Standing for a מכתב ברכה?

Like me, I’d imagine that many readers have found themselves at a Simcha of some sort, where the בעל שמחה directs that a letter conveying blessings (מכתב ברכה) is read at a pre-determined moment. I’ve only seen this at Chabad Simchas; perhaps it happens elsewhere. Of course, the so called letter, today, is not real in the sense that it was written to the בעל שמחה by a living person, כמלא המובן. That is not the issue, however, that I’d like to discuss here. Let’s rewind the clock to the days when the Lubavitcher Rebbe ז’ל was in good health and the בעל שמחה had received a personal מכתב ברכה.

What happens, in my experience, is that all those present at the Simcha are requested to stand as a measure of respect. Someone is then chosen (it is considered a כיבוד) to read the letter and (usually) translate it. The person who reads the letter will generally don a hat and jacket, and will often gird himself with a Gartel. I surmise that this is because they see the ברכה from a Rebbe as being on par with the formal utterance of a תפילה, for which they would also normally be attired with hat, jacket and (once married) gartel.

What about the rest of us? How should we relate to this phenomenon? Is it like להבדיל when people are asked to stand for the national anthem at a Simcha? What occurs when we hear the audio of the Torah/Bracha of a great Rav, or even see the video of the same? Do we also stand? In my experience, we do not stand. Indeed, after the last Rebbe of Chabad passed away,many Chabad Shules play videos of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, immediately after Havdala. I am happy to stand corrected, but I haven’t seen too many people standing at attention throughout the presentation of such videos. So, it can’t be the mere fact that a Bracha is heard or a Rebbe is seen. There is more to it than that. Why is it different at a Simcha?

I postulate that the person reading the letter is a quasi-shaliach of the (Lubavitcher) Rebbe, and, as such, since שלוחו של אדם כמותו, they perceive a level of holiness in delivering a message and dress appropriately. Those who hear the message imagine that the (Lubavitcher) Rebbe himself is standing there and delivering the ברכה to the בעל שמחה.

Sephardim have a custom to kiss the hands of a Talmid Chacham

It might then be considered rude then for others to choose not to stand at such a time if they are specifically requested to stand. One could, of course, argue that now that things have changed, and the ברכה is no longer explicitly written for the purposes of the particular שמחה and בעל שמחה that by standing one is perpetuating denial, at best. Some might argue that one should davka sit to make this point and attempt to cajole people into accepting a reality that they are understandably uncomfortable with.

I have always had a different issue. Not for any reason of present צדקות but simply because it’s a הנהגה that I accepted בימי חרפי when I was learning in Israel, I stand during קריאת התורה. Yes, it’s a חומרה and doesn’t match what I’ve become since those days, but I digress. I wonder, then, how could it be that those people who don’t stand during קריאת התורה do stand during the reading of a מכתב ברכה?

The גמרא in :מכות כב says אמר רבא כמה טפשאי שאר אינשי דקיימי מקמי ספר תורה ולא קיימי מקמי גברא רבה. The message from that Gemora is that there are silly people who stand for a Sefer Torah but don’t stand for a great person (Talmid Chacham).  The Beis Halevi in his introduction to his Tshuvos, הקדמה לשו”ת בית הלוי states דהת”ח לא הוי בבחינת תשמיש קדושה רק בבחינת עצם הקדושה

In the words of the Beis Halevi, certainly not a Chassid, the Talmid Chacham is to be considered Kedusha personified. I imagine that this perhaps explains why there is a specific mitzvah to stand in the presence of a Talmid Chacham in the same way that one would stand in front of a Sefer Torah. It is true that a Talmid Chacham can be Mochel on that Kavod and tell you not to stand for him, and there is no such concept of Mechila for the honour of a Sefer Torah, but that is parenthetical.

An explanation then is perhaps that when a Chassid reads/hears a letter and then “sees” his Rebbe,  he or she stands in the “presence” of their Rebbe, כביכול.

I wonder then whether it might also be proper to stand for קריאת התורה on this basis. At least one should be able to see (the original) Moshe Rabenu in front of one’s eyes, transmitting Hashem’s word, and standing thereby accordingly?

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

9 thoughts on “Standing for a מכתב ברכה?”

