Monday, April 20, 2009

Rav Shmuel Palagi on Piyutim

In the past few posts, I have reproduced Rav Shmuel Palagi's polemic on the piyutim in Nirtza. This is actually found in a broader polemic against piyutim in general, and against specific tachnunim. He begins with a complaint about a certain Yehi Ratzon. I skipped over that initially because I wanted to focus on the more topical Pesach material. However, the broader context is useful, and perhaps necessary, for understanding Rav Palagi's point. Not that I necessarily agree with his point. But we shall develop it first, and only then respond to it. The text follows. Drawn from this larger work, available at (Also, see part i, part ii, part iii, and part iv.)

The author says: All my days I have been aggravated by the nusach of the prayer of Yehi Ratzon which is printed in the siddurim of my brothers and people of my nation, the Sefardim. For some of the Chassidim are accustomed to say every day, after the 72 pesukim, beginning with {Tehillim 3:4}:
ד וְאַתָּה ה, מָגֵן בַּעֲדִי; כְּבוֹדִי, וּמֵרִים רֹאשִׁי. 4 But thou, O LORD, art a shield about me; my glory, and the lifter up of my head.
and after these 72 pesukim, they say a yehi ratzon filled with appellations referring to God, may His Name be Blessed.

And this prayer, Chazal disparaged it because of the multitude of appellations, as is brought down in masechet Berachot {33b} and Masechet Megillah:
A certain [reader] went down in the presence of R. Hanina and said, O God, the great, mighty, terrible, majestic, powerful, awful, strong, fearless, sure and honoured. He waited till he had finished, and when he had finished he said to him, Have you concluded all the praise of your Master? Why do we want all this? Even with these three that we do say, had not Moses our Master mentioned them in the Law and had not the Men of the Great Synagogue come and inserted them in the Tefillah, we should not have been able to mention them, and you say all these and still go on! It is as if an earthly king had a million denarii of gold, and someone praised him as possessing silver ones. Would it not be an insult to him?
Until here is the story involving this pious one {chassid}.
And the Rambam wrote in his honored sefer, chelek 1, perek 59, and this is his language: And see first that they silenced and disparaged the requirement of multiple appellations. And contemplate how to see how these appellations they left only to our intellect, not to say them ever and not to speak a matter of them. Howbeit, when it is necessary in the speech of mankind in that they must have some sort of form -- as they have said that the Torah speaks in the language of people --

such that they describe for themselves the Creator to the extent that they can, our purpose is to stand upon these statements and only read them when we read in the Torah.

However, since the Men of the Great Assembly, and prophets, came as well and arranged their mention in prayer, our purpose is to only say them {in prayer}.

And the main point of the explanation of this statement {of Rabbi Chanina} is that there are two factors are present when we pray using them {the appellations}. The first one is that they came in the Torah and the second one is that the prophets arranged the prayer with them. And without the first factor, we would not mention them. And without the second factor, we would not move them from their place {in the Torah} and would not pray with them. Yet you {say Rabbi Chanina} increase appellations!

Behold, it is already explained to you from these words that not everything that one finds from the ascribed appellations are fitting for us to pray with and to say. For he {=Rabbi Chanina} did not {merely} say, "had Moshe Rabbenu of blessed memory said them, we would not be able to say them. Rather, he imposed another {additional} condition, and said, "and the Men of the Great Assembly came and instituted them in prayer" -- then it is permitted for us to pray using them.

And not like the poets {paytanim} do in truth, that they
are energetic {?} in praises, and they extend and increase words -- they compose prayers and collects flowery phrases, to approach with them to the Creator, according to their conception. The describe the Creator with appellations which, if a person were to be described with it, the lack would be in his lap. For they do not understand these great and important matters which are strange to the intelligence of the common folk. And they take the Blessed Created as a stepping ground {?} for their tongues, and ascribe to Him appellations and recount about Him every thing that they think it fitting, and they are energetic to praise with this, until they arouse Him to act in accordance with their thoughts {as they described Him}.

And all the more so, if they find a verse from the words of the prophet, in this the matter is {so they think} permitted to them, to come to verses which one should publicize any way and to return them to their simple meaning, and they cut from them and the make from them clauses {seifim} and build upon them statements. And this heter {thing they permitted themselves} is abundant by the composers of songs {/poem: shir} and flowery prose, and by one who thinks he is making a song and ends up composing matters, some of which are complete heresy and some of which have the nonsense and loss {? due to ?} of imagination, such that it is fitting for a person to laugh at him according to his nature, and cry with the understanding of how such things as this are said regarding the lap of Hashem Yitbarach.

