Mentioning Shem and Malkhut in Blessings

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

Translated and Adapted by David Silverberg


I. Introduction: The Missing "Malkhut" in Shemoneh Esrei

            A well-known dispute exists between Rav and Rabbi Yochanan concerning the basic text required in any berakha (blessing):

"Rav said: Any berakha that does not include mention of God's Name ['Shem'] is not a berakha. 

Rabbi Yochanan said: Any berakha that does not include 'Malkhut' [mention of God's kingship: 'Melekh ha-olam'] is not a berakha." (Berakhot 40b)

            Though the passage itself need not be explained in this light, the Rishonim understood that Rabbi Yochanan adds a stringency onto Rav's position.  Meaning, Rabbi Yochanan requires that a berakha include both Shem and Malkhut.  The Rif adopted Rabbi Yochanan's ruling as authoritative.  Despite Abayei's citation of proof for Rav's position later in the Gemara, Tosafot follow the Rif's ruling.[1] The Rambam (Hilkhot Berakhot 1:5) similarly requires both Shem and Malkhut, and this ruling is codified in the Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 214:1).  Indeed, the Ri testified to the widespread practice of including Malkhut in every berakha,[2] and this has, in fact, emerged as the common understanding, identifying Shem and Malkhut as the defining elements of a berakha.

            We must question, then, the several unique berakhot, most notably the opening berakha in Shemoneh Esrei ("Avot"), which make no mention of "Malkhut" in their opening clauses.  Regarding the specific instance of "Avot," the Rishonim offer several answers.  Tosafot write that the phrase "Elokei Avraham" satisfies this requirement, as Avraham crowned the Almighty as King over the universe by informing others of His rule.  The Rosh (6:23) suggests that the expression "ha-Kel ha-gadol" amounts to a reference to Malkhut.[3] Yet a third possibility appears in "Sefer Ha-minhagot" in the name of Rav Hai Gaon: we consider the expression "Melekh ozer," recited towards the end of this berakha, as being situated at the beginning.[4]

            All these approaches maintain that the berakha of "Avot" requires Malkhut and features some parallel expression that satisfies this requirement.  Other Rishonim, by contrast, argue that Malkhut has no place in this berakha.  The Roke'ach (363), for example, advances this thesis and provides two possible bases for it:

I. The opening passage of Shemoneh Esrei parallels the prayer of Eliezer, Avraham's servant, as recorded in Chumash.  He did not mention Malkhut in his supplication, since the Almighty had yet to make His kingship known to the world.

II. "All berakhot which express thanksgiving to the Almighty contain mention of Shem and Malkhut.  The beginning of Shemoneh Esrei, however, does not express thanksgiving for any benefit or mitzva, but rather serves as an introduction to man's requesting his needs - 'One must always arrange the Almighty's praise and only thereafter pray.'  Therefore, they did not place Malkhut in this berakha."

            A similar approach is cited by the Ra'avya:

"We have seen in the name of Rabbeinu Shemaya that in the Shemoneh Esrei prayer as well as the berakhhot before and after Keriat Shema we do not mention Malkhut, because they involve [requesting] compassion, and every [mention of] 'Melekh' implies the divine attribute of justice… " (1:114)

            He then adds another reason, that at both Shacharit and Arvit, the opening berakha of Shemoneh Esrei immediately follows the berakhot of Keriat Shema.  Now a berakha immediately following another does not require Shem and Malkhut (as we will soon discuss at length).  Once the first berakha of Shemoneh Esrei at Shacharit and Arvit did not require Malkhut, it was not introduced into the Mincha service either.

            There remains, however, room for further consideration of this issue.  By analyzing the basis of the Shem and Malkhut requirement on the one hand, and the nature of Shemoneh Esrei on the other, we may perhaps suggest an additional explanation.

II. Distinguishing Shem From Malkhut

            The Rif seems to have had before him a slightly different text of Rabbi Yochanan's view: "Any berakha that does not include Malkhut and mention of Hashem's Name is not a berakha."  The Rambam and a slew of other authorities also understood Rabbi Yochanan in this vein.  At first glance, it appears that no distinction exists between the status of Shem and that of Malkhut within the framework of berakhot; they are equally indispensable.  Upon further reflection, however, it becomes clear that this is not the case.  To demonstrate this, we must first examine the aforementioned halakha of "berakha ha-semukha le-chaverta" - a berakha immediately following another, which does not require Malkhut.

