This Motzei Shabbos, we begin the recitation of Selichos, supplications begging for forgiveness in the advent of the Yomim Noraim. Amongst the many piyutim included in the Selichos, is the piyut of Machnisei Rachamim. Machnisei Rachamim is a piyut that is said at the end of Selichos, asking the Malachim to please bring our supplications and cries before Hashem.
מכניסי רחמים הכניסו רחמינו לפני בעל הרחמים משמיעי תפלה השמיעו תפלתנו לפני שומע תפלה משמיעי צעקה השמיעו צעקתנו לפני שומע צעקה מכניסי דמעה הכניסו דמעותינו לפני מלך מתרצה בדמעות השתדלו והרבו תחינה ובקשה לפני מלך רם ונש. הזכירו לפניו השמיעו לפניו תורה ומעשים טובים של שוכני עפר יזכור אהבתם ויחיה אותנו בטרם שלא תאבד שארית יעקב כי צאנו של רועה נאמן היה לחרפה. ישראל גוי אחד למשל ולשנינה מהר עננו ופדנו מגזרות קשות והושע ברחמיך הרבים משיח צדקך ועמך
This has not been without controversy and has caused much confusion as to whether or not we should indeed say this piyut.
I would like to explore the history of the controversy and attempt to clarify if it is correct to say this piyut.
Much of this is based on an article in Yeshurun by Rav Shlomo Sprecher Vol #3
As an aside, it is interesting, that there have been many piyutim that we skip in Selichos or which simply do not appear anymore, as the Gedolim felt they were improper. Machnisei Rachamim, of unknown origin, always managed to sneak back into the Machzor. This only deepens the curiosity to understand the nature of this piyut and the history of its controversy.
“The fifth yesod is that it is only befitting to serve, exalt and spread awareness of Hashem, however, you should not do so to anything which is beneath Hashem, including angels, stars, planets, comets etc… as they are all controlled by Hashem and do not have free choice. And one should not make these as intermediaries with which to reach Hashem, rather we should direct all our thoughts to Hashem alone.”Rambam (1138-1204) in the fifth of his thirteen fundamentals
This is seemingly based on Yerushalmi Brachos 63a which says that when a person needs help, he cannot go directly to the wealthy guy for help, rather he must speak to the doorman who will then decide if he can speak to his master. But Hashem, does not work like that. If someone needs help, he should not cry to Gavriel or Michoel, rather, Hashem says, he should cry directly to Me and I will answer him immediately.
This Rambam is the source for the controversy. As Machnisei Rachamim, amongst many other piyutim are directly contrary to this because we are asking the Malachim to intercede on our behalf. Among the more popular of such piyutim we find Shalom Aleichem, Hamalach HaGoel, Malachi Rachamim, and Bamarom Yelamdu in Birkas HaMazon.
The gemara in Shabbos 12b quotes Reb Yochanan who says that anyone who asks for their personal needs in Aramaic, the Malachim will not be able to help him. This is because they do not know Aramaic. The question was posed to Rav Shereira Gaon (906-1006) Shu’t HaGeonim Siman 373: We find many times that tefillos were said in Aramaic, does this contradict Reb Yochanan? Reb Shereira Gaon answered that the only time one should not daven in Aramaic is if he is directing his tefillos to the malachim. However if one is directed his tefillos to Hashem he can ask in any language. This furthers our question because the Gaonim seem to suggest that requesting of Malachim is normal.
Alternatively, Rav Ovadia Yosef Zt’l (1920-2013) in Yechave Daas Volume 3, Siman 43 explained that this din only applies when davening alone as opposed to when davening with a tzibbur. When one davens with the tzibbur, the Shechina is there in a higher concentration and therefore one does not need help to bring his tefillos to Hashem. However, when davening alone, although the Shechina may be there, it is in a much lower concentration and therefore needs the Malachim. So you should not daven in a language that the Malachim do not understand.
The Orchos Chaim (1250-1328) and the Kol Bo explain that Reb Yochanan was merely trying to teach us to focus on our tefilla. Meaning that Aramaic is a foreign language, which is not spoken easily, so people get mixed up with it and can cause a person not to have the proper Kavanna. He explains further, that the statement by R’ Yochanan who explains how the Malachim do not know Aramaic, is not referring to literal Malachim rather it means the “positive energy from which comes good. This is called “Malachai HaShares”. We see that he held that not only should one not daven to a Malach, but that a Malach has absolutely nothing to do with our tefillos. Our tefillos go directly to Hashem, regardless.