And would I not have mercy on the loss of those who say it, I would have related to you a bit from them from until there arose from it the place of sin {/error} in them. But they are sayings in which their lack is extremely apparent to one who understands. And one needs to contemplate and say if this is lashon hara and grievous motzi shem ra, or even more so, loosening of the tongue regarding the lap of Hashem Yitbarach and describing Him with descriptions He is above.

And this is not saying that this is rebellion, but rather reviling and blaspheming accidentally, from the general populace {hamon} which hears, and from the simple person who says them. However, he who understands the deficiency in these statements and {yet} says them, he is by me among those about whom is said {II Melachim 17:9}
ט וַיְחַפְּאוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, דְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר לֹא-כֵן, עַל-ה, אֱלֹהֵיהֶם; וַיִּבְנוּ לָהֶם בָּמוֹת בְּכָל-עָרֵיהֶם, מִמִּגְדַּל נוֹצְרִים עַד-עִיר מִבְצָר. 9 and the children of Israel did impute things that were not right unto the LORD their God, and they built them high places in all their cities, from the tower of the watchmen to the fortified city;
and it is stated {Yeshaya 32:6}:
ו כִּי נָבָל נְבָלָה יְדַבֵּר, וְלִבּוֹ יַעֲשֶׂה-אָוֶן--לַעֲשׂוֹת חֹנֶף, וּלְדַבֵּר אֶל-ה תּוֹעָה, לְהָרִיק נֶפֶשׁ רָעֵב, וּמַשְׁקֶה צָמֵא יַחְסִיר. 6 For the vile person will speak villainy, and his heart will work iniquity, to practise ungodliness, and to utter wickedness against the LORD, to make empty the soul of the hungry, and to cause the drink of the thirsty to fail.
And if it is from one who attributes to the Honor of his Creator, you need not listen in any fashion, all the more so that you say them, and all the more so that you do like them.

And you already know the measure of the guilt of one who casts aspersions against On High. And you need not, in any fashion, bring yourself to the appellations of Hashem in an obligation to glorify him in your thoughts. And you should not go out of that which the Men of the Great Assembly ordered in the prayers and blessings. And with this is of necessity sufficient, and even more so, as Rabbi Chanina said. However, the rest of what comes in the books of the Prophets {and is not found in prayers and blessings} he should read when he encounters it {in Nach}. But he should believe about it that which we have already explained, that they are descriptions of his actions, or to inform about the rejection of absense. And this matter, as well, is not promulgated to the general populace, but this type of analysis is fit for singular individuals, that the glorification of the Creator by them is not that they say that which is not fitting, but rather that they understand in that which is fitting.

And we shall now return to complete the comment on the words of Rabbi Chanina and his wisdom. He did not say "a parable to a king who had one thousand thousand {=one million} gold dinarim and they praised him for having 100 dinarim {but rather silver instead of gold}." That this would inform about this parable that his Completeness is more complete that than completeness that they attribute to him, but that they are of the same type. And the matter is not so, as we have explained by example. Rather, the wisdom of this parable is that they said "gold dinarim and they praised him with those of silver," to

inform that these {praises} which are by us are indeed complete, {but} there is not by Him, Yitbarach, of their type at all, but rather all of them are {implying} a lack in His lap, as was explained. And it states in this parable, "Would it not be an insult to him?" Behold, it has already told you that all that you consider of those appellations to be complete, it is a lack in His lap, Yitaleh, when it is of the type which we have by us. And Shlomo has already written in poetry for us in this matter, that that which we have is sufficient, and said {Kohelet 5:1}:
א אַל-תְּבַהֵל עַל-פִּיךָ וְלִבְּךָ אַל-יְמַהֵר, לְהוֹצִיא דָבָר--לִפְנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים: כִּי הָאֱלֹהִים בַּשָּׁמַיִם וְאַתָּה עַל-הָאָרֶץ, עַל-כֵּן יִהְיוּ דְבָרֶיךָ מְעַטִּים. 1 Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thy heart be hasty to utter a word before God; for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth; therefore let thy words be few.

End quote.