"All berakhot begin with 'barukh' and conclude with 'barukh,' except for berakhot over mitzvot, berakhot over food, a berakha immediately following another, and the final berakha of Keriat Shema." (Pesachim 104b)

            Although this beraita lists the four exceptions together, there is a vast difference between the first two and last two.  The berakhot recited over food and or mitzvot feature very brief texts; they include Shem and Malkhut but omit the concluding "barukh" (which repeats the mention of Shem and with which longer berakhot end).  By contrast, berakhot immediately following others and the final berakha of Keriat Shema do not include Malkhut at all. 

            The Rishonim seem to disagree about the basis for this exception of the adjacent berakha.  The Mordekhai (Pesachim 104b) cites Rabbeinu Tam as significantly limiting the this provision to cases where the first of the two adjacent berakhot features a long text, one which includes both an introduction and conclusion of "Barukh."  If, however, the first of the two berakhot was a short, simple berakha (such as berakhot over food and mitzvot), the second berakha would require Malkhut.  The Mordekhai himself, based on convincing proofs from the Yerushalmi, rejects this view.  He insists that in all cases, the second of two adjacent berakhot does not require Malkhut.

            Apparently, the Mordekhai understood that according to Rabbeinu Tam, the second of two adjacent berakhot does, in fact, require the standard opening formula (including Malkhut).  However, this second berakha can make use of the opening of the first berakha, which applies to both.  Therefore, in a case of a short first berakha (without a conclusion), the second lacks a strong enough basis on which to rely; it therefore requires its own opening formula.  By contrast, the Mordekhai argues that, fundamentally, the second of two adjacent berakhot is exempt from an introduction.  The status of the first will therefore have no bearing on this exemption.[5]

            Either way, and especially according to our interpretation of Rabbeinu Tam's position, a simple question presents itself: why does this exemption apply only to Malkhut?  Why don't we find any berakha - either in the context of adjacent berakhot or in any other - without the mention of Shem?  After all, don't berakhot generally require both Shem and Malkhut (according to Rabbi Yochanan)?  Why should an exemption for one not automatically include the exemption of the other?

            Undeniably, then, these two requirements - of Shem and Malkhut - do not resemble one another.  Further evidence emerges from the absence of any explicit source for the requirement of Shem.  By contrast, the Yerushalmi (Berakhot 9:1) cites Rabbi Tanchuma as pointing to a verse in Tehillim - "I will exalt you, my God, the king" - as a basis for the need for Malkhut.[6]

            The explanation of this distinction seems clear.  The requirement of Shem in a berakha does not constitute a halakhic detail relevant to berakhot, but rather itself defines the statement as a "berakha."  Without mention of God's Name, no berakha can be said to have been articulated.  Just as a "shevu'a" (oath), according to the Rambam,[7] requires the utterance of God's Name, without which the individual's promise does not attain the halakhic status of a "shevu'a," so is the case regarding a berakha (and even more so!).  We need no Scriptural source for this requirement, as it establishes the essential definition of a berakha, rather than a specific requirement relevant to berakhot.

            The requirement of Malkhut, by contrast, extends beyond the basic definition of the berakha; it constitutes an additional halakhic detail applicable to berakhot.  We would not have arrived at this requirement independently, without a textual basis in Tanakh.  This point perhaps emerges from a careful reading of Rav's comments in the aforementioned passage in the Yerushalmi: "Any berakha which does not have WITH IT Malkhut is not a berakha."  He speaks of a berakha not accompanied by Malkhut.  Malkhut does not establish the berakha's very identity; only Shem defines a berakha as such.[8]

            We should note, however, that the Bavli provides no source for either of the two requirements.  Additionally, unlike Rav in the Yerushalmi, Rav Yochanan, in his corresponding statement in the Bavli, formulates both requirements identically (see citation at the outset of the shiur), without the nuance we detected in Rav's formulation.  Nevertheless, it appears that the Bavli, too, subscribes to the distinction we have developed, accounting for the discrepancy between Shem and Malkhut regarding adjacent berakhot.  Given the role of Shem in defining a berakha as such, we cannot exempt the second of two adjacent berakhot from Shem, nor can we rely on the Shem of the first berakha. Shem must appear in the body of every berakha.  By contrast, Malkhut, an added requirement, need not appear in the text of every berakha; we may expect unique instances of exemption or the possibility of relying on an immediately preceding berakha.

