Talmud Tips

For the week ending 2 September 2017 / 11 Elul 5777

Sanhedrin 44 - 50

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Prayer and Angels

Reish Lakish said, “One who makes an effort in his prayer here below will not have ‘troublemakers’ from Above.” Rabbi Yochanan said, “A person should always ask for mercy that all should make an effort for his strength, and then he will not have ‘troublemakers’ from Above.”

These two interpretations are taught in our gemara, and the Maharsha explains the textual basis for this dispute. These Sages offer two possible ways of learning the following verse: “Will you set up your prayer so that no trouble befall you, or any forces of strength?” (Iyov 36:19)

Rashi states that Rabbi Yochanan is including the efforts of the Administering Angels in helping a person’s prayer prevent troubles. However, it seems that Rabbi Yochanan is teaching that a person should pray to these angels when he prays to G-d, in order to maximize the effect of his prayers in preventing tragedy. This understanding would pose a great dilemma in how we are taught to pray, as explained by the Rambam (in his Thirteen Principles of Faith) and other Rishonim and Achronim. We are taught to pray only to G-d, and not to any other entity — including an angel.

One approach is that Rashi means that a person should pray to G-d alone, but request that G-d allow His angels to help provide for his needs and protect him from troubles, and not allow His angels to be opponents to the prayer’s wellbeing. (Maharal)

Another approach differs from Rashi’s explanation. Rabbi Yochanan is teaching that a person should ask that other people should pray for him, and not that he should pray to angels to assist him. (Meiri)

This entire subject of directing prayers towards angels is one of great scope and practical consequence, and is discussed at length by the commentaries, especially those on the Siddur and Machzor. One common controversy is singing “Barchuni l’Shalom Malachei HaShalom” (Bless us for Peace, Angels of Peace) on Friday nights. Although the widespread custom is to include these words, there are some people who have the custom not to say these words since they appear to be a plea of prayer to angels.

  • Sanhedrin 45b

Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai: "One who unnecessarily delays the burial of the deceased transgresses a Torah violation."

The Torah states, “If a man commits a sin for which he is sentenced to death, and he is put to death, you shall then hang him on a pole. But you shall not leave his body on the pole overnight. Rather, you shall bury him on that same day, for a hanging human corpse is a blasphemy of G-d, and you shall not defile your Land that the L-rd, your G-d is giving you as an inheritance.” (Deut. 21:22-23)

The mishna (45b) teaches that according to the Chachamim a man who curses the Almighty or worships idols and is sentenced to death by stoning is also hung afterwards. The verse above, however, teaches that after this capital punishment process the person should be buried without delay, and whoever is in charge of the burial violates a Torah prohibition if he fails to do so.

The next mishna (46a) explains the reason for burying him on the same day: “for a hanging human corpse is a blasphemy of G-d”. This means that since the person was punished for cursing G-d, it would be a desecration of G-d’s Name to leave his body hanging too long, since it would be a reason for people to say, “That’s the person who blasphemed the Name of G-d”. This mishna also states that if the burial is delayed in order to bring a coffin and shrouds the prohibition of “not delaying” is not transgressed.

  • Sanhedrin 46b

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