• April 24, 2024
  • 15 5784, Nisan
  • פרשת שמות

The High Holiday Amidah

The High Holiday Amidah

The Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur Amidah has a unique structure and very specific layout designed to enhance our holidays and bring us closer to teshuva (repentance) and closer to God. In this series join Rabbi Dr. Stuart Fischman as he explores the Amidah for the Yamin Noraim. He will also cover one of the most controversial prayers in our liturgy, the prayer מכניסי רחמים which is said by Ashkenazim at the end of the סליחות.

September 6, 2016 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
The High Holiday Amidah: Lesson 1
Class description

In this session we studied the Amidah prayer of Rosh Hashanah and why  the details of the prayer were debated by our early Sages.

On weekdays the Amidah has 19 blessings. There are three preliminary blessing, three closing blessing and thirteen blessings in the middle in which we make our requests of Hashem.

On special days, such as Shabbat and holidays the Amidah prayer has only seven blessing. The preliminary and closing blessings are the same as those said during the week but the fourth blessing addresses the character of the day itself. On Shabbat the middle blessing addresses the nature of our resting on שבת and we say “רצה במנוחתנו”. On the holidays we mention the joyous nature of those days – “לשמחה ולששון” . Rosh Hashanah is the day on which we proclaim Hashem’s sovereignty and so we say in the fourth blessing, “.מלוך על כל העולם בכבודיך”

The question which the Sages debated was whether or not we should mention joyousness on Rosh Hashanah as we do on the other holidays. Is Rosh Hashanah, the day when Hashem judges us, a day for expressing joy?

There were Gaonim who said that, yes, we should say on Rosh Hashanah  מועדים לשמחה חגים וזמנים לששון and there were Gaonim who said we do not say this. The custom which evolved  is not to say these words.

Support for both positions can be found in the sources. In parashat Emor the Torah lists all of the holidays (מועדי ה’)  and both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are mentioned there. On the other hand, Rosh Hashanah is not one of the holidays when we  are commanded to go to the בית המקדש and bring שלמי שמחה. The Gemarah asks, since Rosh Hashanah is a holiday, why don’t we say Hallel on Rosh Hashanah? The Gemarah answers that on the day that Hashem judges who shall live and who shall die we cannot be expected to say Hallel.

רמב”ם הלכות מגילה וחנוכה פרק ג הלכה ו


…אבל ראש השנה ויום הכפורים אין בהן הלל לפי שהן ימי תשובה ויראה ופחד לא ימי שמחה יתירה…


Inספר נחמיה (פרק ח)  we read about a Rosh Hashanah of the עולי בבל. The people asked that Ezra should read the Torah to them on Rosh Hashanah and Ezra did as they requested. It says that when the people heard the Torah from Ezra they broke down and wept. At that point Ezra and Nechemiah explained to the people that crying is inappropriate on Rosh Hashanah:

(י) וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם לְכוּ אִכְלוּ מַשְׁמַנִּים וּשְׁתוּ מַמְתַקִּים וְשִׁלְחוּ מָנוֹת לְאֵין נָכוֹן לוֹ כִּי קָדוֹשׁ הַיּוֹם לַאֲדֹנֵינוּ וְאַל תֵּעָצֵבוּ כִּי חֶדְוַת ה’ הִיא מָעֻזְּכֶם:

(יא) וְהַלְוִיִּם מַחְשִׁים לְכָל הָעָם לֵאמֹר הַסּוּ כִּי הַיּוֹם קָדֹשׁ וְאַל תֵּעָצֵבוּ:

(יב) וַיֵּלְכוּ כָל הָעָם לֶאֱכֹל וְלִשְׁתּוֹת וּלְשַׁלַּח מָנוֹת וְלַעֲשׂוֹת שִׂמְחָה גְדוֹלָה כִּי הֵבִינוּ בַּדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר הוֹדִיעוּ לָהֶם:

Rosh  Hashanah has two aspects. The reaction of the people was apparently totally appropriate. They heard the words of the Torah, they became aware of their shortcomings and they cried in remorse for their sins on the Day of Judgement. As the Rambam says, Rosh Hashanah is a day for “repenting, awe and fear.”

