Parsha Halacha

Parshat Vayishlach

(Not) Praying to Angels

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The Torah portion of Vayishlach begins with the words וַיִּשְׁלַח יַעֲקֹב מַלְאָכִים לְפָנָיו אֶל עֵשָׂו אָחִיו which, according to Rashi, should be translated as, “And Yaakov sent angels before him, to his brother Eisav…”

Some say[1] that the word מַלְאָכִים should be translated as “messengers” because that is how the word is translated in several other contexts.[2] It is logical to say that Yaakov used human messengers rather than angels since, if possible, one should refrain from benefitting from miracles.[3]

Several reasons are offered as to why Rashi, whose style is to follow the simple interpretation of the text, translates this word as “angels.” Here are some of them:

●      The verse follows the verse at the end of last week’s Torah portion where it says,[4]וְיַעֲקֹב הָלַךְ לְדַרְכּוֹ וַיִּפְגְּעוּ בוֹ מַלְאֲכֵי אֱלֹקִים – “And Yaakov went on his way, and angels of G-d met him.” Since that verse refers to celestial angels (angels of G-d), it is likely that this verse is referring to those same (or at least similar) angels.[5]

●      The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains[6] that Yaakov would not have sent human beings to his brother Eisav who was a known murderer[7] as one may not send messengers on a dangerous mission.[8]

(Not) Praying to Angels

This article will discuss the various opinions about whether or not one may make requests of angels.[9]

Do Not Pray to G-d’s Attributes

The verse says, “Who is like… the L-rd our G-d [who answers] whenever we call to Him.”[10] The Midrash says[11] that this means one may only call out in prayer to G-d and not to any of His attributes.

Do Not Pray to Angels

According to the Jerusalem Talmud,[12] one should not pray to angels or even ask them to be their messenger to G-d. As Rabbi Yudan said, “Human beings have (human) protectors (or rulers). If someone is in trouble, he does not enter the protector’s place suddenly (to make his request). Rather he stands at the door and calls his servant or household member and that person will say to the ruler, ‘So-and-so is standing at the door of your courtyard.’ The ruler may or may not allow him to enter. But the Holy One, blessed be He, is not like this.: [Therefore, Iif a human being is in trouble, he should cry neither to Michael nor to Gabriel. Rather he should cry to Me, and I shall answer him immediately, as the verse says,[13] ‘Everyone who invokes the name of G-d will escape.’”

Similarly, the Rambam writes[14] that the fifth fundamental principle of the Jewish faith is “That G-d alone is fit to be worshipped, glorified, praised, and served. We should not do this to any lower beings, such as angels, stars, constellations, elements, or anything made of the elements. All of these operate by their nature and have no free choice since only the blessed G-d has choice. Nor should one worship them in order for them to be intermediaries for Him. Rather, one should direct their thoughts only to Him and leave everything else…”

Pray for No Prosecuting Angels

On the other hand, the Talmud says,[15] “One should always pray for mercy that all of the heavenly beings should strengthen his power of prayer, and that he should have no enemies causing him trouble in the Heavens above.” This is based on the verse in Job which says,[16] היערוך שועך לא בצר. This can be translated to mean, “Would you arrange a prayer without ensuring you don’t have prosecting [angels]?”

Although the Talmud does not say that one should pray to the angels, it seems that one should pray about the angels and their involvement.

Angels in the Prayers

There are several prayers found in most prayer books where we seem to make requests to angels. Here are several of those prayers.

●      Machnisei Rachamim

This poem is part of the (Ashkenazic) Selichot prayers recited at the time of the High Holy Days. It is an ancient poem and is found in the Siddur of Rav Amram Gaon (9thcentury in Babylonia). In it we ask,

“Those that bring in Mercy, bring in our mercy to the Master of mercy.

“Those that make prayers heard, make our prayers heard to the One who hears prayers.

“Those who make cries heard, make our cries heard to the One who hears cries.

“Those who bring in tears bring in our tears to the King who is appeased through tears.”

