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The zemer "Shalom Aleichem" is obviously addressed to angels. The Tur (OC Siman 3) gives a short text to says before entering the bathroom: התכבדו מכובדים משרתי עליון, etc. (also obviously addressed to angels).

The Shulchan Aruch (OC 3:1) rules not to say it nowadays. The Mishnah Brurah (3:1) explains that this is because we don't assume we have angels following us around nowadays.

If so, why do we say Shalom Aleichem if angels don't follow us around nowadays? The answer is not that it's different on Shabbos, because if so, we should say התכבדו מכובדים on Shabbos!

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Perhaps they leave when we say "Tzeischem"? –  HodofHod Jul 4 '12 at 2:41
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@DoubleAA I think it does; it removes his dismissal of the answer that "Shabbos is different". –  HodofHod Jul 4 '12 at 4:09
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@HodofHod And what if you go to the bathroom between Maariv and Kiddush? –  Double AA Jul 4 '12 at 4:13
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@HodofHod, what if you pause after "Boachem..." because you need to use the facilities? :-) –  msh210 Jul 4 '12 at 5:33
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@msh210 Lo plug! –  avi Jul 5 '12 at 9:37
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4 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Dayan Raskin, in his notes on the Chabad Siddur (page 272, note 97), brings a Reshima of the Rebbe Rashab, 5th Lubavitcher Rebbe. In this note, the Rebbe Rashab points out that the Arizal says one should say "התכבדו מכובדים" before entering the bathroom, since this will help prevent him from thinking Torah thoughts in the bathroom. He then points out that the Shulchan Aruch HaRav says not to say it, and says "It is possible that Shabbat is different".

Alternatively, it appears that the Chatam Sofer did not say Shalom Aleichem for this reason. (I haven't found the actual text, but I have seen other places quote the "Minhagei Chatam Sofer" to this effect. For example, see page 6 of this pdf.)


Some thoughts of my own:

  • The angels of friday night do not shadow us everywhere we go. They accompany us from when we leave the synagogue until we return home (See the Talmud Shabbat 119B quoted in @joshwaxman's answer). In other words, even if we went to the bathroom, the angels would not follow us there.

  • Furthermore, apparently based on this Gemara, the Arizal said that when one returns home one should say "Shabbat Shalom". This, Dayan Raskin points out, appears to be the source of the instructional language before "Shalom Aleichem" used in the Chabad Siddur - "K'Sheyavo L'Beito Yomar Zeh", "When one comes home one should say this".

    I would interpret this to say: Shalom Aleichem is not, as most people assume, a prelude to Kiddush. Rather, one should say it as soon as he gets home, since that is when the angels pronounce judgment (even if one was going to wait a little before making Kiddush)

  • The Shaarei Teshuva (3:1:1), brings opinions that we say "התכבדו מכובדים" even now, and quotes the Maharam Papr"sh (?) that it is a Chiddush of the Arizal to say it even now. The Shaarei Teshuva offers that perhaps this only applies to people who constantly learn Torah.

    Based on this, it like to offer a Chiddush. The Arizal is not referring to the same angels that the Talmud (Berachot 60B) is referring to. The Talmud is talking about Angels that would constantly ,accompany a person of certain spiritual stature. Those are the angels that the Beit Yosef is referring to when he says we are no longer on that level.

    The Arizal on the other hand, is referring to the angels created when we learn Torah (here's an essay from the Baal HaTanya that discusses angels created by learning Torah and doing Mitzvot). The Arizal is saying that before one enter the bathroom, one should ask his Torah to stay outside, so that he won't think Torah thoughts in the Bathroom.

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1

The Mishna Brurah's explanation is that "we are not established as yerei shamayim [to the extent] that angels accompany us, such we would request they wait for us until we come out."

If so, it is a function of the gavra, the status of people nowadays. A lower stature means angels not always accompanying someone. However, this is different from angels triggers by a specific maaseh, action. The gemara in Shabbat 119b:

It was taught, R. Jose son of R. Judah said: Two ministering angels accompany man on the eve of the Sabbath from the synagogue to his home, one a good [angel] and one an evil [one]. And when he arrives home and finds the lamp burning, the table laid and the couch [bed] covered with a spread, the good angel exclaims, 'May it be even thus on another Sabbath [too],' and the evil angel unwillingly responds 'amen'. But if not, the evil angel exclaims, 'May it be even thus on another Sabbath [too],' and the good angel unwillingly responds, 'amen'.

discusses special angels triggered by this specific event. This does not necessarily have anything to do with one's level of holiness.

2

Even if we adopt the Mishnah Brurah's explanation of this minhag (not to say the bathroom request) as Rav Yosef's Karo's reason, we should realize that Rav Yosef Karo predated the creation of the piyut of Shalom Aleichem. Rav Yosef Karo lived from 1488 – 1575, while Shalom Aleichem was authored in the 17th century. So, perhaps Rav Yosef Karo would have agreed that one should not sing Shalom Aleichem.

Meanwhile, the Arizal ((15341 – July 25, 1572) was in favor of stating the bathroom angel address. (See Shaarei Teshuva on the same page as that Mishna Brura.) And this is a matter of minhag, rather than pure halacha. Or, saying a specific address when entering the bathroom seems more like halachah, while which piyutim to sing on Friday night enters the realm of minhag. Who is to say that something as organic as minhagim needs to be systematically consistent.

3

I sing Shalom Aleichem on Friday night, but I don't believe that the aforementioned gemara refers to actual, winged angels. Rather, the gemara clearly carries a metaphorical message, about gaining momentum in maintaining order / disorder, in preparing for Shabbos. Not only does mitzvah goreres mitzvah, but as one succeeds in making a pleasant and orderly Shabbos one week, he has the momentum to carry that same process forward to further weeks.

And singing the piyut is a way of reminding ourselves of the gemara and its message, rather than a means of speaking to (and blessing) actual angels.

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+1 for #1, seems on the mark. (The others seem plausible also, to some extent.) –  msh210 Jul 4 '12 at 5:35
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Thanks. My own favored answer is #2, that one should not expect to find consistency in minhagim, which are innovated at different times by different people. –  josh waxman Jul 4 '12 at 13:18
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As per this shuir Rav Kook says that the reason we no longer say התכבדו מכובדים משרתי עליון is because we no longer wear tefillin all day. However since Shabbos comes in place of tefillin it is appropriate to sing shalom aleichem

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So on Shabbat should we say התכבדו מכובדים משרתי עליון ? –  Double AA Oct 9 '13 at 23:40
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They still come on shabbos even nowadays

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So you speak to them before going to the bathroom on shabbos nowadays? –  Double AA Jul 5 '12 at 12:23
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