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There is a widespread custom amongst many to recite "Mah Tovu" upon entering the synagogue.* My question is whether you should recite it when you daven at home.

For what it's worth, I daven Nusach Chabad, but I would be interested in hearing all the opinions for other rites as well, if there are conflicting opinions depending upon nusach.


*I would be inclined to say this is a universal custom, but I'm not so sure.

  • I do not understand your question. There is much more than Ma Tovu recited in the synagogue. Ma Tovu is the first thing recited. Why should Ma Tovu not be said at home just because it is the first thing recited upon entering the synagogue? – Gershon Gold Oct 31 '17 at 13:45
  • @GershonGold The 1st verse "Ma Tovu" has a specific allusion to shuls. Yes, many people consider their homes an ohel (Sorry, ezra, but even the rebbe, a"h lives in a ohel, do people recite "Ma Tovu" when visiting it?) but, I'm not sure that saying that phrase would be a proper reference to one's home. I can see that saying the remaining verses in the paragraph has no such specific allusion. – DanF Oct 31 '17 at 13:59
  • @DanF - You are exactly right. :) But no, I wouldn't think people would recite "Mah Tovu" when entering the Rebbe's Ohel, maybe unless they are going to pray Shacharis there. For some reason, we never recite Mah Tovu for Mincha/Maariv, even when we go into a shul to pray. – ezra Oct 31 '17 at 14:55
  • @ezra "For some reason, we never recite Mah Tovu for Mincha/Maariv, even when we go into a shul to pray". Hunt around, a bit. I think there is a M.Y. question that explains why. Found it! See judaism.stackexchange.com/q/35844/5275 – DanF Oct 31 '17 at 16:40
  • I think it will be hard to find a definitive answer. However, see San. 105b that confirms what I said in my 1st comment, i.e., the reference to "ohel" is clearly a reference to batei Knesset and batei midrash. To me, it seems out of place to say this verse (as well as, probably most of the paragraph) when one is home. Also, consider (I think it's in Brachot 12b?) that originally they considered including all of Bilam's phrasing as part of tefilla, but eliminated it for torach tzibbur. So, that's clearly a shul consideration. There is no tzibbur at home. – DanF Oct 31 '17 at 17:05
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I haven't found any source that prohibits saying "Ma tovu" at home. However, my sense is that it seems inappropriate to do so. Here are the angles for my thinking:

Beurei Hatefilla mentions that the Ma Tovu paragraph being part of tefilla is not mentioned in the Talmud. It first appears in the Siddurim of Rav Amram Ga'on and Rash"i. In both of their introductions, they state that one should say Ma Tovu upon entering the Bet Knesset.

Talmud Sanhedrin 105b explains (from Sefaria translation):

Rabbi Yoḥanan says: From the blessing of that wicked person, Balaam, you can ascertain what was in his heart. God transformed the curses that he planned into blessings. He sought to say that they should not have synagogues and study halls, and he said instead: “How goodly are your tents, Jacob” (Numbers 24:5), a blessing on their synagogues.

So, we see from here that this is a specific reference to shuls. If you say this in your home, it seems out of place. This seems more true when viewing the next sentence in the Ma Tovu par.

ואני ברוב חסדיך אבוא בתיך (loose translation): With your abundant graciousness, I come to your house.

"Your house" is a reference to a shul, not, your personal home.

  • I'll upvote this answer for now; I'm not going to mark it accepted just yet though. I'm going to wait and see what others might have to say. Thanks for the answer, though, DanF! :) – ezra Nov 1 '17 at 3:37
  • That's fair. What may seem to contradict what I said is the take from Brachot 12b that says that they wanted to include parshat Bil'am (unclear exactly what that means) but they deleted it b/c of Torach tzibbur. That may indicate that you SHOULD say it at home, as there is no concern of torach tzibbur. – DanF Nov 1 '17 at 14:22
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    I am planning on a follow-up question to this one (or perhaps an edit) about what if your home is where you always daven. I live in an area with no synagogue so I always daven at home (that is, unless I've traveled somewhere that has a shul). Perhaps that would change whether or not you say Mah Tovu, since your home is acting like your place of worship? – ezra Nov 1 '17 at 15:03
  • Chabbad loves to send shlichim to remote areas! Get semicha and lots of funds and turn your home into a shtiebl. You never know who will come live in Midland. – DanF Nov 1 '17 at 15:08
  • Or I could just escape Midland and avoid the entire problem. :D – ezra Nov 1 '17 at 15:09
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In Sefer Daniel Perek 6' Posuk 11' when describing how Daniel, upon hearing the decree of the king not to pray to any other god accept for his, created an opening in his attic where he would be able to Daven with his eyes and heart towards Yerusholaim.

The reason being that our Tefilos are carried up to Shomaim via the Bais Ha'Mikdosh or even the Mokom Ha'Mikdash when its not standing such as in the times of Daniel himself. The window he created was a way to create a true longing for the Bais Ha'Mikdash as that would be equivalent to him being there as his heart is 'there'.

In the same vain, even when not davening in shul the Shulchon Aruch says in O.C. 90' 9' that one should make the effort and daven at the time the people are davening in shul which shall make your Tefilos get up there together with everybody else's as 'you' [at heart] are really 'there'.

The truth is that a person may be in shul and nevertheless be as if he were not there at all.It is for this reason that we say Ma Tovu when entering the shul in order to gain an appreciation for our Mikdash Me'at and thereby really be there.

Now, when davening at home one may also have his heart there and thereby really be there,in the shull or even in the BAIS HA'MIKDASH itself.

How? By saying Ma Tovu we shall truly have our hearts there and thereby really be there.

Remember the words Ma Tovu were originally said by someone really in the outside.The posuk Va'Ani berov chasdecha 'avow' baisecha is in future tense, meaning he is not there now.

In conclusion,the beautiful words of Ma Tovu is in essence not said when there,but rather 'it is which brings us there'.

See you there in the morning!!

  • Hi Avraham. I apologize I didn't see this answer before. I really like the points you brought to light, as well as the encouragement. :-) – ezra Mar 21 '18 at 2:33
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Yes you should. It is part of the davening and being about a shul does not mean it can only be said in shul . In fact most say up until pezuke d'zimra at home and then start from Rabbi yishmael with the minyan. Specific to nusach chabad would be saying everything up until "ezehu mikomon" at home so one can put tefillin on at this point when getting to shul.

  • What does it mean to be a "part of davening"? I assume you mean that it is something which should be recited regardless of circumstances. That was the very question. Assuming the answer is hardly evidence! – mevaqesh Nov 3 '17 at 17:22
  • What do you mean by Specific to nusach chabad would be saying everything up until "ezehu mikomon" at home so one can put tefillin on at this point when getting to shul. How is the practive part of the nussah? Do you mean that this is the practice of Habad? How do you know? – mevaqesh Nov 3 '17 at 17:24
  • I both follow chabad minhagim and daven in a chabad shul. The minyan chabad is to put tefillin on right before ezohu m'komon.additionally all davening before rabbi yishmael is said by the individual and not as part of the minyan unlike some ashkenzi shuls who make a point of saying brachos with the minyan. The verse "ma tovu..." also meaning synagogues does not mean that one must say it in a synagogue and can be said whether one is in shul or at home – Laser123 Nov 3 '17 at 21:09

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