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In his Mishna Commentary to Sanhedrin 10:1 Maimonides lists as his 5th principle the prohibition to pray to an angel even as an intermediary. He counts this in his enumeration of his 13 principles in his Mishne Torah as well (Hil. Tshuva ch. 3).

How then are we to understand his codification in Laws of Tfilla (7:5) of a prayer addressed to angels

וְכָל זְמַן שֶׁיִּכָּנֵס לְבֵית הַכִּסֵּא אוֹמֵר קֹדֶם שֶׁיִּכָּנֵס הִתְכַּבְּדוּ מְכֻבָּדִים קְדוֹשִׁים מְשָׁרְתֵי עֶלְיוֹן עִזְרוּנִי עִזְרוּנִי שִׁמְרוּנִי שִׁמְרוּנִי הַמְתִּינוּ לִי עַד שֶׁאֶכָּנֵס וְאֵצֵא שֶׁזֶּה דַּרְכָּן שֶׁל בְּנֵי אָדָם. (Other versions of the text include even more prayer).

This formulation is more difficult as he writes elsewhere that the angels that accompany man are his positive and negative inclinations. “It is to the good and the evil inclinations that they refer in their well-known words," Every person is accompanied by two angels, one being on his right side, one on his left." In the Babylonian Gemara (Shabbath 119b), they say distinctly of the two angels that one is good and one bad.” (Moreh Nevuchim 3:22; Friedlander Trans.)

For a similar presentation of the angels that accompany a person, see Hil. Mezuzah 6:13.

Is it permissible to pray to one's inclinations?

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    This "supplication" is very much not the concept of prayer as the Rambam discusses it. Asking a malach to wait outside for you (as one might do for a friend) is a far cry from asking a malach to answer his prayers as one does for Hashem. Still, your latter point is intriguing... – Isaac Kotlicky Mar 17 '15 at 2:07
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    @IsaacKotlicky עִזְרוּנִי שִׁמְרוּנִי is more than a request that they wait for you...BTW I saw someone else make the point about the Rambam. – mevaqesh Mar 17 '15 at 2:59
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    Shimruni is related to the term "mishomrim laboker" which implies attentiveness, not guarding per se. – Isaac Kotlicky Mar 17 '15 at 3:00
  • @IsaacKotlicky afilu im timtza lomar hachi (I wouldve cited the verese v'aviv shamar es hadavar) the term עִזְרוּנִי is certainly a prayer. If I recall the Qafih edition includes ברכוני also. – mevaqesh Mar 17 '15 at 3:02
  • There is a slicha that Davens to the Middot of Hashem. My shul's Rabbi Paskened to skip it in shul. – ephraim helfgot May 16 '16 at 0:47
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+100

There is indeed at least unnamed but very early Rabbi who believed this prayer to be proof that there's no prohibition of praying to angels. See the responsum published by Simcha Emanuel in Hamayaan, Tishrei 5758. (This article attributes the same responsum to R. Eliezer Rokeach, though this is not necessarily correct).

Also, before answering the question directly, I'll note that Maimonides/Rambam does not believe that Biblical or Talmudic angels are to always be understood as man's inclinations (see the Commentary to Sanhedrin 10:1, for example, where they are intermediaries for prophecy). Just because he offers that explanation of a passage in Shabbos 119b, he wouldn't necessarily believe the same about these "angels".

Actually, there's a huge body of literature regarding what exactly would be problematic, in Maimonides'/Rambam's view, regarding 'praying to' (or making requests of) angels. I can't find a link right now to all of the many (approx. 30) sources that I know of myself. However, there are less sources dealing directly with this particular prayer, and I'll be happy to discuss those answer.

  1. One explanation is that Maimonides/Rambam probably did not have the version of the text that you cite above, but rather a version that lacked the phrase "עזרוני עזרוני" (as testified by the Bodleian MS. Huntington 80, the copy autographed by its great author). Thus, the only problematic two words (which seem like a 'prayer'), would be "שמרוני שמרוני", "protect me". However, R. Yehudah ben Yakar, in his commentary to the Siddur, explains that the phrase should be translated as "wait for me", just as the verse, "ואביו שמר את הדבר". (He recognizes that this renders the next phrase, המתינו לי as redundant, and his response to that issue is merely to not include it). This explanation is also suggested by R. Meir HaMeili of Narbonne (in the book Milchemes Mitzvah, printed in the back of his Sefer HaMeoros on Maseches Berachos)

  2. Rabbeinu Manoach, a very early commentator on the Rambam, writes that this prayer is indeed directed not to angels, but to certain intellectual faculties. By saying this 'prayer' before entering the lavatory, a person is actually reinforcing (to himself) that he shouldn't be fully using his rational faculty while in there (I assume because one is not permitted to study Torah in the bathroom) but at the same time doesn't want to abandon it completely.