            Furthermore, it would appear that Halakha does not require Malkhut as a component of the berakha's text, but rather mandates Malkhut in order to define the individual as standing before the Almighty by acknowledging His kingship.  The verse, "I will exalt You, my God, the King," says nothing about the content of that exaltation.  Rather, it depicts the individual as turning towards the King before whom he stands.  We thus learn from this verse the requirement to see oneself as speaking before God when reciting a berakha.

III. Berakhot Without Malkhut

            Having arrived at this conclusion, the possibility arises of reciting a berakha without Malkhut so long as we can achieve the same goal through alternate means.  We may perhaps understand the halakha of adjacent berakhot in this light.  The individual's status as standing before the Almighty has already been established by the first berakha, through which he turned to God as King.  He need not, therefore, mention Malkhut in the immediately ensuing berakhot.

            If so, we should anticipate other situations where this same status is established through non-verbal means, thus allowing Shem to suffice on its own, without the inclusion of Malkhut.  One example may arise from the beraita (Pesachim 104b) mentioned earlier.  Recall that the beraita included in its list of exceptions the final berakha of Keriat Shema, which concludes with "barukh" but does not begin with "barukh."  Rashi (Berakhot 46b s.v. "Ve-yesh") explains this exception as based on the rule of adjacent berakhot:

"Although Keriat Shema interrupts in between, it is nevertheless considered adjacent to the preceding berakhot…" 

            However, the simple reading of the beraita, which lists adjacent berakhot apart from the final berakha of Keriat Shema, clearly implies otherwise.  Indeed, the Rashba (Berakhot 11b s.v. "Achat") challenges Rashi's interpretation and suggests a different approach: certain berakhot were, from the outset, established without an opening clause of "Barukh…"  The Rashba does not, however, provide us with any basis for singling out one berakha over another in this regard. 

            The explanation seems to lie in the essence of the mitzva of Keriat Shema: "kabbalat ol malkhut Shamayim" - one's accepting upon himself the yoke of God's kingship.  The very recitation of Keriat Shema demands recognition of God's kingship.  As such, this reading already establishes the individual's status as addressing the King, thus negating the need for verbal declaration to this effect (i.e. Malkhut).  The circumstances themselves establish this relationship between the individual reciting the berakhot and the Almighty.

            However, the insistence of Rashi and the Rashba on searching for other approaches to explain this exception clearly indicates that they did not adopt the above analysis.  However, they may very well have accepted the principle but rejected only its application to the context of the berakhot of Keriat Shema.  If so, we may explore the possibility of applying our principle in a different context, that of the obligation of tefilla. 

            The Rav z"tl has often drawn, with sound logical and textual basis, a basic distinction between Keriat Shema and tefilla.  Although Keriat Shema involves, as stated, "kabbalat ol malkhut Shamayim," and in this regard Keriat Shema likely surpasses tefilla, nevertheless, Keriat Shema does not require a sense of standing before the King.  Regarding tefilla, by contrast, the worshipper's appearance before the Master of the World constitutes a central element of the mitzva.  Several proofs exist to this effect; we will cite just two:

1)         The Ramban (Berakhot 22b) draws a comparison between berakhot and tefilla with regard to the laws governing their recitation in the presence of excrement.  He then adds:

"However, regarding a drunkard or one who has drunk wine, it seems to me that berakhot are not included under this stringency, for the Sages mentioned [this prohibition] only [regarding] tefilla.  They may, however, read Keriat Shema and certainly berakhot and fulfill their obligation.

For the reason for [the prohibition against their recitation of] tefilla is that tefilla requires extra concentration, as it is like speaking before the King.  We always find the law concerning concentration more stringent for tefilla than for Keriat Shema… as it is said regarding the mitzva of Megilla:

'One who naps [as he reads it] has fulfilled his obligation.  What is considered napping?  When one sleeps but does not sleep, is awake but is not awake, that one calls him and he answers, but he cannot respond in a matter requiring thought.  Only when he is reminded does he remember.'

Such a person may read even optimally.  Regarding tefilla, by contrast, one who cannot speak before the King may not pray."[9]

2)         Rashi points to this concept even more explicitly, commenting on the beraita (Berakhot 24b) that says,

"If one's cloak of material, leather or sackcloth was wrapped around his waist, he may recite Keriat Shema.  But for tefilla - not until he covers his heart." 

Rashi (25a) explains,

"For tefilla one must show himself as standing before the King and stand with dread; but [while reciting] Keriat Shema - one does not speak before the King."

            In light of this distinction, we can easily explain why the opening berakha of Shemoneh Esrei features no mention of Malkhut.  With regard to the final berakha of Keriat Shema, Rashi and Rashba felt that we cannot establish one as standing before God through the recitation of Keriat Shema, since, as stated, this recitation does not require a sense of speaking before the King.  Therefore, they suggested alternate reasons for the lack of Malkhut in the final berakha of Keriat Shema.  By contrast, tefilla by its very definition involves this status of standing before the King.  Since the text of a berakha in and of itself requires only Shem, whereas Malkhut is needed only to establish the berakha as a direct address to the King, Malkhut in Shemoneh Esrei would be superfluous.

[Originally in Alon Shevut 151]



[1] Berakhot 40b, s.v. Amar.  However, Tosafot Rabbeinu Yehuda He-chasid leaves the halakhic ruling in this regard as an open question.  The Tur (O.C. 214) cites the Ri as likewise expressing ambivalence on this issue.  The Roke'ach (363) ruled in accordance with Rav's view, though he adds that common practice follows Rabbi Yochanan's position regarding the beginning of long berakhot and Rav's opinion with respect to their conclusion.

[2] The Ri's comments are cited in the Or Zarua (1:114), though there they appear in the name of "Rabbeinu Yitzchak Alfasi."  However, the identity between the opening words cited with those quoted by several Rishonim in the name of the Ri suggests a misprint.  The Rashba (Berakhot 40b s.v. "Ve-rabbi") cites Rav Hai Gaon concerning the prevalent practice.

[3] In his Tosafot Ha-Rosh (Berakhot 12a), the Rosh writes that the entire clause, "ha-Kel ha-gadol ha-gibor ve-ha-nora" constitutes an expression of Malkhut.

[4] Cited in "Sifran Shel Rishonim," edited by Rav Simcha Assaf, p. 135.  Needless to say, according to Tosafot's position, that the Malkhut requirement includes the mention of the word "ha-olam," this answer becomes untenable.  See also Meiri, Berakhot 40b; Sefer Ha-manhig, Hilkhot Tefilla 51.

[5] Granted, one could posit an opposite understanding of this dispute, depending on the details of the halakhot concerning adjacent berakhot and precisely how we interpret the concept of "exemption" in this and similar contexts.  These issues lie beyond the scope of our discussion, but I hope to return to them on a future occasion.

[6] As opposed to the Bavli, the Yerushalmi there cites Rav as requiring the inclusion of Malkhut in berakhot, without any dissenting view. 

            As for the absence of any Talmudic reference to a source for the requirement of Shem, we should note that such a source does appear in Midrashic literature.  The Avudraham (3, "Birkat Ha-mitzvot U-mishpateha") cites a midrash that brings two verses as establishing this requirement.

[7] Hilkhot Shevuot 2:2-4.  However, it remains to be determined whether the same parameters define Shem in both berakhot and shevuot.  For example, the Gemara (Shevuot 35a) implies that any expression clearly demonstrating the speaker's intent to refer to God suffices for the articulation of an oath.  It seems to me, however, that although a "kinui" (a reference to the Almighty, but not His actual Name) suffices for berakhot, this would have to be in the form of an adjective, and not a generalized reference (e.g. "Heaven and earth").  This issue requires further study.

[8] This distinction would yield the conclusion that one violates the prohibition of uttering an unnecessary berakha even by mentioning only Shem, without Malkhut.  This would hold true even according to those Acharonim who maintain that the prohibition of unnecessary berakhot stands independent of the prohibition of unnecessarily mentioning God's Name.

[9] The Ramban here combines two elements: extra concentration and a sense of standing before the King.  We may, however, understand his words as meaning that this quality of tefilla, of constituting an appearance before the King, itself demands an added level of concentration.