This is certainly true. But there is another aspect to Rosh Hashanah- it is the day that we can draw closer to Hashem. As Ezra and Nechemiah told the people :

“… וְאַל תֵּעָצֵבוּ כִּי חֶדְוַת ה’ הִיא מָעֻזְּכֶם.”

Rav Soloveitchik zt”l in his essay ובקשתם משם explains this second aspect of Rosh Hashanah. He writes that the position of the early Gaonim seems to him to be correct. The fourth blessing on Rosh Hashanah should begin with the words “והשיאנו….” as it does on the other holidays. Rav Soloveitchik says that there are two aspects to שמחה. There are the external trappings of שמחה and the internal experience of שמחה. It is true that there is no mitzvah to make a pilgrimage on Rosh Hashanah to בית המקדש and to offer שלמי שמחה. But that is merely an external  expression of שמחה. What we do have on Rosh Hashanah is a special closeness to Hashem. This closeness to Hashem brings with it שמחה and so it is only right to mention this is in the Amidah prayer. It is this שמחה that leads to the ruling that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur terminate the days of mourning (whether the days of שבעה or the days of שלשים). Perhaps that is why the Rambam is careful to say that what is inappropriate on Rosh Hashanah is “excessive happiness” (“שמחה יתירה”) but not happiness per se.

The debate over how to “experience” Rosh Hashanah appears in another guise as well. The early Sages debated whether one may fast on Rosh Hashanah. Normally we do not fast on holidays or Shabbat.  However there were Gaonim who held that the period of עשרת ימי תשובה is different from the rest of the year and so they would fast on the second day of Rosh Hashanah as well as on שבת שובה. However, Rav Hai Gaon ruled that we may not fast on those days.  We learn this from the story of Ezra and Nechemiah and what was true then is true today.

Thanks to everyone who attended the shiur. Stuart Fischman


September 13, 2016 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
The High Holiday Amidah: Lesson 2
Class description

Hello Everyone,

In this session we continued our study of the prayers of Rosh Hashanah and how their current format came to be.

The discussion focused on the Musaf service. The Musaf of Rosh Hashanah is unique for at least two reasons. Most prominently it is distinctive because it is accompanied by the blowing of the shofar. It is distinctive also because of its structure. All of the other Shabbat and  holiday prayers[1] have seven blessings. There are the standard three opening blessings (מגן אברהם, מחיה המתים והא-ל/המלך הקדוש ), the three concluding blessings (המחזיר שכינתו לציון, ולך נאה להודות והמברך את עמו ישראל בשלום) and a middle blessing referred to as קדושת היום. On Rosh Hashanah at Musaf we say nine blessings. Besides the usual six blessings we add three blessings known as מלכויות, זכרונות ושופרות.

The details of the changes for the Musaf prayer were debated from the time of the Mishnah through the 12th century , aperiod of about 1,000 years.

The first debate about the Musaf prayer is recorded in the Mishnah. It concerned the sounding of the shofar during the Musaf prayer and the addition of the  מלכויות blessing. Rabbi Yochahan ben Nuri said that the מלכויות blessing is added to the third blessing of the Amidah. The blessing on Rosh Hashanah would be “מלך על כל הארץ המלך הקדוש.” The fourth blessing of the Musaf prayer would resemble the fourth blessing of the other holidays- “מקדש עמו ישראל ויום הזכרון” and we would blow the shofar for that blessing.

Rabbi Akiva disagreed with רבי יוחנן בן נורי. He did not agree with separating the sounding of the shofar from מלכויות. Rabbi Akiva said that the third blessing is “המלך הקדוש”  and the fourth blessing is “מלך על כל הארץ מקדש עמו ישראל ויום הזכרון” and that is when we blow the shofar.