  3. Another source that I know of which addresses this issue directly is R. Yaakov Emden in his commentary on the Tur, Mor U-Ketziah (O.C. 3). There, he explains that because he refers to the angels as משרתי עליון, it's clear that he doesn't believe that the angels have any independent agency, but he's speaking to them as emissaries of God. He believes that doing so avoids running afoul of Maimonides' 5th principle, which is merely that is isn't worth requesting anything of angels because they cannot act against God's will; here, a person is merely asking that they perform God's will happily. (See Abarbanel in Rosh Amanah ch. 12, and R. Moshe Feinstein, Iggros Moshe vol 8, O.C. 5:43:6). Personally, I'm not so convinced that Rambam/Maimonides would really be OK with this, especially if his source is the Talmud Yerushalmi 9:1)

  4. R. Asher Weiss discussed this question in a shiur from September 2006 (available here) and said that careful reading of Maimonides in both his Commentary to Sanhedrin as well as in Hil. Teshuvah 3:7 shows that he only prohibits prayer to angels if done as an expression of their status as intermediaries between oneself and God or serves them. However, if one merely "prays" to them to ask them a favor, this is not considered serving the angels in any way and is thus permitted. (However, this still seems to be against the Ramban in his "Toras H' Temimah", R. Yehudah ben Yakar in his commentary to Tachanun, and R. Shimon ben Tzemach Duran in Magen Avos ch. 4)

  • This article seems like it's pretty good – הנער הזה Mar 18 '15 at 23:18
  • 1) Thank You very much. I am almost certain the Qafih edition includes the words ברכוני though. 2) I dont see how that helps so much. Rambam writes (IIRC) that הוא לבדו ראוי להתחנן or some such (an equal question on 4). 3) If they dont have free will (as I believe Rambam holds except for a difficult passage in IT) then what does encouraging them to be happy accomplish? BTW I think that your answer is without exaggeration a masterpiece!! – mevaqesh Mar 18 '15 at 23:31
  • The viewer on the Oxford page wasnt working for me. Could you please transcribe the text? – mevaqesh Mar 18 '15 at 23:37
  • @mevaqesh I too am not convinced that Rambam himself would agree to the latter three, but I am more confident of the first. I sadly do not have easy access to Qafih's edition, but I doubt he'd go against the Huntington 80. Unfortunately, it appears that the website is currently having problems and I don't have a text version, but I'm pretty sure that the text is התכבדו מכובדים קדושים משרתי עליון שמרוני שמרוני עד שאכנס ואצא – הנער הזה Mar 18 '15 at 23:42
  • @mevaqesh but re:2, encouraging yourself cannot possibly be considered a prayer, and would this be allowed – הנער הזה Mar 18 '15 at 23:42
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Never did the Rambam understand this declaration as a "prayer" nor at any time did he deem requests or favors be permissible to ask of mal'akhim ("angels").

In an article written for the monthly newsletter of Makhon Mosheh and Halikhoth `Am Yisra'el - Or HeHalikhoth - by Rabbi Dr. Hhananel Sari (Shevat, 5773), the position of the Rambam from his own writings is explanation as regards the nature of mal'akhim and specifically the purpose and identity those that are constantly referred to by Hazal as accompanying each person.

