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Siddurim usually print Psalms 78:38 and 20:10 (V'Hu Rachum) before Barchu at the beginning of the evening service. It is my understanding that it is desirable to begin a service with a psalm as introductory material as opposed to jumping right into tefilla. This is often given as the reason for P'sukei D'Zimra in the morning and Ashrei before the afternoon prayer. I think the ultimate source of this concept goes back to

Berakhot.32a Rabbi Simlai taught: One should always set forth praise of the Holy One, Blessed be He, and then pray for his own needs.

and

Berakhot.32b The early generations of pious men would wait one hour in order to achieve the solemn frame of mind appropriate for prayer.

With these things in mind, it seems different in the evening. I see people say the introductory psalm verses only when there is a minyan and they are saying Barchu. Otherwise, they start with the first bracha of Ma'ariv. This makes it seem like the psalms are bracketed with Barchu, not attached to the evening prayer like at the other two services.

Is the custom I have observed correct, and why are these introductory psalm verses treated differently? When praying at home, I have been adding these verses before beginning Ma'ariv. I cannot see a problem with this since it is almost never a mistake to say a psalm, but I wonder why this is not standard practice.

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    I'm unaware of the "standard practice" of saying Vehu rachum only where there is a minyan. How do you know this to be the case? There is nothing that I have seen in any siddur that states that this paragraph is said only in a minyan. The two citations don't appear to relate to this in any way. – DanF Feb 6 '18 at 4:00
  • @DanF It could be that that my synagogue's custom is not standard practice. If an answer wants to clear up a misconception, that is certainly welcome. – Mike Supports Monica Feb 6 '18 at 4:02
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    On yom tov, most Ashkenazim don't recite anything before Barachu. – Noach MiFrankfurt Feb 6 '18 at 15:25
  • @NoachMiFrankfurt Ashkenazim don’t say V’hu Rachum on Shabbos either. – DonielF Feb 6 '18 at 16:09
  • @DonielF we’ve just said Kabbalat Shabbat, though – Noach MiFrankfurt Feb 6 '18 at 16:10
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Vehu Rachum is recited as some sort of Kaparas Haavonos/forgiveness). See Tur and B"Y OC 237 which bring earlier sources and reasons for this, based on the above (forgiveness). I did not see anyone who tied this in to Barchu. The reason for the error you observe may be due to the Poskim who say that it should be said before Barchu, and people misread it as having to do with Barchu.

The only related point is in Piskei Teshuvos OC 236:2, where if one did not say it before Barchu, and then answered to Barchu, it would be considered a Hefsek to say it then, so they should say it only after Shemoneh Esrei/Maariv.

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Vehu rachum isn't linked to barechu.

First in the comments to the Shulchan Aruch Peach Chayim 236, 1, Mishna Berura paragraph 1, the custom to recite vehu rachum is mentioned in name of the Tur in 237

שולחן ערוך אורח חיים סימן אל"ו משנה ברורה סעיף קטן א

בערב - והמנהג לומר והוא רחום קודם תפלת ערבית [טור בסי' רל"ז ע"ש הטעם].‏

The Tur explains a couple of reasons for this custom. Vehu rachum refers to the mercy of g-d. In morning and afternoon the Tamid gives us mercy and there is no korban Tamid at evening. In evening a man is punished for the sins he made through the day. When someone was whipped by the Court, they say three times vehu rachum. This verse contains 13 words and if we multiply it by 3 the result is 39, the number of lashes that gives the Court.

טור אורח חיים סימן רל"ז

סדר תפלת ערבית - אומר "והוא רחום".‏

ותקנו לאומרו, לפי שבשחרית ומנחה יש תמידין שמכפרין, אבל ערבית שאין תמיד לכפר תקנו לומר והוא רחום. ויש אומרים לפי שנהגו ללקות ערבית לאחר שחטאו כל היום ובמלקות מתכפר להם, לכך נהגו לומר אחר המלקות והוא רחום, וגם מפני שאומרים אותו ג"פ בשעת המלקות כי יש בו י"ג תיבות הרי לג' פעמים ט"ל תיבות כמנין המלקות.‏

The Beth Yosef quotes the Kolbo, to explain why we don't recite it at leil Shabbath an Yom Tov

בית יוסף

וז"ל הכלבו למה אומרים והוא רחום בתפלת ערבית משום דאמרינן (בתנחומא) לעולם לא לן אדם בירושלים ובידו עון שתמיד הבקר מכפר עונות הלילה ותמיד הערב מכפר עונות היום ולכך תיקנו ערבית ושחרית לחלות פני המקום שיכפר עונותינו יומם ולילה שחרית אנו אומרים אותו בסדר קדושה ותקנוה נמי בפסוקי דזמרה בשביל ליל שבת שאין אנו אומרים אותו לפי שאין איברי תמיד הערב קריבין בליל שבת דכתיב עולת שבת בשבתו ולא עולת חול בשבת וכן בי"ט ולכך תיקנו לומר והוא רחום בתפלת ערבית משא"כ בשחרית ומנחה לפי שבאותן תפלות היו מקריבין תמידין והיו מכפרין ובתפלת ערבית אין מי יכפר ותיקנו בה לומר והוא רחום ועוד שכל היום אדם חוטא ובערב צריך אדם לומר כפרה על חטאו עכ"ל:‏

  • If you could give a summary of the last citation that would add much to the answer! – Kazi bácsi Feb 6 '18 at 10:02

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