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Respect for Scholars During Prayer

August 11, 2015

As a follow up to my answer to the first question here, I would like to note the opinion of the Vilna Gaon. Normally, he rejects any practice that has no basis in the ancient sources. For example, he outright rejects the practice of the Hasidei Ashk’naz to avoid reciting the blessing of sheheheyanu during the three weeks, and his ideological heirs resisted ruling that the sheva’ b’rachoth of a wedding meal only be recited in a setting without women. (According to the hasidic practice that has spread throughout the frum world, the seven blessings are recited in the presence of at least ten men, and because the seating must be separate, no women are thus taking part.) Concerning the stringent practice of not kissing children in the synagogue, the Vilna Gaon references a rule found in the Zohar: One should not pray standing behind his rebbe, mentor, for he thus shows reverence to the mentor when he should be showing it only to God. (A similar rule can be found in B’rachoth 27a-b.) This is nearly analogous to the case of showing love for others when one should be showing love for God. However, there is a critical distinction.

Earlier, I wrote:

Our ancestors did not consider showing love for children and brothers to be out of place, even when they were “standing before God.” I believe that this takes the analogy of God as a jealous husband too far, as God’s jealousy is not aroused by his beloved actually loving another person, but rather by his beloved, the Children Of Israel, straying after other Gods. That, is the “Love of God” our prophets discussed refers to exclusivity of religious devotion, to the exclusion of idolatry, but love for other people is another issue altogether.

However, Yirath Shamayim, lit. fear of heaven, is not “yirath ha’onesh, fear of punishment” but rather “yirath harom’muth, fear of the exaltedness,” or in our terms, reverence of God, and it is something that has physical manifestation. That is, although we show love of God through worship and enthusiasm while keeping the commandments, we revere Him by showing reverence to His sanctuaries, and His Torah and scholars of that Torah. We stand when the Torah or the scholar passes because of the One who commanded us to respect His law. We bless Him when we see one of His scholars by saying “Blessed be Thou… who hast given of His wisdom to those who fear Him.” Therefore it would be very problematic to show reverence for representatives of the Torah during prayer, because that very reverence emanates from the ultimate reverence due to God in its entirety. However, to show love for family during prayer does not subtract, so to speak, for the love due to God during worship because they are entirely different concepts.

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From → halacha, logic, original

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