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In the Uva L'Tziyon, after the kedusha desidra, we read "בָּרוּךְ הוּא אֱלהֵינוּ שֶׁבְּרָאָנוּ לִכְבודו. וְהִבְדִּילָנוּ מִן הַתּועִים. וְנָתַן לָנוּ תּורַת אֱמֶת." ("Blessed is He, our God, who created us for His glory, separated us from those who stray, gave us the Torah of truth..." according to the Artscroll siddur)

I quick look in Bar Ilan (and a look through the Beurei Hatefilla site) shows no particular source for the idea of being separated from the to'im. A search of the word To'im turned up some commentaries who used the word:

  • The Lekach Tov says, "ולא כמו שאומרים התועים עצרת לאחר השבת" seeming to point to those who reject the oral law in computing the date for Shavu'ot, so the "Torah" in the following line would be the Oral Law.

  • In his Seder Pesach, Amram Ga'on writes "ותלמידי ענן ירקב שמו, אבי אביו של דניאל, חוט המשולש ברשע ובמינות, שאמר לכל התועים והזונים אחריו, עזבו דברי משנה ותלמוד ואני אעשה לכם תלמוד משלי" referring to a group that also rejected Oral Law as taught by Chazal (though they replaced it with their own Talmud).

  • The Ibn Ezra on Daniel 11:30 writes, "One is surprised by Sadducee sages who interpreted this as referring to the future. They said that the sanctuary is Mecca, around which the Ishmaelites circle. and they put aside the daily sacrifice the five prayers (the Salat). and they set up the abomination, idolatry. And they are the mistaken. As is it may be that miqdash/sanctuary refers to Jerusalem alone." Though I can't tell if he means that the "they" is the Sadducees or the Ishmaelites.

  • The Abarbenel on Bereishit 15 writes, "כדי לצרוף את בני ישראל ולהבחינם בקרב מצרים התועים לראות היעמדו באמונתם כמו שהיה ראוי לצרוף ולזכך העם שהיה עתיד לקבל התורה ולרשת את הארץ ולהדבק בו" which is either pointing to a faction among the Israelites or among the Egyptians but not about the Oral Law.

  • The Alshich (Mishlei, 3:1) writes "הנה עד כה הבדילנו מן התועים ומפתויי החטאים וילמדנו להקשיב לחכמה אזננו" which seems to point to a generic "sinners" while the Apiryon (I hope I have the name right) on Lech Lecha uses the word in reference to those who deny divine creation of the world (לאפוקי דעת התועים ואומרים שהכל הוא בטבע). He uses it in a variety of other places to refer to those who deny Hashem and His power in the world.

So who exactly are the to'im and how are we separated from them? How did this idea become crystallized in this phrase and become such a central part of our prayers? The Aleinu seems to echo some of these ideas but doesn't use the word "to'im."

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    Usually, תועים means "strayers". There is a homophone which spells it with a tet, and that would mean "mistakers". You've cited various sources. I'm curious as to why you may think that one of these doesn't seem to fit the translation in Uva Letzion? – DanF May 25 '18 at 14:32
  • @DanF All the ones I quoted spell it the same way, the way it is spelled in Uva Letziyon. Some point to Jews who have "strayed" from accepting the Oral Law while others refer to Jews who have strayed from all law or to non-Jews. – rosends May 25 '18 at 15:46
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R' Yehuda bar Yakar1, in his commentary on this prayer2, cites three Biblical sources for this line. (The bolded portions are the phrases he quotes.)

  1. Leviticus 20:26

    וִהְיִ֤יתֶם לִי֙ קְדֹשִׁ֔ים כִּ֥י קָד֖וֹשׁ אֲנִ֣י יְהוָ֑ה וָאַבְדִּ֥ל אֶתְכֶ֛ם מִן־הָֽעַמִּ֖ים לִהְי֥וֹת לִֽי׃
    You shall be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy, and I have set you apart from other peoples to be Mine.

    Rashi there, citing Sifra, says that this refers to Jews designating themselves as God's people and not, e.g., Nebuchadnezzar's, by separating themselves from other nations by following the Torah and not other nations' ways.

  2. Psalms 95:10

    אַרְבָּ֘עִ֤ים שָׁנָ֨ה ׀ אָ֘ק֤וּט בְּד֗וֹר וָאֹמַ֗ר עַ֤ם תֹּעֵ֣י לֵבָ֣ב הֵ֑ם וְ֝הֵ֗ם לֹא־יָדְע֥וּ דְרָכָֽי׃
    Forty years I was provoked by that generation; I thought, “They are a senseless people; they would not know My ways.”

    From context, it's clear that the "senseless people" here are the generation of Jews who migrated for 40 years through the Sinai wilderness. It seems that the "senselessness" refers to the various episodes of complaint and rebellion recorded in the Torah.

  3. Isaiah 29:24

    וְיָדְע֥וּ תֹֽעֵי־ר֖וּחַ בִּינָ֑ה וְרוֹגְנִ֖ים יִלְמְדוּ־לֶֽקַח׃
    And the confused shall acquire insight And grumblers accept instruction.

    Looking at the Radak, Metzudat David, and Malbim, I get the sense that the "confused" here are those who are ignorant of God's responsibility for the world and His and His prophets instructions.

Taking these allusions together, I suggest that when we thank God for "וְהִבְדִּילָנוּ מִן הַתּועִים," we're thanking Him for giving us the opportunity to choose to separate ourselves from "הַתּועִים" - those who are ignorant of Him and His laws and who therefore fail to acknowledge Him properly.


1. ~1170-1220. Learned in France from the Tosafists and then taught the Ramban in Spain.

2. Found in the anthology Tefillah Le'Moshe, compiled by R' Ahron Lopiansky.

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