In the previous Halacha we have discussed the law that one may not sit in close proximity to, stand, or walk in front of one praying the Amida prayer.
Passing in Front of One Praying in Order to Pray
It is quite common that one enters the synagogue and finds that the congregation has already begun the Amida prayer and one wishes to walk in front of other individuals praying so that one may pray himself. Clearly, however, one may not do so and one must wait until the congregation finishes their prayer and only then may one make his way to one’s seat. Nevertheless, the question is if there is room for leniency in order to pray along with the congregation, such as if one knows that in order to pray with the congregation, one must pass in front of other worshippers in order to have a place to stand.
The author of Responsa Yad Eliyahu writes that based on the rule that “a positive commandment pushes away a negative one” and the prohibition to pass before one praying is a negative rabbinic commandment while praying with the congregation is a positive rabbinic commandment, it seems that one may pass in front of other praying, which entails a negative rabbinic commandment, in favor of praying with a Minyan which takes precedence since it is a positive rabbinic commandment.
Nevertheless, he concludes that there is actually no room for leniency, for the rule of “a positive commandment pushes away a negative one” only applies when the positive commandment is being fulfilled while the negative one is being transgressed; in our situation, however, one first transgresses the negative commandment of passing in front of those praying and only then begins to pray with the Minyan. If so, there was no positive commandment in play when the negative commandment was being transgressed. Thus, there is no room for leniency.
The Halacha Berura writes another reason to rebuff the above opinion which is that it is not clear at all that praying with the congregation is considered a positive rabbinic commandment and this Mitzvah certainly does not take precedence over the prohibition of passing in front of those praying.
Nonetheless, when one is needed to complete a Minyan if there a nine other individuals waiting to pray and one must pass in front of those praying in order to reach the room where the other individuals waiting for him (which is quite common in synagogues where multiple Minyanim are held), since completing a Minyan is a public Mitzvah, this indeed takes precedence over the prohibition of passing in front of those praying and one may do so in order to reach the place where the other nine individuals are waiting for him.
A Golden Cage
Let us recount an incident which occurred in the famed “Chevron” Yeshiva. Once, a certain young man would pray a fervent but drawn-out Amida, such that he would conclude his Amida prayer almost five minutes after the Yeshiva concluded the entire Shacharit service. However, this young man did not realize that because he stood so close to the door of the Bet Midrash, he would bother those wishing to exit, for they could not pass in front of him and they would be forced to use a different exit. Additionally, he would cause those who were not so careful about this prohibition to transgress it, for they would pass him, having no other choice.
Once, the venerable Rosh Yeshiva, Hagaon Harav Simcha Zissel Broide zt”l himself wished to exit the Bet Midrash from the door where this young man stood praying. When he saw the young man engrossed in prayer, he was forced to wait until the young man concluded his prayer. When the student finally finished, the Rosh Yeshiva exclaimed to him, “You have bound me with golden chains! On the one hand, I am glad to see you praying so fervently, but on the other hand, I am upset that you impede others from exiting the Bet Midrash.” Immediately, the young man understood the message and found a more suitable place for his prayer.
Summary: One may not pass in front of others praying even if one must do so in order to pray with a Minyan. However, if one must do so in order to complete another Minyan when one is the tenth man, one may pass in front of others praying.