The rule that we say nine blessings in the Amidah of Rosh Hashanah is mentioned in masechet Brachot and Masechet Rosh Hashanah. The Gemarah does not say that they are to be said only at Musaf. The Ba’al Hamaor wrote that since on every other day of the year the Amidah prayer always has the same number of blessings ( be it seven or nineteen blessings) this should also be the case on Rosh Hashanah. But even though he felt that there is no reason for Rosh Hashanah to be different in this regard, he conceded that the custom has been to say the nine blessings only during Musaf and so it should remain.

A related question is who should say the nine blessings. The Gaonim said that the custom in the Babylonian yeshivot  was always that the congregation says a Musaf prayer with seven blessings while it is the חזן ( and only the חזן) who says the nine blessings. This apparently was the custom until the 12th century (the Ba’al Hamaor actually wrote that the custom changed during his lifetime) when the congregation began to say the nine blessings as well.

Why did the custom change? The 11th century Spanish authority מהר”י אבן גיאת said that the Geonic custom is difficult to reconcile with a passage from the Gemarah. The Gemarah in Rosh Hashnah records a debate between Rabban Gamliel and the Sages. The custom in prayer is that the congregation recites the Amidah prayer silently with the Chazan. Next, the Chazan recites the Amidah prayer aloud. It was agreed that the Chazan’s recitation of the prayer aloud was for the benefit of those who could not pray on their own. The question being debated was whether a person who could pray on his own could choose not to pray on his own and to simply listen to the prayer of the Chazan.  Rabban Gamliel said he could fulfill the obligation to pray via the Chazan’s prayer while the Sages said that he may not do so.

מהר”י אבן גיאת pointed out that this debate between Rabban Gamliel and the Sages presupposes that the prayer said by the congregants is identical to the prayer said by the Chazan. But if the individual in the synagogue needs to say  a Musaf prayer with seven blessings how can he rely on the prayer said by the Chazan which has nine blessings? The Gemarah clearly indicates that the prayer said by the individuals is the same prayer said by the Chazan, therefore the Geonic custom cannot be correct. מהר”י אבן גיאת said that as distinct from the Gaonic tradition there is a different tradition from ancient and venerable sages (including רבינו חנוך who was one of the legendary “Four Captives”) which says that everyone says nine blessings at Musaf.

It is truly remarkable that a custom traced back to the Geonim would be deliberately abandoned in favor of a competing custom. The Ramban took very strong exception to the change. He protested that the Geonim had the unbroken chain of tradition, they prayed in the same synagogue as the Amoraim and that it is the height of insolence to reject their explicit ruling. However, the protest of the Ramban was ignored and the accepted custom did indeed change to our current practice of everyone saying nine blessings at Musaf.

We ended the shiur with the commentary of the צל”ח to the Mishnah of Rav Yochanan ben Nuri and Rabbi Akiva. The sounding of the shofar is closely bound up with the Musaf prayer:

ויקרא פרק כג

(כג) וַיְדַבֵּר ה’ אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר:

(כד) דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם שַׁבָּתוֹן זִכְרוֹן תְּרוּעָה מִקְרָא קֹדֶשׁ:

רש”י ויקרא פרק כג

(כד) זכרון תרועה – זכרון פסוקי זכרונות ופסוקי שופרות, לזכור לכם עקידת יצחק שקרב תחתיו איל:

Why then did Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri say not to sound the shofar for מלכויות ? The צל”ח explains the position of Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri. The shofar is meant to proclaim Hashem’s kingship. However, if Hashem is proclaimed to be our King, and we are being judged on Rosh Hashanah, it follows that we are asking Hashem to judge us as a king judges. But a king judges strictly, a king cannot be expected to judge with mercy. If we as a people would truly repent then we could approach Hashem as a King to have Him judge as a king would judge. But the fact is that we have not done true teshuvah ( the proof of this is that the בית המקדש is still destroyed). We therefore are asking on Rosh Hashanah to be judged mercifully. Hashem is merciful and He does judge us with mercy on Rosh Hashanah., but He is no longer acting as King. Therefore, Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri held that it would not be right to proclaim with the shofar that Hashem is King (since because of our failure to truly repent He cannot judge us as King) and he said to blow the shofar first at the blessing of קדושת היום and not at מלכויות.

