Monday, 29 September 2008

Machnisei Rachamim Apologetics - Reprint

Mon, 02 Oct 2000 12:45:40 EDT
From: Richard Wolpoe
Machnisei Rachamim Apologetics

There is a "machlokes" whether or not to recite Machnisei Rachamim. Those in favor probably rely upon tradition that it is ok.

Those who omit it, cite the Rambam's 5th principle of Addressing our Prayers to G-d along and not to agents or angels.

The following post is based upon the premise that Machnisei is OK to recite, while still respecting the Rambam's premise. Moreover we can appreciate the elegance of a poem w/o necessarily being offended not buying into its apparent premise.

There is an old joke about 2 litigants coming to a rabbi to decide their dispute. Litigant #1 recites his side and the rabbi answers:" You know you're right." Then litigant #2 recites his counter-complaints and to him the rabbis also responds You know you're right." The rebbetzin overhearing this asks: "how can they BOTH be right?". To which the rabbi answers "You know you're right too!"

In this spirit I will endeavor to make both sides right. You might quibble with some specifics, nevertheless don't dismiss the approach, because it is in the spirit of Eilu v'eilu.

Since we enjoy stories, here is another:

There was a very shy fellow named Abraham who was assigned to address a large audience of about 1,000. With his meek voice, he was unable to be heard. In order to assist him, a fellow named Eliezer was recruited to install and monitor a sound system.

During a practice run, Abraham began speaking w/o the mike. "Speak into the Microphone," advised Eliezer. Before long Eliezer explained the advanced electronics, of how the mike went into a wire into an amp into speakers, etc. So Abraham started saying "Dear Microphone please tell the wire to tell the amp to tell the speakers to tell the audience that...". "No no," advised Eliezer. "when you speak into the mike, all the electronics should be ignored as transparent to the user. Even though you are speaking into a mike, address the audience directly. ONLY the audience should be the subject of your address!"
And so it was. Abraham addressed the audience via the electronic system and things went smoothly.

One day, Eliezer caught he flu and was unable to assist Abraham's broadcast. Feebly, Abraham set up the sound system and did what he could. His address went OK, but it was clear that Eliezer was a wizard at electronics and had been using sophisticated techniques of raising and lowering the volume to make Abraham's speech all the more effective. At the end of Abraham's address, he uttered a prayer that had nothing to do with the content of his speech. Abraham asked, "Please restore Eliezer to health, Please have the mikes and speakers work optimally. Please fine-tune the sound system, etc."

Abraham was not addressing the sound system in order to deliver the CONTENTS of his speech. Rather now Abraham was requesting intercession that the sound system OPTIMIZE the impact of his speech.

Those who recite Machnisei Rachamim are not praying to Agents in terms of a prayer. They are requesting aid and assistance that the prayers get delivered OK. Another example: I might address a package to President Clinton in the White House and as an aside I can tell the postman to be very careful in handling the parcel...

So on one level, Machnisei Rachamim is not objectionable at all, it is not truly a prayer to a "being other than G-d" rather it is just a request that those agents do their tasks well in order to deliver the precious parcel of prayers.

On another level, those who do object to Machnisei Rachamim can rightfully cite that on a plain level, it is phrased as a request to being other than G-d and had no place in a Tefillah, either because of how it is appears as peshat or because the unsophisticated might not get the nuance and distinction made above and therefore it is better omitted.

Machnisei is therefore both OK and objectionable, just on different planes of reference.

Shana Tova

1 comment:

RRW said...

From parhsaBlog on the previous Posting

""In terms of Machnisei Rachamim (available here at, R' Richard Wolpoe last year had an attempted explanation or apologetics, within the bounds of Rambam, that it is requesting that the sound system works. Indeed, Chazal were not heretics, but they believed that the angels delivered prayers to Hashem (and thus there are instructions about not praying in Aramaic). Even so, one should not direct one's prayers to the angel, but to Hashem. We see this fleshed out in the Apochryphal book of Tobit. See my discussion in the comment section at eLomdus. Adjuring angels to deliver the message may or may not be problematic. Read the piyut and draw your conclusions.""

let me add that there are perhaps differing dimensions of addressing intermediaries.

Here are a few:
A) We don't pray TO an intermediary instead of to God directly. That seems a pretty absolute concrete issue

B) Whilst Addressing God is simply not ETIQUETE to Address any one else present EVEN if they are involved. Put it this way, we not the Sh'lia'ach Tzibbur is praying on our behalf but we don't make a request of him to say X during our own silent Amidah whilst Adressing the Eternal HIMSELF. That is nto a theological problem so much as an etiquette problem. Don't Ask the Almighty for X and whisper a side comment to your friend to ALSO ask the Eternal for the same thing. It is simply improper.

The problem with Machnisei is imho strictly limited to the 2nd model. It is - AISI-never a case of Addressing and intermediary INSTEAD of God Himself, just a matter of turning aside. This is problematic but imoh not a heresy.

And since it is accepted in much of Talmud and Midrash that there are devices that convey messages, the Payan felt it was OK here to make a side-reference. I don't think it is a Big Deal.

OTOH even though the dea might intercede upon our behalf there is an EXPLICIT d'oraisso AGAINST Doresh El hameissim. So going to a grave and asking the Dea to help us is a bigger no-no and even the Kitzur SA makes a warning to not do that

Shana Tova