Praying To Angels And To The Dead: A Hallachic Analysis

(This should not be relied upon for practical halacha. When a question arises a Rabbi should be consulted.)

“They (the spies) went up in, the south, and he (Calev) came to Chevron, where there were Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the descendants of the giant. Now Chevron had been built seven years before Zoan of Egypt.” (Shelach 12:22)

In the above verse we are told of the journey of the Spies as they entered Eretz Yisroel. Rashi, citing the Gemara (Sotah 34b), explains that Calev alone went to Chevron (it is for that reason that the verse writes “he” went to Chevron). He journeyed to Chevron in order to pray at the graves of the Patriarchs. He said to them: “My fathers ask for mercy upon me that I may be saved from being ensnared by the designs of the spies.”

The nature of Calev’s prayer may have hallachic ramifications and may shed some light on an age old machlokes as to whether one is allowed to pray to Angels, or to the dead, to intercede on our behalf.

The purpose of this article is not to give a clear cut ruling for the reader. Rather, to elucidate both opinions of the poskim, each person should follow his or her custom and when necessary a Rav should be consulted.

1) Idolatry

Before we begin it is important to clarify one point and that is that praying to Angels or to the dead directly so that they can help us, is unequivocally forbidden. These beings have no strength of their own and praying for them to grant a yeshua or refua is akin to idol worship. The nature of our discussion is whether one may pray and ask for them to intercede on his behalf and pray for him, but of course the prayer must be directed towards the Almighty.

2) Prayer to Angels

The Permissible View

Many poskim discuss whether one is allowed to beseech Angels to intercede on our behalf. Rashi (Sanhedrin 44b) explains that the opinion of Rav Yochanan is that: “One should always pray for the help of the administrating Angels to strengthen his power of prayer.”

Indeed, many tefillos, authored by great Tzaddikim and Rishonim, implore Angels to intercede on behalf of the Jewish people. Most notably the prayer (recited during Selichos of Aseres Yimei Teshuva) “Machnisei Rachamim hachnisu rachameinu” (those who bring in mercy bring in our plea for mercy) calls upon the angels to help take our prayers before Hashem and intercede on our behalf.

The author of the Shibolei Haleket cited the aforementioned prayer of “Machnisei Rachamim” and commented that there is no hallachic problem with its recital- this prayer is in no way connected to Idolatry. Rav Avigdor Cohen Tzedek agreed with this permissible view.

Rav Aryeh Leib Gordon zt”l, in the introduction to the Sidur Otzer Hatefillos, cited a response from Rav Shrira Gaon, who wrote the following: “When praying to Angels one must do so in Lashon Hakodesh. However, when praying directly to G-d, the prayer may be recited in any language.” It is thus evident that Rav Shrira Gaon allowed one to pray for the intercession of Angels. The Minchas Elazar (Y.D. 1:46) also rules leniently.

Those Who Rule Stringently

There were, however, many authorities who forbade any form of worship towards Angels. The Abarbanel (Sefer Rosh Amana 12) takes a stringent view as well. His source is a Talmud Yerushalmi (Brachos chapter 9), which states: “If Jews have hardships, they should not cry out to the Angels Michael or Gavriel, rather I (G-d) should receive their outcries”.

It is for this very reason that the Sefer Hameoros (Meoros Harshonim page 29) testifies that many kehilos omit the tefila of “Machnisei Rachamim”. The Maharal of Prague (Netiv Haovoda 12) objects as well to the recitation of this prayer because it appears as if we are praying to the angels and not to the Almighty. He therefore amends the text from “machnisei rachamim hachnisu rachameinu” (those who bring in mercy bring in our plea for mercy) to “machnisei rachamim yachnisu rachameinu,” (allow those who bring in mercy to bring in our plea for mercy) which is directed towards the Almighty. [See Otzer Hatefilos who cites other rabbanim (including Rav Chaim Volozhiner) who amended other tefilos in order that it not seem that we are praying to Angels.]

The Chatam Sofer, (Orach Chaim no. 166), records his personal practice to skip the aforementioned prayer. Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igros Moshe O.C. vol. 5 page 146), while discussing whether it is permissible to pray for Angels to intercede on our behalf, notes that his father omitted the stanza of “Barchuni L’Shalom” from the prayer Shalom Aleichem, recited on Friday nights for the same reasons cited above. The Gesher Hachaim (3:26), after quoting both opinions, writes that those who are lenient are basing their opinion on great rabbanim and therefore others should not try to correct them.

3) Praying to the dead

As previously cited, Calev prayed for the Patriarchs to please ask for mercy that he not become ensnared by the Spies. One can deduce from the actions of Calev that praying to the dead (or from Angels) for intercession is permissible. The Gesher Hachaim notes that a lenient view was expressed by the Zohar Hakadosh. The sefer Darkei Teshuva (Y.D. 179:36) lists other authorities who rule leniently as well.

However, the Chochmas Adam (24:5) was vehemently against directing prayer towards the dead, he explains that care must be taken to only pray to the Almighty. The Mishnah Berurah (O.C. 581) records the minhag of many to visit cemeteries on Erev Rosh Hashana, he warns, however, against praying to the dead directly, rather, one must be careful to pray directly to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. See Igros Moshe (O.C. vol. 5 page 147), where Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l explains whether praying to the dead should be more problematic or less problematic then praying to the Angels.

Please email  any questions or comments to avizakutinsky@gmail.com

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