Thanks to everyone who attended the shiur. Stuart Fischman

[1] When I use the word “prayer” I mean the Amidah prayer which is known by its week-day name of “Shmoneh Esrei.

September 20, 2016 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
The High Holiday Amidah: Lesson 3
Class description

Hello Everyone,

How often have we heard people say, or perhaps have ourselves said, “It serves him right.”  Whether it is said about a corrupt politician or other public figure, or even about a neighbor who annoys us, we often find some sort of satisfaction when we see someone suffer when we think that the suffering is deserved.

In the last session we spoke about this and we saw what one of the great מקובלים said about this sort of attitude.

We began the shiur by discussing the Musaf prayer for Yom Kippur, specifically the portion of the חזרת הש”ץ known as עבודת יום הכיפורים. When people are asked what is the highlight of the Yom Kippur service they will usually say that the נעילה is the highlight because that is the final prayer a it ends with the dramatic recital of ה’ הוא האלוקים and the blowing of the shofar. The Musaf prayer is not engaging. It is said in the middle of a very long day.

The lack of enthusiasm felt during the Musaf prayer is understandable but I think that it is something which should work at overcoming. The Musaf prayer is said as a substitute for the sacrifices which we cannot bring in the בית המקדש. Sadly, almost two thousand years have passed since the destruction of the Temple. It seems to me that we as a people no longer grasp the significance of this loss and what it means that we no longer have the relationship with Hashem which we once enjoyed. Chazal emphasized in many places that if we cannot bring sacrifices we can at least study their laws and offer prayers in their stead. That is the important role played by the Musaf prayers.

During the course of the year in the Musaf prayers we recite the פסוקי קרבנות which are relevant to the particular day, be it a Shabbat or holiday. On Yom Kippur, when the sacrifices were integral to our atonement the Sages ordained that during the חזרת הש”ץ  we should recite the entire order of Yom Kippur’s unique service in Temple. Various texts describing the עבודת יום הכיפורים were composed over the centuries. Today there are two texts which are used, one is known as אמיץ כח and the other is known as אתה כוננת.  These compositions are written in the style known as פיוט which is the liturgical poetic style of Medieval Hebrew. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for everyone to take the time to study the עבודת יום הכיפורים as printed in their Machazorim. We no longer have a Temple     ( though I hope and pray that we will merit to see its rebuilding soon) and if we cannot carry out the  Yom Kippur service in the Temple we at least can read about it and say it together with feeling and understanding on Yom Kippur. In this fashion we can fulfill the words of the נביא  as explained by Chazal:

הושע פרק יד

(ג) קְחוּ עִמָּכֶם דְּבָרִים וְשׁוּבוּ אֶל ה’ אִמְרוּ אֵלָיו כָּל תִּשָּׂא עָוֹן וְקַח טוֹב וּנְשַׁלְּמָה פָרִים שְׂפָתֵינוּ:

תרגום יונתן הושע פרק יד

(ג) קְרִיבוּ עִמְכוֹן פִּתְגָמִין דְאִתּוֹדָאָה וְתוּבוּ לְפוּלְחָנָא דַיָי אֲמָרוּ קָדָמוֹהִי קָרִיב קֳדָמָךְ לְמִשְׁבַּק עַל עִוְיָן וְנִתְקַבֵּל דָא כְּטָבִין וִיהֶוְיָן מִילֵי סִפְוָתָנָא מִתְקַבְּלִין קֳדָמָךְ כְּתוֹרִין לְרַעֲוָא עַל מַדְבָּחָא:

שיר השירים רבה (וילנא) פרשה ד

ד”א כחוט השני שפתותיך, זה לשון של זהורית, ומדברך נאוה, זה שעיר המשתלח, אמרו ישראל לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא רבש”ע אין לנו לשון זהורית ושעיר המשתלח, אמר להם כחוט השני שפתותיך, רחישת פיך חביבה עלי כחוט השני של זהורית, ר’ אבהו אמר עלה (הושע י”ד) ונשלמה פרים שפתינו, מה נשלם תחת פרים ותחת שעיר המשתלח שפתינו….