Thus it is made clear that the prayer of Yehi Ratzon which is printed and ordered with the multitude of the aforementioned appellationed is disgraceful in the eyes of the sages of the gemara to say them, by force of the parable, "Would it not be an insult to him?"

And even though the Rav, Beis Yosef, wrote in his Shulchan Aruch, in siman 113, that one should not add onto the appellations of Hashem more than HaKeil, HaGadol, HaGibbor, veHaNora, and he, za"l, wrote that this is specifically in Tefillah {=Shemoneh Esrei}, because one should not change from the coinage that the Sages coined, but in supplications, requests, and praises that a person says by himself, we have not problem with it -- such that it appears according to his words that the multitude of appellations which one says in prayer or in praise which a person says of his own accord, it is fine, and there is not sin in this -- and if so, how have I said that the aforementioned prayer with the multitude of appellations are disgraceful and that they forbade it in the gemara? There is a single answer. That is why I said from the incident of Rabbi Chanina and his rebuke, it is apparent that even in the praise that a person says of his own accord, it is forbidden to increase upon the three known appellations. For if not so, why should Rabbi Chanina trouble to take of parables? He should have rebuked him about changing from the coinage of the Sages! We deduce from here that Rabbi Chanina was upset about the multitude of appellations, and not on the changing of the coinage that the Sages coined. If so, why should it matter whether it was the prayer of the public or whether it was just with himself, if it is an insult to Him?

And this is the language of the Tur: HaEil, Hagadol, Hagibbor, vehaNora, one should not increase upon it as we say in perek Ain Omedin. Therefore, one should not say that but which the first ones said. And Rabbi Yitzchak za"l explained that this was said specifically in Tefillah, for one should not change the coinage that the the Sages coined in blessings, but when by himself, we have no issue with it. But from the words of the Rambam it is apparent that it is forbidden in any context, and so it is logical according to the reasoning, for there is not to distinguish between Tefillah and supplications. End the language of the Tur.

Thus, behold, when he said "and so it is logical," he revealed that he agreed with the position of the Rambam. Behold, according to the position of the Rambam and the Tur, it is forbidden to increase in the appellations of Hashem, even when by himself. And just as the parable was brought in the gemara, "Would it not be an insult to him?"

And even the Bet Yosef who brought the position of Rabbi Yitzchak in the Shulchan Aruch, he closes his words there with this language: And still, it is proper for one who wishes to increase in the praises of the Omnipresent to say it in verses.

And the practical ramification is that the aforementioned prayer, even according to the conclusion of the Bet Yosef, it is not naeh {beautiful -- a reference to Ki Lo Naeh} to say it since it is not on the order of the verses. And it is extremely astounding for me how the Rav, the Bet Yosef, does not mention the maaseh rav in Masechet Sota daf 48, in our Mishna {47a}: JOHANAN THE HIGH PRIEST BROUGHT TO AN END THE CONFESSION MADE AT THE PRESENTATION OF THE TITHE. HE ALSO ABOLISHED THE WAKERS AND THE KNOCKERS.

And in the gemara: What does 'WAKERS' mean? — Rechavah said: The Levites used daily to stand upon the dais and exclaim {Tehillim 44:24}:
כד עוּרָה, לָמָּה תִישַׁן אֲדֹנָי; הָקִיצָה, אַל-תִּזְנַח לָנֶצַח. 24 Awake, why sleepest Thou, O Lord? Arouse Thyself, cast not off for ever.
He said to them, Does, then, the All-Present sleep? ...

And behold, in the days of Yochanan the Kohen Gadol there were great Sages, and they agreed with him to hold back this verse from the Levites. From here we learn two things.

(1) That a custom in error is not called a minhag, and it is a mitzvah to nullify it. For the Levites and the Sages were able to stand and plead to Yochanan that "this is the custom of our fathers in our hands," and they did not stand against him. We derive from here that a minhag in error is not a minhag and it is a mitvah to nullify it.

And we learn further (2) that it is not appropriate to supplicate before the Creator with designations {?} which are the appellations. And even if they occur in one pasuk, then when you encounter these appellations in the verses, you read them, in the Torah and in the Neviim, when you reach them. And this is as the Rambam wrote, but it is forbidden to increase in them in prayers and supplications, even when he is by himself, from the incident of Yochanan the Kohen Gadol, and from the incident of Rabbi Chanina, for we establish this as a maaseh rav.

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