Aside from the Rambam mentioned above, Rav Yosef Albo (1380-1444) in Sefer HaIkkarim 2/17; Ramban (1194-1270) Bereishis 46;1; Abarbanel (1437-1508) in Rosh Emuna Chapter 12, amongst others, all agree that davening to Malachim is akin to Avoda Zara and the sole direction and focus of our tefillos should be towards Hashem. The Ramban in Parshas Yisro says clearly that we cannot use Malachim as intermediaries between us and God and clearly states that one should not recite Machnisei Rachamim for this reason.
The Maharam M’Rottenberg (1220-1293) also writes that it is prohibited to use Malachim as intermediaries between us and God. Therefore, he calls for a cessation of the saying Machnisei Rachamim. His basis is that we don’t find anywhere amongst the Avos, Neviim or even the Anshei Knesses Gedola an instance of tefilla that is directed to a entity other than Hashem. The Maharam explains that when Yaakov Avinu said Hamalach Hagoel, it was not a tefilla to the Malach, rather it was a tefilla that the One who sent the Malach should also bless the ne’arim.
Rav Yehuda bar Yakar(1150-1250), the primary Rebbe of Ramban explains that although we find the concept of Malachim bringing out tefillos to the Kisei haKavod, we do not find that the Neviim would ask the Malachim or the deceased to daven for us. Rather they would go to the Tzaddikim of the generation and ask them to daven for us. Therefore, he suggests that the piyut Machnisei Rachamim, is not at all directed at the Malachim, rather it is directed at the Tzaddikei Hador that they should take our cries and daven on our behalf.
However, the Shibolei HaLeket (1210-1280) says that there is no problem of saying Machnisei Rachamim. He proves it from a gemara in Sanhedrin 44b that one should always daven that he should not be prosecuted from the Malachim, which is explained by Rashi (1040-1105) to mean that the Malachim should help and ask for Rachamim on his behalf. We see clearly, says the Shibolei HaLeket, that one needs to ask the Malachim to help him and not prosecute him. The Rashash says that this gemara is only talking about a Yachid, but not a Tzibbur, as explained above and therefore according to the Rashash (1794-1872) this would not be sufficient proof to permit the recital of Machnisei Rachamim.
The Rokeach (1176-1238) explains the reason why we would need a Malach to intermediate on our behalf. He writes: “During the period of the Beis Hamikdash we were very close to Hakadosh Baruch Hu and we did not have to talk via Shliach. Once the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, we became like Avadim, and we need to send a representative to Hashem.
This issue continued to provoke controversy over the centuries.
The Mahari Bruna (1400-1480) writes that which we are directing our tefillos towards the Malachim is only a form of humbleness of not talking directly to the King. Therefore, there is no problem to say Machnisei Rachamim and it should not be looked upon as davening through an intermediary.
The Mabit (1505-1585) and the Maharal (1520-1609) explain at length why it is that we can ask Tzaddikim to daven for us and not Malachim. The Mabit explains that a person may come to treat a Malach as an entity that can change things for his good if he davens to them. However a tzaddik is a human and no one will make that mistake. Additionally, a Malach is not in this world and dealing with the issues we deal with, rather the sole function if the Malach is to praise Hashem. This might lead one to think that Malachim are above nature and befitting to be prayed to. However, the tzaddik understands the ways of the world and they also have to deal with the issues on Earth. So people will not be mistaken the same way.
The Maharal suggests that we change the language of Machnisei Rachamim to be directed towards Hashem and not towards the Malachim.“The One who brings in mercy should bring in our mercy. The One who hears tefilla, should hear our tefilla. The One who brings in the tears should bring in our tears and therefore I will try and increase my tefilla before you etc…”
As there was still a clear disagreement over whether we should say Machnisei Rachamim or not, this led to much confusion and machlokes in communities across the globe.
In the community of Trieste, Italy about three hundred years ago, there erupted a controversy between two camps. The more philosophical and rationalist camp and the more kabbalistic and traditional camp. This was in essence representative of what would become known as Ashkenaz and Sefard.
This controversy started when the Etz Shasul, Reb Gedalya ben Shlomo of Poland (17th century) allowed Machnisei Rachamim to be said, explaining that Malachim do not have free choice, so if they are beseeching Hashem on our behalf it is only because Hashem wants them to do that, hence, it is a kavod for Hashem.