I chose to focus yesterday on the שעיר לעזאזל , the “scapegoat” which atones for all our sins when there is a בית המקדש. We studied the passages in the Machazor which describe how the כהן גדול performed a lottery between two identical goats. One goat was sacrificed in the בית המקדש as an atonement for the accidental entry of people who were טמאים  into the Temple. The other goat was sent away to be cast off a cliff.

That the goat atones for us and carries our sins away to the desert is a tremendously mysterious idea. It is a mitzvah , it is Hashem’s will:

ויקרא פרק טז

(כא) וְסָמַךְ אַהֲרֹן אֶת שְׁתֵּי ידו יָדָיו עַל רֹאשׁ הַשָּׂעִיר הַחַי וְהִתְוַדָּה עָלָיו אֶת כָּל עֲוֹנֹת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאֶת כָּל פִּשְׁעֵיהֶם לְכָל חַטֹּאתָם וְנָתַן אֹתָם עַל רֹאשׁ הַשָּׂעִיר וְשִׁלַּח בְּיַד אִישׁ עִתִּי הַמִּדְבָּרָה:

(כב) וְנָשָׂא הַשָּׂעִיר עָלָיו אֶת כָּל עֲוֹנֹתָם אֶל אֶרֶץ גְּזֵרָה וְשִׁלַּח אֶת הַשָּׂעִיר בַּמִּדְבָּר:

Inasmuch as the שעיר לעזאזל is a mitzvah we can and should ask what lesson does it contain? What does this mitzvah represent and tech?

We spoke about three ideas in the שעיר לעזאזל, two of them “rational”and one of them “mystical.”

The Rambam wrote that the sending of the goat into the desert represents our process of repentance in which we send off our sinful impulses.  The goat which represents our sins was not sacrificed in the Temple in the fashion that other sin-offerings were sacrificed because the goat symbolizes not just a single sin but the totality of the sins of the entire nation. As a the embodiment of all sin it had to be disposed of far from all human habitation. This dramatic act served to inspire all the people to do complete תשובה.

Rav Shimshon Rephael Hirsch saw something very meaningful in the lottery performed by the כהן גדול. The two goats represented the two paths that each one of us constantly face. Throughout the days of our lives we are constantly choosing between that which is convenient and that which demands sacrifice . One goat ends up carrying away sins to be lost in the desert while the other goat is offered up to Hashem. We all need to decide how we will live our lives, will we spend our time in the pursuit of pleasures which lead to our being lost in this world or will we dedicate our lives to observing the Torah? The importance of this choice is at the heart of the Yom Kippur service.

The מקובלים present us with a different view of the שעיר לעזעאזל. Based on various Midrashim the Ramban who was the first of the מקובלים to present mystical Torah to the public says that the שעיר לעזעאזל is meant to be a gift to the יצר הרע.

This is a striking idea and the Ramban certainly realized it. He explains the idea with a parable. If a person prepares a great feast for a king, the king may tell the person to send some food to one of his servants. Of course, this person will obey the king’s orders and send the food. This gift of food has no meaning to the person who prepared the feast and it also means nothing to the king. The only reason for sending food to the servant is to prevent him from interfering with the feast.

What does this parable mean? Who or what will interfere with our worship of Hashem on Yom Kippur?

There was a great מקובל in Safed during the 16th century by the name of רב משה קורדוברו זצ”ל . Among his many writings is a work on ethics titled תומר דבורה. The תומר דבורה combines mystical ideas with moral lessons on how we should all treat each other.