  1. Isaac, I like the derech eretz you had while writing this post. Unfortunately there are those that post the same question and are not that kind.
    In regards to what you write about standing having to do with the one that reads it, it is simply not true. People will stand regardless of who reads it. The reason why people stand is because of the great respect they have for this letter that it is written, being that it comes from the Rebbe zy”a. Regarding videos and audio of the Rebbe, There are many that do stand while watching a video or listening to Sichah. The fact that you dont see it in Melbourne is no raya”h. If you will watch a video of a farbrengen you will notice that there are many people that are not standing. This probably has to do with the length of time for which they would have to stand. The same is true about kria”s Hatorah, many people stand, it can be quite long and they sit. The letter on the other hand, is hardly a tirchah at all, rather by standing up it is a great kavo”d. And how should you feel? if you don’t think that it is necessary, well a”l tifro”sh mi”n hatzibu”r.
    But in general, people have to realize that there is a difference between a herge”sh and halacha”h. Now is not the time to go into great detail. But if people have a herge”sh/minha”g that doesn’t step on anyones toes, I think we can deal with it.
    p.s. last year I mention the name of a gadol and you so swiftly reminded me to say “zatzal”, why when writing the Rebbe do you only write “zal”?

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    1. Thanks for your comments Mendy. I guess I shouldn’t learn a Binyan Av from Melbourne.
      In respect of zatsal versus zal, I recently changed the way I’d handle this. I had always been bothered by having to make snap decisions in who should get the Zadi and who should not. After listening to shiurim from the Rav it dawned on me that he referred to the biggest people as Zichrono Livracha. Maybe it’s a Litvishe thing. I decided that if it was good enough for him it was good enough for me. By the way, do Lubavitchers only use the Zadi for previous Rebbes? I know that after a year they sometimes use Nishmoso Eden. Not sure about how one decides!

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  2. If you want to see what Lubavitchers write, just open up any Sefer written by one of the Lubavitcher Rabbeim, there you will see the official suffix and usually for short just zy”a was written, except for the Rebbe Rasha”b whose title became the “Rebbe Nishmaso Edem” I think the reason is because that is the way the Previous Rebbe zy”a and the Rebbe zy”a referred to him.

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    1. Thanks Mendy.
      Sure, and that’s a chassidic approach. I don’t think yekkes or litvaks say זכותו יגן עלינו
      I don’t know what Sefardim do.
      Why would the Rashab have a different ending to the others?
      Also, I have noted that in speech, as opposed to in writing, people no longer say anything after the name once that person has effectively no living chassidim? or perhaps is a few generations back. For instance, they say the alter rebbe, but they don’t say זכותו יגן עלינו. Yet for the Rayatz, sometimes I hear it and sometimes I don’t. They might say the Frierdiger Rebbe, and say nothing after that. Seems to be a difference between קרי and כתיב?

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  3. You are right about kr”i and ksi”v. The Rebbe zy”a once remarked that the reason why we aren’t accustomed to saying “zecher tzadick livrocho” after mentioning the name of one of the Rebbeim, is because “Zecher” is only on something that is possible to forget, but the Rebbeim we do not forget.
    Writing on the other hand is different. The written word is Halachah and when the Rebbe wrote the names of the Rebbeim it was always with all of the titles.

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  4. I suspect that most people (including myself) just do what everyone else is doing. From now on, bli neder, I will try to be mindful of the halachic issues and be guided by the principles of “puk chazi” and “al tifrosh min hatzibbur”, and apply “minhag avoseynu beyodeinu” whenever I am in doubt.

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  5. It is absurd to equate standing for the layning with standing for reading someone’s letter. A letter is not the Torah which is the Word of Hashem Himself.

    Do we stand for the reading of the Haftaras which are Divrei Neviim, certainly on a higher level then that of a letter written by an ordinary human being?

    Many even sit for the layning as did the Rov, so what then?

    This idea of compelling audiences to stand for some letter is unique among Lubavitchers and appears to be another of their many attempts to impose their attitudes on other people.

    It is just another reason why many people are turned off by them.

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  6. Re: standing for a letter, see the story printed in Likutei Diburim vol 4, about how R Chaim Rapaport behaved when he received a letter from his rebbe the Baal Shem Tov.

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