...the mal'akhei ha-shareth that the gemara describes such as that they accompany a person [home from the beth kenesseth] on Shabbath, they appear to be the same mal'akhim that are mentioned in other places in the words of Hazal. They testify to the deeds of a person if he acts in a way that is not appropriate (cf. Ta`anith 11a), and from them it seems that a person needs to separate with apologies before they enter to perform their needs (i.e. use the bathroom - cf. Berakhoth 60b). The Shulhhan Arukh writes that today we no longer have the custom to say this apology, called "hithkhabdu mekhubadim" (OH 3:1), since we are not so strong in our yirath shamayyim that mal'akhim accompany us (cf. Mishnah Berurah). In the sefer "Kaf HaHhayyim" an opinion is brought in opposition to this that there are mequbalim who recommend to say it also in our times, since these mal'akhim continue to accompany each person also today. This mahhloqeth, whether or not mal'akhim still accompany people in our generation and if it is feasible to turn to them, for they comment on their observation that it accomplishes not only a positive assistance but it is also involved in [promoting] a more meticulous inspection of our deeds, these are debated due to a conception of mal'akhim which is far removed from that of the Rambam. In the Moreh Nevukhim (2:6, 3:22) the Rambam, in dealing with the explanation of the nature of mal'akhim, mentions that the meaning of the "mal'akh" is not always consistent, however the basic meaning is always "shaliahh". Because of this, each navi is worthy of being called by this name and even forces of nature through which HaQadhosh Barukh Hu manages His world, all of them are worthy to be called "mal'akhim" and they are known as the pamalya shel ma'alah (i.e. the entourage of HaQadhosh Barukh Hu). After this introduction, the Rambam brings a passage from Midrash Qoheleth that tells how when a person sleeps "nafsho omereth le-mal'akh umal'akh omer le-keruv - his soul speaks to the 'angel' and the angel speaks to the 'cherub'." And from here he learns that in the language of Hazal the creative faculty of a person is called a "mal'akh" ('angel') and his intelligence is called "keruv" ('cherub'). The Rambam knew that the majority of people were not accustomed to designating these parts of the soul as being mal'akhim and would even resist to accept this fact, therefore continues and says, "How important this is for the one who knows, and how ugly it is to those who are fools." We find therefore who these mal'akhim are according to the Rambam that accompany a person to every place that he goes, and it is clear now that in his opinion each person is accompanied by these two mal'akhim also in our times. Now it only reamins to clarify who is the "evil mal'akh" and who is the "good mal'akh." The question is not so difficult, yet the Rambam also deals with this question, but in another chapter of the Moreh (2:12).

Making requests - either for intercession or favors - from objects or beings other than HaShem is a violation of the 5th principle of Jewish faith and is the basis of all idolatry. Even nevi'im who receive their prophecies through the agency of a mal'akh don't ever make requests of them. Instead, they pray directly to God and allow God to use whatever means He deems necessary.

This particular statement amounts to little more than reminding one to hold off thinking holy and religiously constructive thoughts while in the bathroom until he finishes and exits. There is no prayer here and the phrases of "help me" and "guard me" etc. are later additions made by those who took this statement as a prayer to angels for protection from demons that supposedly live in the bathroom.

Hope this helps. Kol tuv.

  • Whence do you see the fifth principle limited to spiritual beings? – Double AA Jul 7 '15 at 4:31
  • The reasoning of the Shulchan Aruch is not that we don't have the angels but that we aren't such Yirai Shamayim to always be conscious of the company of angels. – HaLeiVi Jul 7 '15 at 4:33
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    @DoubleAA - I hear you and I guess I don't, but I had in mind "prayer" to "angels" specifically. But I agree with you that the 5th principle includes physical beings as well - such as "rebbes" and other such people, animals, the sun, moon, stars etc. – user3342 Jul 7 '15 at 4:40
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    @Maimonist What about asking me a favor ("can you please delete this comment later?") or telling an animal to do a trick ("sit, Rover!") or a "rebbe" to pass the soda ("Can the Rebbe please pass the Beer Mayim Chayim?")? Doesn't that count as asking for a favor from a physical being? – Double AA Jul 7 '15 at 4:46
  • Dude, it's midnight. What do you want that I should say? :) I don't mean to make light of your concerns just that I'm having trouble seeing straight. – user3342 Jul 7 '15 at 4:48
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The Maharal in Nesivas Olam (Nesiv Hoavoda 12) discusses the issue of Machnisei Rachamim. He is completely in line with the Rambam that it is absolutely Assur to pray to angels. However, he writes that it would be ok to say it as a command rather than a prayer.

In our case, this 'prayer' is actually telling them to wait rather than begging or praying to them. It seems that a function of this recital is to keep in mind that Hashem send us angels to protect us.

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