Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"Brich Shmei"

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

Whenever the Torah is taken out to be read, the enigmatic Aramaic prayer of Brich Shmei is recited as it is removed from the Aron Kodesh. Taken from the Zohar, [1] Brich Shmei is a prayer which asks for God’s compassion and mercy upon His people, and that He rebuild the Beit Hamikdash. It is also a very powerful and potent declaration of faith in God and His Torah.

We are taught that when the Torah is removed from the Aron Kodesh in preparation for reading, the Gates of Compassion are opened in Heaven. It is therefore most fitting that the Brich Shmei be recited at that time, taking advantage of these auspicious moments. There are different customs regarding when to begin the recitation of Brich Shmei. Common custom is to begin reciting it immediately upon the opening of the Aron Kodesh, preceded first by the “Vayehi Binsoa” verses.[2] Nevertheless, there are those who maintain that it is to be recited only after the Torah has actually been removed from the Aron Kodesh and is being held by the leader.[3] If one has not recited Brich Shmei earlier, it may be recited up until the commencement of the Torah reading.[4] It is commendable to make every effort to recite it along with the rest of the congregation.[5]

Some authorities maintain that Brich Shmei was originally intended to be recited only on Shabbat and Yom Tov.[6] Some include Rosh Chodesh as well in this original enactment, in this way limiting its recitation to those days on which Mussaf is recited. This is because Brich Shmei discusses the "Crown of God", as does the Kedusha of the Mussaf prayer, “Keter Yitnu L’echa”, according to the Sefard rite.[7] Other authorities claim that Brich Shmei was only truly intended for the Shabbat afternoon Mincha service.[8] There have even been authorities in the past who had prohibited reciting Brich Shmei on weekdays![9] As such, there are differing customs today as to when Brich Shmei is to be recited, especially amongst Sefardic congregations. Among the majority of Ashkenazi communities, Brich Shmei is recited any time the Torah is removed from the Ark in preparation for a public reading.[10]

It is interesting to note that there have been a number of authorities who have advocated omitting Brich Shmei entirely.[11] Among their grievances with Brich Shmei is its inclusion of the words “V’la Al Bar Elahin Samichna” (“we do not rely upon the sons of God”) which can be interpreted as acknowledging heresy.[12] In reality, however, the words “Bar Elahin” are translated as “Angels”, as if to say that we don’t trust in angels – only in God. Indeed, we find in a number of places throughout scripture that “Bar Elahin” refers to Angels.[13]There is also a small community of Yemenite Jews known as the “Dor Deah” movement that have omitted all references from the Zohar in their prayers, including Brich Shmei, due to their doubt on the authority of the Zohar. There is reason to suggest that the Rambam omitted Brich Shmei, as well (-ahem-, Professor Kaplan?).

There are those who recommend that when reciting the words “Ana Avda D'kudsha Brich Hu De'sagidna Kamei" ("I am a servant of the Holy One, blessed be He, who bows before Him") one should bow so as to act consistently with the words one is saying.[14] This is similarly the case regarding the Aleinu prayer where we are to bow slightly when we say “V’anachnu Korim” (“and we bow”).[15] Others are not particular about this bowing, perceiving it as a figure of speech rather than an intended motion.[16]


[1] Zohar Vayakel
[2] Igrot Moshe 4:70, Aruch Hashulchan 282:1
[3] Mateh Ephraim 619:48, Rav Pe'alim 3:8, Sha'arei Ephraim 10:1
[4] Mishna Berura 134:13
[5] Mishna Berura 101:19
[6] Magen Avraham 282, Kaf Hachaim 134:11
[7] Rav Pe'alim Sod Yesharim 8, Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz
[8] Sha'arei Teshuva 488:2
[9] Nagid U’metzaveh p.130, but see Yechave Da'at 1:54
[10] Be'er Heitev 282:1, Pri Megadim E.A.282, Ma'aseh Rav 164
[11] Siddur Avodat Yisrael
[12] Piskei Teshuvot 134:13
[13] Bereishit 6:2, Iyov 1:6
[14] Yabia Omer 4:8
[15] Yabia Omer 4:8, Yitzchak Yeranen 3:12
[16] Kaf Hachaim 113:12

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