This prayer seems to be referencing the angels who, according to the Talmud,[17] bring our prayers to G-d.[18]

●      Malachei Rachamim

This poem is recited on the second day of Selichot that Ashkenazim say before Rosh Hashana. It begins with the words מלאכי רחמים משרתי עליון חלו נא פני א-ל במיטב הגיון, which means, “Angels of mercy, supernal servants, please plead with G-d in your best language.”

●      Shlosh Esrei Midot

This poem is recited on Erev Rosh Hashana (by Ashkenazim). It begins with the words שלש עשרה מדות האמורות בחנינה נא כל מרה נכונה חלי מלכך בתחנה, which means, “The Thirteen Attributes that are said with pleading, please let every correct Attribute pray to your King with pleading.”

●      Midat Harachamim

This prayer is recited on the day before Erev Yom Kippur by (non-Chabad) Ashkenazim as well as during Ne’ilah on Yom Kippur. It includes the words מדת הרחמים עלינו התגלגלי ולפני קונך תחנתינו הפילי, which means “May the Attribute of Mercy turn towards us and present our pleading in front of your Master.”

●      Barchuni Leshalom

In the Shalom Aleichem song that we sing on Friday nights to greet the angels, we say ברכוני לשלום מלאכי השלום מלאכי עליון, which means, “Bless me with peace, angels of peace, supernal angels.”

●      Mimarom/Bamarom Yilamdu

Towards the end of the Grace after Meals we say במרום/ממרום ילמדו עליו/עליהם ועלינו זכות שתהא למשמרת שלום, which means, “In heaven (or from heaven) may they (the angels) invoke upon him/them and upon us…”


There seems to be precedent for these prayers as Yaakov said to Yosef,[19] הַמַּלְאָךְ הַגֹּאֵל אֹתִי מִכׇּל רָע יְבָרֵךְ אֶת הַנְּעָרִים, which means, “May the angel who has redeemed me from all harm bless the lads.”[20]

Those who Opposed

There were authorities who opposed the recital of these prayers based on the sources quoted above. Some of these were:

●      Rabbi Yehudah ben Rav Yakar

The teacher of the Ramban wrote[21] that we don’t find in Tanach that Jewish people asked angels or deceased tzadikim to pray for us.[22] As such, he says that the prayer of Machnisei Rachamim is referring to the living tzadikim (righteous men) whom we ask to pray for us.

●      The Maharal[23]

Rabbi Yehudah Lowe of Prague, known as the Maharal, writes that one should not make requests of angels. Although we go to graveyards to pray ,[24] we should not be asking the deceased to pray for us. Rather we are connecting ourselves to them, and as a result of this, they will naturally beseech G-d for us. As such, he writes that the prayer of Machnisei Rachamim should be understood that we are instructing, rather than asking, the angels to bring our prayer to G-d.

Alternately, he amends the prayer so that we are asking G-d to send the angels to bring Him our prayers. Specifically, he says that the prayer should say מכניסי רחמים יכניסו רחמינו, משמיעי תפלה ישמיעו תפלתינו, מכניסי דמעה יכניסו דמעותינו, ולכך ישתדלו וירבו תחינה ובקשה i.e., we ask G-d that angels should bring in our merciful prayers, tears, and supplications.

●      The Chatam Sofer[25]

Rabbi Moshe Sofer, called the Chatam Sofer, explains that, although one may need an intermediary to speak to a human king, we do not need angels to act as intermediaries since G-d loves us even more than He loves angels and is happy to accept our (sincere) prayers even if they are flawed. Although one may ask a fellow-Jew to pray for him,this is because we are part of one body (so to speak), and we feel each other’s pain. As such, it is appropriate for the “head” (the tzadik) to make the request instead of the “foot” (the ordinary person).

Rabbi Sofer wrote that although he disagreed with saying these prayers and would not personally say them, he did not stop the community from saying them since, as mentioned, G-d does not reject even flawed prayers.

Those who Agreed

The following authorities defended the text of these prayers:

●      The Leket Yosher

Rabbi Yosef ben Moshe, a student of Rabbi Israel Isserlain (author of the Terumat HaDeshen), wrote[26] that one may say these prayers since we are merely asking the angels to present our prayers to G-d.

