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Source for taking three steps back before Shemoneh Esrei
Is there any source for taking three steps back before starting Shemoneh Esrei. Someone told me that there is no source for doing so and that the main things to take three steps forward from wherever you are. Obviously, if you don’t have any space, then you take three steps back to do three steps forward, but if you do have the space, then there is no need to take three steps backwards.
This is not accurate. The concept of taking three steps back prior to Shemoneh Esrei is brought in a number of Achronim, even though it is not recorded in the Shulchan Aruch or earlier Poskim and practically, so is the widespread custom of Jewry like this approach, and hence it carries all the weight of a Jewish custom, and contains both Halachic and esoteric meaning. To note, that there are many laws that we follow that are sourced in the Achronim, and not explicitly recorded in the Shulchan Aruch, and this law is no different.
The entire concept of taking three steps prior to the start of Shemoneh Esrei is not recorded at all in the Talmud and is first recorded in some of the Rishonim [Rokeiach and Talmidei Rashi], and in the Shulchan Aruch is recorded as an opinion, which implies that not everyone agrees with this requirement, and it was hence not brought as a unanimous ruling, unlike other rulings. Nonetheless, all of the Achronim conclude that one is to suspect for this opinion and so is the custom of all Jewry. The reason for these three steps forward is in order to liken oneself to one who advances forward towards something that he needs to do. Other reasons are recorded regarding why specifically we take three steps.
Now, even the above sources do not mention the custom of taking three steps backwards before taking the three steps forward. Nonetheless, a number of the later Achronim, record this custom and explains that it is done for the following reasons: 1) It is done as in order to take three steps forward one must first take three steps backwards. 2) It is done to represent the three Milin that the Jewish people were distanced from Har Sinai, and then came close. 3) It is done based on Kabalistic reasons. 4) It shows that one is fearful of G-d, and hence distances himself before coming close. Practically, this is the custom of all Jewry today and hence it certainly does have source, and certainly carries the weight of Jewish tradition which is Jewish law, Minhag Yisrael Torah Hi! Accordingly, one should not skip the doing of the three steps backward prior to taking three steps forwards, unless there is a halachic impediment against doing so, such as someone within four cubits behind you is in the middle of Shemoneh Esrei, in which case one is to only perform the three steps forward.
Sources: See regarding the tradition of taking three steps forward before Shemoneh Esrei: Admur 95:2; Rama 95:1; Rokeiach 322; Machzor Vitri 21; Siddur Rashi; Elya Raba 95:3; Kitzur Shelah Dinei Tefilas Yud Ches; Chut Hashani; Siddur Yaavetz 19; Chesed Lealafim 93:6; Kaf Hachaim [Falagai] 15:2; Kitzur SHU”A 18:2; Ben Ish Chaiy Beshalach 3; Aruch Hashulchan 95:3; Kaf Hachaim 95:6; Piskeiy Teshuvos 95:2; Omitted from Levush 95; See regarding the tradition of taking three steps back before taking the three steps forward: Kitzur Shelah Dinei Tefilas Yud Ches in interpretation of Rokeiach ibid [brought in Kaf Hachaim ibid]; Chut Hashani 54 that just like it is an obligation to take three steps forward, so too he must take three steps backward; Siddur Yaavetz 19; Chesed Lealafim 93:6; Kaf Hachaim [Falagai] 15:2; Kitzur SHU”A 18:2; M”B 95:3; Ben Ish Chaiy Beshalach 3; Kaf Hachaim 95:6; Piskeiy Teshuvos 95:2 Other opinions: Some Poskim rule that one is not required to take three steps back if he is by the wall and the like. [Elya Raba 95:3; M”B 95:3 in name of Elya Raba ibid, although he makes no mention of the last words of the Elya Raba that this only applies if one is standing by a wall. The M”B plainly quotes him to rule that one does not need to take three steps back at all. Vetzaruch Iyun as to the intent of the Elya Raba in this stipulation.]