Thursday, February 16, 2012

Using Titles and Honorifics in Tefilla אין גבהות לפני המקום

We have recently been davening for the Refuah Shleima of Gedolei Yisrael.  It is natural to identify them with honorifics, to say "Moreinu Ve'Rabbeinu Harav Hagaon."  But in fact, it is not right to do so when mention their names in Tefilla.  When davening before Hashem, we don't give kavod to fellow human beings.  This is from the Sefer Chasidim (#800), as follows:

. אדם שמתפלל על אביו אם הוא חולה לא יאמר תרפא אבא מארי או לאדוני אבא רפא כי שלמה אמר דוד אבי וכן אלישע אמר איה ה' אלהי אליהו ולא אמר אדוני  אבל עבד אברהם אמר אלהי אדוני אברהם כי לא היה  בן חורין

One who is praying for his ill father should not say "cure my father my teacher" or "my master my father," for Shlomo said "David my father," and Elisha said "where is Hashem the G-d of Eliahu," and he did not say "my master."  (He adds that this was not a problem where Eliezer referred to Avraham as Adoni, because he was a slave.  What he means with that is very unclear, and while plenty of people have talked about it, I don't love any of the pshatim I've seen.)

The Ma'avar Yabok (who was long after Reb Yehuda Hachasid; Reb Yehuda Hachasid, one of the Mekubalei Ashkenaz, died in 1217, and the Ma'avar Yabok, from Rav Aharon Brachia of Modina, an Italian Mekubal, died in 1639,)  also says this, (Sifsei Tzedek 8)
 המתפלל על אביו או על רבו לפום ריהטא נראה כי אין לומר בתחנתו רפא נא לאדוני אבי או אבא מרי או רבי ואלופי כי שלמה אמר בדברו עם ה' דוד אבי וכן אלישע אמר אלהי אליהו ולא אמר אדוני שאין גבהות לפני המקום. ואוריה נתחייב הריגה למלכות על שאמר לפני דוד ואדוני יואב ברם נראה לפי הדין שבאותם שאסור להזכיר שמם מותר לומר אבי או רבי אך לא יוסיף על זה.

He adds the phrase that is quoted by the poskim- אין גבהות לפני המקום, there is no exaltedness before G-d.

This Maavor Yabok is brought by Reb Akiva Eiger (OC 119:1) and the Chida in Birkei Yosef (YD 240:4).  The Minchas Chinuch also brings the  Maavar Yabok in Mitzva 297.  He asks, how did Elozor refer to Moshe by name (Bamidbar 31:21, ויאמר אלעזר הכהן אל אנשי הצבא הבאים למלחמה: זאת חקת התורה אשר צוה יהוה את משה)  He was his Rebbi, and it's assur to refer to a Rebbi by his name alone.  He answers that because Elazar was saying that Hashem had commanded this to Moshe, it would have been wrong to use an honorific, as the Maavar Yabok says.

It has been suggested (e.g., Reb Reuven Margolios in his notes on Sefer Chasidim) that this only applies to tefillos for a sick person, because of the condition of strict judgment- Middas Hadin- but not to general brachos or other types of tefillos.  In general tefilla, such as in Bentching, you may say "Hu yevariech es Avi Mori."   This is supported by the Ramban's mention of the minhag in Teiman; After the Rambam interceded on behalf of the Jewish community, they inserted into Kaddish the words  בחייכון וביומיכון ובחיי דרבנא משה בן מימון (as brought down by Chavel in his Kisvei HaRamban Vol I p. 341).  I don't find this convincing, because although the Sefer Chasidim said "refu'ah," his examples are from cases that have nothing to do with refu'ah.  I think that the Ramban and the Minhag of Teiman simply didn't hold like Reb Yehuda Hachasid's idea.  But Reb Shlomo Zalman Auerbach did say (brought in Or Ephraim 558) that one may use the titles Rabbeinu and Maranan when you call someone for an aliyah and in Yekum Purkan because this emphasizes that Torah she'biksav is incomplete without the mesora of Torah she'baal peh which resides in and is personified by these people.

The reason I'm writing about this now is because in the Shul where I daven during the week, the person who says the mi shebeirach for Rav Eliashiv Shlitah nebach can't help himself.  He is a talmid chacham of high achievement who learns be'hasmada and be'iyun every single day, and he is fully aware of all of these mekoros, but he just can't bring himself to say Rav Eliashiv's name without Harav.

After the discussion in the comments, and some further thought, there are some additional things that need addressing.

1.  The problem with referring to people with titles of honor in Tefilla is dual.  First, as the Maavar Yabok says, it is a chutzpa on the part of the mispallel to honor a human while talking to the Ribono shel Olam.  This focuses on the problem for the mispallel, that the mispallel is like a מורד במלכות, but it has nothing to do with the effect on the subject of the tefilla.  Second, (and this is somewhat speculative,) it is not good for the subject of the tefilla.  It could be that אין גבהות לפני המקום teaches that using titles in tefilla offends the Ribono shel Olam and nullifies any Ritzui you are looking for.  It makes the tefilla worthless.  You ask for rachamim, and you offend the Ribono shel Olam by showing honor to one of His little creations- such a tefilla will not yield any benefit at all, and maybe it is  מעורר קטיגוריא למעלה chas veshalom.  So the first comment, that said that my baal tefilla has a petur of oneis, he's right as far as the baal tefilla, but it won't help the subject of the tefilla.  The second comment, that mentioned the k'peida of some gedolim, highlights this second issue.