The Hadras Kodesh, R’ Yitzchak bar Yakov Yosef HaLevi, also defended the saying of Machnisei Rachamim as it brings more honor to Hashem when we do not request things from him directly, rather through intermediaries. This is also a recognition of the beseecher that he recognizes his place vis a vis God. He is humble and approaches God via a middle agent.
This was vehemently opposed by the more rationalist camp and erupted in a war of pamphlets published by the two sides. At the end, they presented the argument to the two leading Rabbanim of Italy, Rav Shabsi Elchanan Rikanti and Rav Shimshon Morpurgo (1671-1740) who both agreed that one can say Machnisei Rachamim and similar tefillos.
With the rise of the reform movement, the controversy erupted once again. The early leaders of the movement attempted to abridge the Siddur and cut out the parts they deemed unnecessary. This caused a fascinating twist of positions. While the controversy had earlier had a Halachic focus, whether or not this is akin to Avoda Zara, and both the questioners and those who answered were sincere Talmidei Chachamim who cited their sources. Now, the questioners were irreligious who were questioning the legitimacy of Machnisei Rachamim and whether it was necessary to include it as part of the Siddur. Therefore the Rabbanim had to change from a Halachic approach to a Hashkafic approach. They did not want to give the Reform any sort of chance to feel victorious in their attempts to change the Mesora of Klal Yisrael. Therefore Machnisei Rachamim, which was something that was in our mesora for generations was not to be erased from the Siddur as that would open a floodgate for other such changes.
This issue became a focal point of controversy throughout Germany and ultimately led to the creation of Kehilas Adas Yeshurun which would allow people to daven as per Mesoras Yisrael.
It was during this period that the Shaila was bought to many Gedolim who ruled that one should definitely continue saying Machnisei Rachamim.
The Chasam Sofer (1762-1839) OC 166, ruled that really the Maharal is correct that we do not need a Meiltz or an intermediary to daven for us, but since the tzibbur says it, we should not change form what the tzibbur says. He added that he himself says an extended Tachanun to avoid saying Machnisei Rachamim.
In 1879, the leaders of United Synagogue of London came to the Rav, Chief Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler (1803-1890) who was referred to by the Chasam Sofer as a Gadol HaDor, with a list of changes to be made to the Siddur, including all tefillos directed at Malachim. Rav Adler was forced to agree to these demands and this was a factor which led to his decision to resign from his position. The resulting split in the community ultimately led to the establishment of Khal Machzikei HaDas which was founded by Rav Meir Lerner. One of the activists who was involved in the founding of this new Kehilla was Rav Michoel Levi, the son in law of Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch (1808-1888). This community was centered on respecting and valuing Mesoras Yisrael.
Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch was the leader who fought the most against the reform movement to defend the Torah. In a letter to his son in law, Rav Michoel Levi, who was facing strong Reform opposition to his efforts to build up Kehilla in England, Rav Hirsch wrote very strongly that the same way we can ask people to daven for us, we can ask Malachim to daven for us, and therefore there is no reason not to say Machnisei Rachamim. This seems to be directly contrary to the Maharal and the Mabit who clearly differentiated between Man and Angel. However, based on the politics of the time, it is understandable why he showed his support for it.
More recently, Rav Yitzchak Weiss (1902-1989) Shu’t Siach Yitzchak 411, and others have paskened that one should not say Machnisei Rachamim. However, R’ Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986) Igros Moshe OC 5:43 and Reb Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (1910-1995) Halichos Shlomo, Tefilla, said that one could say it as long they understand that they are asking the Malachim to bring the tefilla to Hashem, but not actually davening to Malachim.
There is still no clear consensus as whether or not one should say Machnisei Rachamim or not. However, it seems that nowadays people enjoy the chizuk of a nice inspirational Niggun. R’ Chaim Benet composed a beautiful tune to Machnisei Rachamim. It was popularized by Mordechai ben David and has caused the piyut to be more accepted. It is indeed sung aloud in shuls across the globe.
tl;dr Machnisei Rachamim is a piyut which has caused controversy since the times of the Geonim, through the Rishonim and Acharonim. The controversy took a twist with the rise of the reform movement and the piyut has now gained world wide acceptance thanks to an inspiring niggun by Mordechai Ben David.