Reciting Shema Late

Berachot (1:2) | Yisrael Bankier | a month ago

This week we completed one cycle of Mishnah Yomit and began the next, returning once again to Berachot. The masechet begins by discussing keriyat Shema with the second Mishnah focusing on the timing of the morning Shema. The Mishnah records the debate regarding the latest time to recite the Shema with the first opinion being sunrise and R' Yossi maintaining that one has the first three (halachic) hours to recite the Shema. After that time, the Mishnah explains, "he has not lost, he is like one that reads from the Torah". We shall try to understand this Mishnah.

Based on the Gemara (Berachot 10b) the Bartenura explains that despite passing the time to read Shema, he can still recite the berachot of Shema. It is the berachot that "he has not lost". The Aruch HaShulchan (592) cites the Rashba who explains that the berachot of Shema are not like the berachot recited before performing a mitzvah or reading the Torah. They were instituted independently a placed on either side of Shema. We can therefore understand why even if the time to recite Shema has passed, the berachot can still be said.

When the Mishnah continues that he is like one that reads from the Torah, the Bartenura explains that despite the fact the individual does not gain the merit of reciting the Shema in its proper time, he nonetheless gains the reward of one that reads the Torah. We find therefore, that the Mishnah is teaching two points regarding one that recites the Shema late. He can still say the berachot of Shema and he gains the reward of one that reads the Torah.

The Tifferet Yisrael however notes that there is still a limit regarding how late he can recite the berachot. This is the opinion of R' Hai Gaon cited by the Rashba and Rosh, that one has the first four (halachic) hours, to recite the berachot. After that point, reciting the berachot would constitute a beracha le'vatala and one would violate the prohibition of using Hashem's name in vain. Indeed, this is the position of the Tur and Shulchan Aruch. This time limit is attached to zeman tefillah -- the time in which on must pray Shacharit. Consequently, it would appear they understand that the berachot of Shema were instituted as part of the tefillah.

The Rambam however disagrees. He maintains that one could recite the berachot of Shema the entire day. This would also appear to be the simple understanding of the Gemara that does not mention a time limit for reciting the berachot.

The Aruch HaShulchan (58:18) finds the Rambam's position difficult. If one has the entire day to recite the Shema then why is the Mishnah adding that "he is like one that reads from the Torah". It would seem unnecessary. According to R' Hai Gaon, the addition is understood since it is referring to one that recites the Shema after four hours. They can no longer recite the berachot, yet gain some reward.

Perhaps we can defend the position of the Rambam based on the comment of the Ohr Gadol. The Ohr Gadol questions the above understanding of the Mishnah. Firstly, why does the Mishnah need to teach that reading the Shema has the reward of reading Torah? That should be obvious since the Shema consists of sections from the Torah. Furthermore, the conclusion that one can still recite the berachot of Shema is not explicitly mentioned in the Mishnah. Finally, the Beraita cited in the Gemara reads as follows: "one who reads after that does not lose, like on that that reads from the Torah, however he can recite the two berachot prior [to Shema] and the one after." The use of the term "however" seems misplaced. According to the explanations thus far, it would have been more appropriate had it written, "and he can recite the two berachot..."

The Ohr Gadol therefore explains that the Beraita means that one who reads late is like one that reads the Torah in shul such that he can recite the berachot before and after. "However", the berachot one recites is different to those recited by one reading the Torah in shul. According to the Ohr Gadol the berachot of Shema were instituted in a similar manner to those berachot instituted before and after reading the Torah in public. This then would explain the position of the Rambam. The continuation of the Mishnah comparing him to one that reads from the Torah is coming to define the nature of the berachot. They are not like berachot recited before the performance of a mitzvah nor are they simply part of the tefillah. Instead, they are like birkat ha'torah recited in shul; special berachot of praise and can therefore be recited all day.

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