Monday, January 04, 2010

hamalach hagoel: davening to angels

All of our tefilos are directed to Hashem, not to any intermediary. To avoid any confusion, many strike from tefilah any references that would give the impression that we are addressing angels, e.g. as my son put it, “Machnisei rachamim [at the conclusion of slichos] is a nice tune, just leave out the words.” R’ Chaim Volozhiner even avoided saying “Barchuni l’Shalom” in Shalom Aleichem as it implies that we are asking angels for a blessing. Yet, in last week’s parsha we have a famous pasuk where Ya’akov Avinu does seem to call on an angel to bless his grandchildren -- “HaMalach hagoel osi ‘mol ra yevareich es ha’nearim…”

Rishonim (e.g. Seforno) explain that Ya’akov is not calling on an angel. The pasuk of “HaMalach hagoel…” is a continuation of the previous pasuk where Ya’akov calls on Hashem to bless Epraim and Menashe; he continues that call to Hashem and requests that Hashem send a “Malach hagoel” should his grandchildren not be worthy of Hashem’s direct intervention. The Ohr HaChaim alternatively suggests that Ya’akov simply refers to Hashem’s intervention in the world as a “malach” (see HaKsav v’Hakabalah on this point).

The first answer makes sense in context, but that intended of calling on Hashem to send a malach is surely distorted when we quote the bracha of “HaMalach hagoel…” independently of the previous pasuk as we do in Shema al ha’mita, when given as a bracha to kids getting aliyos on Simchas Torah, or when sung to a baby before a bris. Is the contextual meaning really implicit or intended in our quote (as R’ Shteinman suggests)? Or are we really just relying on the other explanation of the term “malach”? R’ Shteinman suggests another novel idea (based on Rishonim elsewhere): the term “malach” by definition means “messenger of Hashem.” Therefore, implicit in the term "malach" is the idea that Hashem is ultimately doing the blessing. This would seem to solve the issue with “Barchuni l’Shalom malachai hashalom” as well.

14 comments:

  1. Tal Benschar12:34 PM

    I don't know why you think that when we quote it alone, it is out of context. It is a well-known passuk spoken by Yakov Avinu. The intention is to give the same blessing he did.

    (I even saw it translated as "[The God who sent] the Angel who saved me from evil")

    Now what about the possuk in Vayishlach where Yaakov asks the angel to bless him. Vayomer lo ashalechachah ki im beirachtani.

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  2. "Yevareikh es hane'arim" is belashon asid, not tzivui. Contrast the "yevareikh" here with "Bareikh aleinu es hashanah hazos", which is in lashon tzivui.

    I would therefore have naively read the pasuq as a request to HQBH that "the angel who saved me from all evil bless the youths", not a request to the angel. I don't think you need to invoke context to make that first explanation clear, although the previous pasuq does prove the point.

    The question therefore never crossed my mind.

    As for Tal Benschar's question... since the angel was a physical apparition before him that he is engaging in dialog, is it any different than asking a person for a blessing? It's not like prayer, where the stance is inferior to controlling force.

    -micha

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  3. The bracha that Ya'akov gave is that Hashem should send a malach; I think most people understand the pasuk on its own to mean the malach itself should bless Ephraim and Menashe.

    No kashe from the pasuk in VaYishlach -- a bracha from a malach is no less valuable than a bracha from a tzadik. Aderaba, from the fact that a malach gives a bracha and does not promise independently to provide protection it shows that the malacha is merely an agent and has no independent power.

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  4. It just occurred to me that Yaakov says hagoel osi mikol ra (you're missing a letter in the post) he could allude to the mikol that is associated with Yitzchak. Avraham was blessed bakol, Yaakov had kol, and Yitzchak is associated with mikol. The mikol ra may be the bad part that had its expression in Esav.

    But for an altogether different view, the Sforno sees a bit of a negative in this bracha. He says that if Ephraim and Menashe do not merit a direct relationship, then the malach should be sent, Im eynam reuyim leberchatech beilt emtzai.

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  5. Along the same lines, I assume that's why we add "mi melech hamlachim? Hakadosh Baruch hu." at the end of each verse.

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  6. Also, I think R' Shteinman's svara explain why Rambam wouldn't agree with the concept of angels. If everything is an extension of the will of G-d, what's the Nafka Mina if there are creatures called angels carrying it out?

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  7. "MiMelekh malkhei hamelakhim" describes Who sends the mal'akhei elyon.

    In any case, the Gra didn't say "Borkhuni leshalom" for this reason.

    -micha

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  8. >>>Rambam wouldn't agree with the concept of angels.

