is the sentence that completes Shemoneh Esrei, just as Hashem Sefatai opens it (see Berachot 9b). The Rama (ad loc.) points out that since Ashkenazim have the practice to say tachanunim (Elokai N’tzor) before Y’hiyu L’ratzon, they can also answer Kedusha before it. In practice, some Ashkenazim say Y’hiyu L’ratzon both before and after Elokai N’tzor (see Taz ad loc.:2). In any case, once one has said Yhiyu L’ratzon, even if he is in the midst of tachanunim and thus has not stepped back, he can say anything that is permitted during Kri’at Shema (Shut Harashba I, 807). This includes Barchu and the main parts of Kaddish and Kedusha (Shulchan Aruch ibid. 66:3; see Mishna Berura 66:17) and, for Ashkenazim, answering Amen on Hakel Hakadosh and Shomei’ah Tefilla (Rama, ad loc.). The reason to refrain from other worthwhile things is that the tachanunim are connected to Shemoneh Esrei, albeit on a lower level (Taz ibid.:1).
 The gemara (Yoma 53b), in discussing the concept of taking three steps back after Shemoneh Esrei, compares it to taking leave from a king (Shemoneh Esrei is described as standing before the King). It is understandable, then, that one should feel limited in what he can do before taking leave of the King. Therefore, one even skips parts of Elokai N’tzor to avoid even answering Kedusha before stepping back (Shulchan Aruch, ibid. 122:1). However, as we saw, this does not warrant infringing upon another’s 4 amot. However, the Ma’amar Mordechai (ad loc.:2) intuited that if one is ready to step back and is prevented from doing so by a technical reason, e.g., someone is davening behind him, that level of standing before the King does not apply. He says that in that case, one can even answer “baruch hu u’varuch shemo,” which is only a minhag to say upon hearing Hashem’s Name. The Mishna Berura (ad loc.:4) and many other Acharonim accept this opinion, some mentioning other parts of tefilla, such as Ashrei and Aleinu, which one may also say. The question arises regarding religiously-related utterances that are not directly related to tefilla (see opinions in Ishei Yisrael 32:20). One may certainly read divrei Torah at that time and may also say customary Tehillim at the end of davening. Regarding certain other positive talking unrelated to tefilla, it may pay to wait.
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