Mazal Tov, Mazal Tov!
‘They Recited Shema Yisrael [In Response]’
As we know, a child is forbidden to call his parents by their first names (Y.D. 240:2). The Ben Ish Chai (Torah L’Shma 264) raises an interesting question concerning a mother whose name is Mazal Tov, a somewhat common Sephardic name. What should her children say to her when she has a baby? May they wish her “Mazal tov”? Is doing so a violation of the halacha that one may not address a parent by his or her first name?
One of the sources the Ben Ish Chai draws upon in answering this question is our own sugya. The Gemara tells us that before Yaakov Avinu passed away, he called together his sons in order to reveal to them what would occur in the end of days.
They Addressed Their Father By His First Name
The Shechina, however, departed from Yaakov and he lost his prophetic inspiration. Yaakov feared that his sons were perhaps lacking in emunah and therefore unworthy of hearing his prophecy, which would explain the Shechina departing. To allay his fears, Yaakov’s sons declared in unison, “Hear O Israel [i.e., Yaakov], Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is one.”
But what right did they have to call their father by his first name? The Lechem Yehuda (Hilchos Krias Shema 1:4) answers that they did not just say his first name. They preceded it with the most respectful titles: “Our master, our father Israel.” They were therefore not being disrespectful. When we say Shema Yisrael today, we recite a shortened version, leaving out the titles.
Yisrael Is Itself A Respectful Title
The Shla”h (Parshas Vayechi, Derech Chaim 3) offers a different answer. He explains that the name Yisrael means that Yaakov struggled with angels and men and was victorious. In other words, the very name itself constitutes a respectful title, conveying Yaakov’s mastery. When Yaakov’s sons called him Yisrael, it was as if they were calling him, “Our master.”
A similar explanation can be given to account for Yitzchak referring to his father by his first name when he blessed Yaakov saying, “May Hashem grant you the blessings of Avraham” (Bereishis 28:4). Since the name Avraham means, “the father of a multitude of nations,” using it wasn’t considered disrespectful (Teshuvos Tirosh V’Yitzhar 69).
Mazal Tov, Mazal Tov!!
The Ben Ish Chai argues, therefore, that one may wish one’s mother “mazal tov” upon the birth of a baby if her name is Mazal Tov. If one may say one’s parents names if they are titles of respect, one may also say their names in saying tefillos on their behalf.
About the Author: 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. RABBI GERSHON TANNENBAUM, rav of Congregation Bnai Israel of Linden Heights, Boro Park, Brooklyn, is the Director of Igud HaRabbanim – The Rabbinical Alliance of America.
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