Torah Insights for Shabbat
Parshat Chayei Sarah 5758
November 22, 1997
Toward the end of Parshas Chayei Sarah, the Torah tells us that
"Yitzchak went out lasuachto meditatein the field before evening."
Chazal comment that Yitzchak went to the fields in order to pray ("Sichah," our
Sages say, "refers only to prayer"), and thus was instituted Tefillat Minchah,
the afternoon prayer that all Jews are obliged to recite daily.
But why did Yitzchak turn to the fields in order to pray? ask the commentaries. Didn't he have a house in which to pray?
Tosafos answers that the field in which Yitzchak prayed was no ordinary field. It was on Mount Moriah, first designated as a place of prayer by Adam Harishon and later consecrated by Yitzchak at the Akeidah, where he perceived the Shechinah. Centuries later it became the site of the Beit Hamikdash.
No ordinary field was this field, no ordinary prayer was this prayer. The Talmud advises us to be especially vigilant about praying Tefillat Minchah, for G-d is especially attentive to our prayers in the afternnoon. Eliyahu's plea to Hashem was answered only in the afternoon.
Why is Tefillat Minchah so important and what makes it so effective?
The Tur links Minchah's prominence to its timing. Its comes at a time when people are most apt to be preoccupied with their daily work and business affairs. In order to pray, one has to pause and concentrate on his dependence upon the Creator, who is the source of all blessing.
This abrupt suspension of daily activity is far from easy to do. It is much easier to pray in the morning before one starts out for work. We wake up refreshed, happy in the thought that we have been granted yet another day of life. We are in the proper mood for prayer and offer thanksgiving for our very existence on earth. This is the meaning of the pasuk in Eichah, "Chadashim lavekarim rabbah emunatecha." Our faith in Hashem is greatest at the renewal of life every morning.
Likewise, at night, with a productive day behind us, it is easy to take a few moments to thank G-d for the blessings of the day.
In the afternoon, the situation is much different. We are, like Yitzchak, in the fields, in the middle of our work with its attendant 101 problems, frustrations, and aggravations. Then, in the midst of it all, we are called upon to prayto interrupt the pursuit of our livelihood, to suspend our seeming dependence on the strength of our hands. We instead turn to Hashem in prayer.
Tefillat Minchah testifies to man's humility in the presence of G-d. This offering of worship and devotion also accounts for the prayers name. Some assume that the word minchah means afternoon. This isn't so. The word, used often in the Torah, means a gift, an offering. Indeed, a prayer recited in the afternoon is a precious gift, readily accepted by G-d.
This is the legacy of Yitzchak Avinuin the field. Whether you are in your office, at your shop, on the road, or at home, stop and take a break of inspiration. Pray Minchah with kavannah and then be confident that Hashem will hearken to your tefillah.
Rabbi Shlomo Horowitz
Rabbi Horowitz is the rabbi of Manhattan Beach Jewish Center in Brooklyn, New York.
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