    The Rambam doesn't agree that there are angels? I think he does -- just without wings and halos.

    >>>If everything is an extension of the will of G-d, what's the Nafka Mina if there are creatures called angels carrying it out?

    Why does there have to be a nafka mina except in terms of our perception?

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  9. The Rambam very much believed in mal'akhim. See Yesodei haTorah ch 2, as well as numerous places in the Moreh Nevuchim.

    I am actually blogging on the topic right now, in the middle of a 4 or 5 part series (depending if the next part is big enough to require splitting):

    part 1
    part 2
    part 3

    To the Rambam, a mal'akh is both form without substance and an independent intellect. I found strong parallels between the Rambam's chain of mal'akhim in Yesodei haTorah 2 and the Leshem's Qabbalah about how forms interact between olamos. Which is almost certainly intentional, given the number of times the Leshem cites the Rambam. Then, once I looked, I saw similar parallels in another book of Gra-derived Qabbalah, Nefesh haChaim.

    -micha

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  10. Tamir9:25 AM

    Chaim B.(1:01 PM):
    The bracha that Ya'akov gave is that Hashem should send a malach; I think most people understand the pasuk on its own to mean the malach itself should bless Ephraim and Menashe.

    Even if so, as long as they don't see it as directly asking the Mal'akh, and recognize that the bestowing of blessing originates from haShem, there should be no problem( and as micha said, above).

    No kashe from the pasuk in VaYishlach -- a bracha from a malach is no less valuable than a bracha from a tzadik. Aderaba, from the fact that a malach gives a bracha and does not promise independently to provide protection it shows that the malacha is merely an agent and has no independent power.

    So, why not make the same argument for Barekhuni leShalom. Aderaba, the word leShalom suggests more a greeting than a bestowing of Berakha. For a 'blessing of peace' it should say: Barekhuni beShalom( or baShalom).

    From the post:
    Rishonim (e.g. Seforno) explain that Ya’akov is not calling on an angel. The pasuk of “HaMalach hagoel…” is a continuation of the previous pasuk where Ya’akov calls on Hashem to bless Epraim and Menashe; he continues that call to Hashem and requests that Hashem send a “Malach hagoel” should his grandchildren not be worthy of Hashem’s direct intervention.

    Doesn't that suggest that Ya'aqov, who had "haMal'akh haGo'el [Oti miKol Ra]", was also not "worthy of Hashem’s direct intervention" ?

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  11. >>>as long as they don't see it as directly asking the Mal'akh,

    I think most people do!

    >>>So, why not make the same argument for Barekhuni leShalom.


    I think you are right -- most bnei yeshiva who skip "machnisei rachamim" still say "barchuni l'shalom".

    >>>Doesn't that suggest that Ya'aqov, who had "haMal'akh haGo'el [Oti miKol Ra]", was also not "worthy of Hashem’s direct intervention" ?

    We do see that at times Ya'akov was addressed by a malach and no Hashem. You would have to go back over those places and see why a malach is sent and Hashem did not speak directly to Ya'akov.

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  12. BTW, there are nusachos of Shalom Aleikhem with 5 verses, common among Sepharadim and some Chassidic groups (eg Boston) -- "Shivtikhem leshalom".

    The reason for the 4 verses has to do with the 4 rungs on the ladder in Yoseif's dream. 5 verses -- includes the ground, which then corresponds to the aspects of the soul: Nara"n cha"i. Who says there were 4 rungs? That requires more knowledge of qabbalah than I possess.

    One way for a Granik to get out of the problem rather than skipping the verse and ruining the four-ness would be to replace "Borkhi" with "Shivtikhem".

    Another thing Sepharadim tend to have is "Melekh malkhei hammelkhaim" rather than "miMelekh..." This shifts the "Borkhuni" verse to addressing the King over emperors, asking Him to have the angels bless me. Another way to address the concern of praying to angels.

    -micha

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  13. "The Rambam doesn't agree that there are angels? I think he does -- just without wings and halos"

    That's what I meant

    "Why does there have to be a nafka mina except in terms of our perception?"

    Are you assuming that everything carried out by a malach is seen by a human?

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  14. >>>Are you assuming that everything carried out by a malach is seen by a human?

    Not at all. I'm just saying that if its not perceived by humans and has no effect on our relationship k'lapei shemaya, l'mai nafka mina?

    >>>One way for a Granik to get out of the problem rather than skipping the verse...

    I assume R' Chaim Volozhiner was versed enough in kabbalah to know of any impact dropping the verse might have and he was not concerned.

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