Calling Out to God

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by R. Gidon Rothstein

Parshat Ve-Zot HaBerakhaArukh HaShulchan Invokes Ki Shem Hashem Ekra

For our last discussion of a mitzvah connected to that week’s parsha, I am failing you doubly. First, as last week I took a mitzvah She’iltot discussed in Ve-Zot Ha-Brakha, this week, I’m taking material from Ha’azinu. Second, it’s not a specific Biblical mitzvah; instead, I want to look at some of the halakhic applications of a verse in Ha’azinu, Devarim 32;3, ki shem Hashem ekra, when I call out in the name of God.

On the plus side, I’m only looking at where Arukh HaShulchan includes the verse, making up a bit for the many times we did not look at his views this past year.

Birkhot Ha-Torah: Maybe De-Oraita?

It comes up first in Orach Chayim 47;1, where he points out Ramban’s gloss to the Sefer Ha-Mitzvot. Ramban’s fifteenth obligation Rambam failed to count is the one to thank God at all times we study Torah, for the great good Hashem did us in giving us this Torah, showing us how to live laudatory lives. (He seems to treat the berakhah as a birkat shevach ve-hoda’ah, praise and gratitude, rather than an ordinary birkat ha-mitzvah, blessing before performing a mitzvah. It might help justify our current practice, generally to recite the blessing only once a day.)

Berakhot 21a asked for a source for the blessing, and cited the verse we are studying, ki shem Hashem ekra, when we are about to call out in the name of Hashem (with our Torah study), we should give godel, greatness, thanks, praise, to our Lord.

Ramban is the Consensus!

In paragraph two, Arukh HaShulchan claims “all” the great Torah scholars agreed with Ramban (he lists Pri Chadash, Magen Avraham, Sha’agat Aryeh), were surprised by Rambam’s omitting it. He, however, insists Rambam, too, thought the berakhah was mandated by the Torah, just included it in the mitzvah of Torah study itself.

Ramban had marshaled two other examples to support the idea of its being a separate mitzvah: mikra bikkurim, the recitation of the Egypt story before giving the first fruits, and sippur Yetzi’at Mitzrayim telling the Exodus story before we eat the Pesach sacrifice. Arukh HaShulchan argues Rambam would have said both of those happen at a more distant juncture from the act than birkhat haTorah, which should be said immediately prior to some Torah study.

He knows and rejects the claim of some that only communal study requires a blessing beforehand at a Biblical level.

Before Mincha and Mussaf

Still in Orach Chayim, 111;2, Arukh HaShulchan notes Tur’s report of a custom to say our verse before the Amidah, the standing prayer we commonly call Shemoneh Esrei. In morning and evening services, he says it is incorrect, because the verse interrupts inappropriately between the blessing asserting God’s ge’ulah, redemption of the Jewish people, and the Amidah.

(He reminds us the Gemara considered the verse we do say, Hashem sefatai tiftach, Hashem open my lips, as well as the second post-Shema blessing in the evening, Hashkiveinu, a ge’ula arikhta, one long discussion of God’s redemption. It means we should consider carefully anything we say between the berakhah of ga’al Yisrael and our start of the Amidah, with various customs on the matter.)

In any prayer where no reference to God’s redemption preceded the prayer—Mussaf, Mincha, and Ne’ila—we can and do say ki shem Hashem ekra, before we call out in God’s Name, we give glory or greatness to God.

Barukh Hu u-Barukh Shemo

Tur tells us his father, Rosh, would say barukh Hu u-varukh Shemo, blessed is He and blessed is His Name, whenever he heard a blessing where he was not depending on that blessing for any fulfillment. We bless the righteous when they are mentioned (for example, we say zikhrono livrakhah, may his memory be a blessing, or for the living, nero ya’ir, may his light shine, etc.), all the more so for God, especially because of our verse, when Moshe says God’s Name, he tells us to give godel.

Should we need the blessing—such as where the person about to blow the shofar makes the blessing for all of us, to use a recent example—were we to say barukh Hu u-varukh Shemo, it would interrupt the berakhah we are “saying” by listening and responding amenArukh HaShulchan 124;10, says many Torah scholars disliked the whole practice because they doubted the general public would recognize the distinction, and would say the phrase even for berakhot they were supposed to be relying on to fulfill an obligation.

[The distinction fuels divergent practices around the chazzan’s repetition of the Shemoneh EsreiShulchan Arukh certainly seems to think we should be saying barukh Hu u-varukh Shemo for each blessing in the repetition. The Rov, R. Soloveitchik, zt”l, argued that the chazzan’s prayer was tefillat ha-tzibbur, the community’s prayer as a unit, and therefore everyone should stand with their feet together the whole time, as if praying themselves, and certainly not say barukh Hu u-varukh Shemo.]


Our last example is discussed in Orakh Chayim 191;1, based on Berakhot 45a, where the Mishnah lays out the idea of zimmun, three Jews of the same gender who ate together should add a section to their Grace After Meals, to turn it into a joint activity, an opportunity to have one call out in the Name of God, the other two (or more) give godel, glory, to Hashem with their response.

For a source, Berakhot 48b turned first to Tehillim 34;4, gadelu la-Shem iti, give glory to Hashem with me, implying three people, because the leader summons the two others (the minimum for a plural). Then the Gemara added our verse, perhaps because it appears in the Torah, with the same basic message.

Four examples, two likely de-oraita, of where we prefer praising God’s Name wherever we mention it, ideally in a group.

Maybe it is a fitting way to end the year, with a practice with clear Torah roots, perhaps some Biblical applications, that also shows us ways to act not specifically legislated by the Torah, the overall topic of our study these past two years. After Simchat Torah, God willing, I’m going to apply that process to Arukh HaShulchan more concentratedly, taking a siman at a time to see the rules he articulates, and their source. Looking forward to seeing you then, Gmar Hatimah Tovah!

About Gidon Rothstein

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