Rav Moshe Cordovero explained the parable of the Ramban. When a person sins the יצר הרע begins to constantly speak ill of the sinner and demands to see him punished. The sin creates a debt (since the person derived illicit pleasure) and the יצר הרע wishes to collect on this debt by causing the sinner to suffer. Hashem is patient and waits for the person to repent.

When a person repents, he confesses his sin to Hashem and accepts with understanding whatever punishment Hashem deems appropriate. As soon as Hashem rules to punish the sinner the יצר הרע goes to carry out the punishment and so he is satisfied.

But one of the rules by which Hashem rules the world is that the agents of His judgement must be destroyed. That is why evil rulers such as Pharaoh and Haman were killed even though they were agents of Hashem’s will. So too is the שעיר לעזאזל. The goat represents the יצר הרע . The יצר הרע is happy to punish sinners but as an instrument of punishment it needs to be eradicated.

Rav Moshe Cordovero explains that this is one more example of Hashem’s mercy. Even if we sin and deserve to be punished, when we do תשובה Hashem shows us mercy and punishes those who caused us to suffer.

As I said, the תומר דבורה  combines mystical ideas with practical guidance. What are we meant to learn from this explanation of the scapegoat?

Rav Moshe Cordovero says that we need to learn how to relate to sinners who have suffered. Once a person has suffered[1] we need to treat him with kindness.

I opened this summary by pointing out that quite often we have an “it serves him right” attitude  when we read about the troubles of corrupt politicians when they leave prison. There is a certain schadenfreude when they have troubles. Rav Moshe Cordovero says that this attitude is antithetical to the values of the Torah. Once  a person has received his punishment the Halacha says “אחיך הוא” and we must show him every kindness. One of the many social ills which plague modern society is the problem of recidivism. In the United States it is common to make fun of Scandinavian “hotel prisons.” But it seems to me that the Scandinavian emphasis on rehabilitation is what the Torah expects of us. The person in prison, however nice it may be, is not free. It is a punishment to be incarcerated, and I have not heard of anyone rushing off to Norway just to rob a bank in order to have a free vacation in one of the pleasant Norwegian prisons.  Hashem shows us mercy after we receive our punishment and we must walk in the path set by Hashem’s example.

Thanks to everyone who attended the shiur. Stuart Fischman



[1] And I would add that it is not our place to decide if someone has suffered “enough.”

September 27, 2016 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
The High Holiday Amidah: Lesson 4
Class description

Hello Everyone,

In the last session we discussed one of the most controversial prayers in our liturgy, the prayer מכניסי רחמים which is said by Ashkenazim at the end of the סליחות.

This prayer opens with the line:

מכניסי רחמים הכניסו רחמינו לפני בעל הרחמים….

This prayer certainly leaves the impression that we are asking angels to intercede on our behalf with Hashem.  The problem with this sort of request is that it is heretical, at least according to the Rambam.

The Rambam says that it is absolutely forbidden for us to seek out any intermediaries to aid us when we are praying to God. This is what the Rambam writes:

פירוש המשנה לרמב”ם מסכת סנהדרין פרק י משנה א

והיסוד החמישי שהוא יתעלה הוא אשר ראוי לעבדו ולרוממו ולפרסם גדולתו ומשמעתו. ואין עושין כן למה שלמטה ממנו במציאות מן המלאכים והכוכבים והגלגלים והיסודות וכל מה שהורכב מהן, לפי שכולם מוטבעים בפעולותיהם אין להם שלטון ולא בחירה אלא רצונו יתעלה, ואין עושין אותם אמצעים להגיע בהם אליו, אלא כלפיו יתעלה יכוונו המחשבות ויניחו כל מה שזולתו. וזה היסוד החמישי הוא האזהרה על עבודה זרה, ורוב התורה באה להזהיר על זה.