●      Rabbi Eliezer Roke’ach

The Roke’ach wrote that, in previous generations it was not necessary to ask for angels to intercede on our behalf as we were beloved to G-d. Nowadays, when we are in exile, we need extra intercession to make our prayers more effective.

●      The Tzemach Tzedek

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn (the third Lubavitcher Rebbe known as the Tzemach Tzedek) wrote at first[27] that the prayer of Machnisei Rachamim should be amended to read “Av Horachamim” (merciful Father). Later on, however,[28] he defended the common text of the prayer and explained that we are simply asking the angels to fulfill their mission of bringing our prayers to G-d and to deliver His blessings to this world.

May G-d hear all of our prayers!

[1] First opinion in Bereishit Rabbah 75:4

[2] See Numbers 20:16 and commentaries (but see Ibn Ezra who says that the verse there refers to an actual angel), II Divrei HaYamim 36:16 and commentaries and Shoftim 2:1

[3] See Rashi on Ta’anit 24a who says, “It is forbidden to benefit from miracles as this will diminish one’s merits.” See Ta’anit 20b and Shabbat 32a. This is based on a verse in this week’s parsha (Gen. 32:11), “I have become small from all the kindnesses… that You have rendered Your servant.,” I.e., when G-d renders an act of kindness (such as a miracle) to a person this makes his merits “small.”

[4] Gen. 32:1

[5] Mizrachi on Rashi. See also Ba’al HaTurim on Gen. 32:3 that the last word in last week’s parsha, “מַֽחֲנָֽיִם” in an acronym for מאותם חיילים נטל יעקב מלאכים – “From those troops, Yaakov took angels.”

[6] Likutei Sichot vol. 5, page 389 and on

[7] See Gen. 25:29 see also ibid 27:41

[8] Ba’er Heitev, end of O.C. 603 quoting Be’er Sheva on Sanhedrin 95a, who says that if one hired someone to do something dangerous and that person died while on the mission, the one who hired him must do teshuvah. This is based on the fact that King David was considered responsible for the deaths of the Kohanim of in Nov since he should have realized that receiving assistance from them might bring about cause their death. (See I Samuel 21 and 22.)

[9] Many of the sources in this article are quoted in an article by Rabbi Shlomo Shprecher printed in Yeshurun vol. 3 (1997) page 706 and on. See also a note of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Sefer HaMinhagim Chabad on the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur prayers.

[10] Deut. 4:7

[11] Sifri, as quoted in Pardes, Sha’ar 22, chapter 2 and in many other Kabbalistic sources. I have not found this in the Sifri.

[12] Brachot 9:1

[13] Joel 3:5

[14] Pirush HaMishnayot, Introduction to Chapter Chelek of Sanhedrin

[15] Sanhedrin 44b

[16] 36:12

[17] Sotah 33a and Rashi D.H Yachid

[18] But see Be’er Yaakov (an explanation of the Selichot by Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Panet) who explains that this prayer is referring to various tzadikim whom we ask to intercede on our behalf.

[19] Gen. 48:16

[20] The Maharam of Rotenburg wrote that Yaakov meant that the One who sent the angel to guard him from evil (i.e., G-d Almighty) should bless the lads (Responsa of Maharam, pg. 325 in the Berlin edition).

[21] His writings were printed in Jerusalem 1979, see there, page 73.

[22] Although Yaakov asked the angel with whom he wrestled to bless him (Gen. 32:27), it is possible that one may do so when the angel appears in the form of a man (Gesher HaChaim, vol. 2, 26:4). Alternatively, this can be understood that we are asking the angel to convey G-d’s blessing to us.

[23] Netivot Olam, Netiv Ha’avodah, 12

[24] See Ta’anit 16a

[25] Responsa O.C. 166

[26] End of Siman 252

[27] Shoresh Mitzvat Hatefilah, ot 7

[28] Hagahot on Torah Ohr D.H Ner Chanukah, chapter 7

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom Umevorach!

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