2.  I don't believe the minhag is like the Sefer Chasidim/Maavar Yabok/Birkei Yosef/Reb Akiva Eiger.  Maasim bechol yom is proof enough.  So what do we do with all these poskim?  Maybe we will apply them only during Shmone Esrei, when you are mamosh "עומד לפני המלך".  But stam during Tefilla, or when you're calling someone up for an aliyah, the problem is not as serious, and in those cases I don't believe we're noheig like that.  Honoring someone that you're mechuyav to honor, either because of kavod hatorah or kibbud av or hakaras hatov, that is not an affront to the Ribono shel Olam.  When you're standing in front of the Ribono shel Olam, then you have to be extremely cautious, but otherwise, its not a problem.
Alternatively, we can say that the Ramban that brings the minhag of Teiman to say ובחיי דרבנא משה in kaddish contradicts these shittos, and we can do like the Ramban.

3.  Even if you want to say we do hold like the osrim, I would say that we should limit that to tefilla for Refu'ah.  When you're asking for refu'ah, you are focusing on human helplessness and our dependence for our very breath on the chesed of the Ribono shel Olam.  For such a tefilla, assertions of chashivus are truly incongruous and counterproductive.  But in other cases, I don't think our minhag is to worry about that.

So, in short, the additional points are:
1.  Those that prohibit honorifics in tefilla do so for two reasons: it is a sin for the person saying the tefilla, and it is not healthy for the person for whom you're davening.
2.  I believe our minhag is to not worry about this prohibition, or, if we do, we only are makpid in Shmoneh Esrei.
3.  Alternatively, maybe it's only something to worry about in tefillos for refuah for a choleh, but not when you call up for aliyos or other tefillos.


  1. If he can't help, maybe it is muttar to him, but in any case, I wish we all should reach such a level.

  2. Perhaps you might mention to your fellow mispallel that there is a mesorah that one of the Litvishe Gedolim, I forget if it was Reb Meir Simcha or Reb Chaim Ozer, was insistent that people should not call him Rav in their tefillos when he was ill. He said that being prominent in a tefilla attracts the attention of mekatregim.

    This is analogous to what the shunamis told Elisha: b'soch ami anochi yoshaves.

  3. "warning" the following is complete conjecture based on an emotional response without any basis on sources or logic:

    Perhaps a reason for giving honorifics in a tefilla for a refuah is to emphasis how these gedolim are not just individuals, but leaders of Klal Yisroel and are still needed by the community at large and therefore, for our sake, we beseech for Hashem's rachmanus.

  4. Anon 3:49- If Rav Eliashiv would send out a letter to that effect, it would make life much easier. And that expresses the problem precisely.

    Anon 4:43- I agree 100%- "let them live because we owe them so much and their loss would be so hurtful to us" does not seem to me to be an affront to the Ribono shel Olam, but I don't see how this wasn't anticipated and precluded by the words of the Sefer Chasidim and the Maavar Yabok.

  5. Two issues raise I:

    a) the translation of מארי is not "my teacher", from מורה, but rather "my master", from מר. This is a common usage in, e.g., תקוני זוהר, but for Litvaks, it can be found in בראשית רבה פרשה נ"ח, where תושב is explained as מארי ביתא. This is why the ספתי צדק mentions אבא מרי and not אבא מורי.

    b) this the case being, and invoking the logic of Anonymous 4:43, it would be, for most people, proper to say אבי מורי or אמי מורתי.
    This would associate whatever learning a person has to the benefit of his parents.

    c) for some people, better not to invoke that; it might be לשון הרע on the poor parents

  6. Ok, Yoda, the reason I translated it 'teacher' was because he follows it with an alternative that unambiguously teacher means- אבא מארי או לאדוני אבא.

    Sure, we always say אמי מורתי. Why do think that's a chiddush?

    I don't think parents exist that never taught their children something worthwhile. It just takes some children longer to realize it. Mark Twain:
    "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in 7 years."

  7. in the defense of anon 4:43
    the Sefer Chasidim and the Maavar Yabok were referring to parents, not a gadol. And even the examples brought of Moshe rebbeinu and Eliyahu hanavi were not in the context of a tefilla on their behalf

  8. Anonymous 3 pm, Anonymous %$#@, Anonymous this, Anonymous that, You know, people, this is not a lashon hara or narishkeit site. You can use your real names. Or your first names, just in case you're worried about saying a tipshus and getting reamed out.

    מענין לענין באותו ענין, the Maavar Yabok says על אביו או על רבו. On the other hand, he does say לפום ריהטא.

  9. re: Eliezer @6:19

    u) I think you meant to say "unambiguously master means." However, this is not dispositive because the שפתי צדק also uses multiple synonyms for "master." Otherwise the allusion to אוריה would be weaker.

    d) Yoda a piker was. A poor imitation was. A fictional character was. If you in Yoda believe, the best president ever for Israel in the White House now you believe.

    t) אמי מורתי in the context of a יה"ר for a רפואה.

    q)Referring to the great yid Anthony Weiner was I. When he resigned office, he took pains to thank his parents for making him what he was. יישר כחכם.
    However, if you want more examples, visit a public school sometime.

    c) Having trouble with "prove you're not a robot" am I. On many levels, am I.

  10. (please excuse the added anonymity)

    "there is no exaltedness before
    a king bows at the start of the
    amidah & remains so throughout the
    prayer (MT, Tefillah, 5:10)

    "applies to tefillos for a sick
    one who is ill may pray while lying
    on his side (ibid. 5:2)-- assuming
    that he prays at the same time as the tzibur (or that the minyan uses the sickroom), wouldn't honorifics 'stand him up', as it were, with the result that his exceptional neediness might be overlooked?!

  11. re: Eliezer @7:03

    some of us are still in Shidduchim

    A few times have I been reamed out for a tipshus. I remember them well. The last time was in 1985, and as usual, it turned out that that I was correct and the reamer was wrong. But modesty prevents me from discussing it.

  12. I've updated the post to discuss several of the topics raised in the comments. Thank you.