רמב”ם הלכות תשובה פרק ג הלכה ז

חמשה הן הנקראים מינים: האומר שאין שם אלוה ואין לעולם מנהיג, והאומר שיש שם מנהיג אבל הן שנים או יותר, והאומר שיש שם רבון אחד אבל שהוא גוף ובעל תמונה, וכן האומר שאינו לבדו הראשון וצור לכל, וכן העובד כוכב או מזל וזולתו כדי להיות מליץ בינו ובין רבון העולמים כל אחד מחמשה אלו הוא מין.

Is it possible to reconcile this very ancient Ashkenazi prayer with the Rambam’s view on seeking help from heavenly agents?

This is a very difficult issue to resolve. The prayer מכניסי רחמים is mentioned by the greatest  Ashkenazi authorities going back to the students of Rashi. No one seems to have been troubled by it. The Maharil, who was the greatest Ashkenazi authority of the  14th century and who was familiar with the Rambam’s writings, nevertheless mentions מכניסי רחמים as part of the Ashkenazi service. One of the difficulties in giving a satisfactory answer to this question is that no Ashkenazi authority wrote anything similar to the Rambam’s systematic works on Jewish belief. It is certainly true that the great Ashkenazi scholars; Rashi,  the Ba’alei Tosafot and their successors possessed a system of belief. It is just that they did not organize and write them down.

What we do possess are their brilliant commentaries and liturgical poems ( the פיוטים). And we can say that unlike the Rambam, the Ashkenazi authorities were comfortable with the idea of finding a place for angels in our relationship with Hashem.

Actually we can say that the Talmud supports the Ashkenazi perspective. We saw two passages from the Talmud that seem to indicate that angels are indeed intermediaries between us and God. We saw that the Meiri, one of the foremost supporters of the Rambam’s theology went to great pains to give those passages a “Maimonidean” interpretation and to eliminate angels from the discussion.

The Maharal of Prague (who was an Ashkenazi) objected to the  סליחות which turn to angels as intermediaries. By emending the text he changed their meaning to requests from Hashem to instruct the angels to bring our prayers before Him. There are angels of course, but we do not ask anything of them.

The Maharal lived in the 16th century and it is not clear if his objection to מכניסי רחמים had much influence.

In the 19th century the prayer came under renewed attack from two very different groups. One was the party of משכילים  and the other was the circle of disciples of the Gaon of Vilna zt”l ) the גר”א). Both of these groups ( with very different motivations) wished to “clean up” the Ashkenazi prayer-book from what they saw as errors.

Their goal of erasing מכניסי רחמים and prayers like that  from the siddurim and machazorim was met by resistance from leading authorities. These authorities pointed out that as great as the Rambam was, the Ashkenazi authorities who accepted these prayers and recited them were also great scholars. If they said these prayers there cannot be any objection them and we would never dream of accusing someone like Maharil of heresy.

Rabbis who were from the school of the גר”א did indeed “re-work” the text of these prayers in order to remove any requests directed to angels. Other authorities staunchly defended these prayers despite the problem of reconciling them with the dictate of the Rambam. As the 19th century Hungarian scholar, מהר”י אסאד wrote:

וכן אנחנו נוהגים כרבותינו עונים ואומרים באהבה יהיה חלקינו עם כל עובדי ד’ המתפללים סליחות ואומרים פזמונים הנ”ל כי ישרים דרכי ד’ וצדיקים ילכו בם כו’ והדברים עתיקים כו’ דברי חז”ל קיימים וחיים ונעימים למבינים ככתוב מבקשי ד’ יבינו כל.

So if any of you happen to pray in a “Lithuanian” minyan you probably won’t be saying מכניסי רחמים. If you daven in a Chasidic minyan you probably will.

Shana tova to everyone, Stuart Fischman


Rabbi Dr. Stuart Fischman graduated from Yeshiva University in 1980 and the dental school of Columbia University in 1985. In 1989 he began studying and teaching at Yeshivat Hamivtar and now studies and teaches at Yeshivat Machanaim in Efrat. He has rabbinic ordination from Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg.