“Mah yakru” is the Aramaic equivalent of “mah kavdu – how valued.” Adam did not want the angels to understand what he was saying to G-d because they would be jealous of him. Not only had G-d created man, but He also intended to give the Torah to a human being. Angels, therefore, have an aversion to the language Adam used to affirm our right to the Torah, which the angels would have liked to possess themselves. Thus, it is only in Aramaic that we are not permitted to pray.
Interestingly, it is precisely from this Gemara that we can bring another proof to the efficacy of tefillat hatzibur since it is obvious that notwithstanding any restrictions related to praying in Aramaic, when a tzibbur offer a prayer as one, it can do so even in Aramaic. This surely portends well for prayers in other languages.
However, the saintly Chofetz Chayim – in line with the previously-quoted Chochmat Shlomo – comes out very strongly in his Mishnah Berurah against those who would alter the language of our prayers from Hebrew to another language. He underscores that our tefillot are ancient, instituted by our Sages in Hebrew, also called lashon hakodesh, the holy language. (Obviously those age-old prayers and piyutim that our sages instituted in Aramaic are an exception and not subject to the Chofetz Chayim’s critique.)
The Chofetz Chaim is also contemptuous of those who remove referenced to Jerusalem and the ingathering of the exiles from their congregational prayers. He concludes that it was precisely because the Children of Israel did not alter their language (“shelo shinu et leshonam”) that they were delivered from servitude in Egypt. In that merit we will hopefully be delivered from this galut as well.
Notwithstanding all the above, we will shortly be sitting in our sukkot reciting – in Aramiac and without a minyan – the short “ushpizin ila’in – exalted guests,” which refers to the seven shepherds: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David. Why? The answer is that this recitation is not a prayer, but rather an invitation and greeting to our Patriarchs to join us and bear testimony as we fulfill G-d’s command.
May this mitzvah too serve us well as we seek Hashem’s blessing and deliverance speedily in our days.
Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.