13 – Three Steps Back

Once again, after finishing the Amidah, one must bow down until the vertebrae in his spine protrude, as if they “click.” While bowing down, he takes three steps backwards. Subsequently, still bowing, he turns to his left side and says, “Oseh shalom bimromav,” turns to his right side and says, “Hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu,” bows down in front of him and says, “v’al kol Yisrael, v’imru Amen,” and then straightens himself. Many people are accustomed to say afterwards “Yehi ratzon” regarding the building of the Temple. This is because prayer corresponds to the Korban HaTamid. Therefore, we request that the Temple be rebuilt and that we merit bringing the Tamid offering (Shulchan Aruch Rama 123:1).

The Chachamim say that if a person prays and does not depart from the Amidah properly by taking three steps back and saying Oseh shalom, it would have been better not to have prayed at all (Yoma 53b). One who fails to conclude in this fashion proves that he did not understand that he was standing before the King of Kings, HaKadosh Baruch Hu, and consequently he desecrates the prayer.

When stepping back, one starts by lifting his left leg, the weaker leg, thereby demonstrating his difficulty in separating from prayer. Every step the person takes must be the size of his foot. The order of the steps is as follows: initially, he takes a small step with his left leg, so that the toes of his left foot are adjacent to his right heel. Afterwards, he takes a bigger step with his right leg, so that the toes of his right foot are adjacent to his left heel. Finally, he takes a small step with his left leg to equal out the legs. In that way he ends up standing with his legs together when saying Oseh shalom.

One must be careful not to take a step smaller than the length of his foot, for some poskim maintain that less than that is not considered a step (Magen Avraham). When there is not enough room behind him to take three steps, he must step to his side, making sure that every step is big enough (Aruch HaShulchan 123:5). In a case of extenuating circumstances, when there is no room to step backwards or sideways, he may rely on the opinions which maintain that it is permissible to take three smaller steps. However, one may not take less than three steps in departing from the Amidah before the King (Bach and see Mishnah Berurah 123:14); nor may one take more than three steps, so as not to display arrogance (yohara) (Shulchan Aruch 123:4).[9] Likewise, it is not proper to take large steps so as not to appear as one who wants to distance himself from the King (Rama 123:3; see Mishnah Berurah 16).


[9]. The Beit Yosef brings opinions as to which foot he should step with first, and the decision of the Shulchan Aruch 123:3, based on the Midrash, is that one starts with his left foot. However, regarding a left-handed person there is uncertainty, as brought by the Bei’ur Halachah. Kaf HaChaim 23 writes that even a left-handed person takes the first step with his left foot. The order of the steps is explained above. Still, Rabbeinu Mano’ach mentions an opinion that maintains that one takes six steps, because each pair of steps is considered one step. There are Acharonim who write like him, as cited by the Bei’ur Halachah s.v. “V’Shiur.” However, the primary opinion is that of the Shulchan Aruch, as brought by the Mishnah Berurah 13 and Kaf HaChaim 24.

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Translated By:
Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

The Laws of Shabbat (1+2) - Yocheved Cohen
The Laws of Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Women’s Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Pesach - Joshua Wertheimer
The Laws of Zemanim - Moshe Lichtman

Editor: Nechama Unterman