Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 21 November 2015 / 9 Kislev 5776

Multi-faceted Monotony

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Gregg

Dear Rabbi,

The regular prayers are recited three-times daily. There is basically the same wording for morning, afternoon and evening prayers. I wonder, is there is nevertheless any difference between them? Thanks for your consideration.

Dear Gregg,

The source for the wording of the formal, standing silent prayer, which is the central part of each prayer service, is from the early Talmudic sages called the Great Assembly.

The Talmud (Berachot 26b) offers two opinions regarding the actual source for the requirement to pray during different times of the day.

According to one opinion, the Sages predicated prayer on, and in lieu of, the Torah-decreed daily sacrifices that were offered in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. These consisted of an animal sacrifice that was consumed on the altar in the morning, and again in the afternoon, of which a part was often consumed that evening.

This would be the basis for the shacharit, mincha and ma’ariv prayers.

Another opinion is that the dynamic of these three prayers was actually initiated by our forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, respectively.

In interceding with G-d on behalf of Sodom and Gemora, Avraham is described as waking early in the morning to stand before G-d (Gen. 19:27), where “standing” is explained by the Talmud to be a reference to prayer.

Just before meeting his bride brought from afar, Yitzchak is described as going out to converse in the field towards evening (Gen. 24:63), where “conversing” is explained to mean prayer.

Upon Yaakov’s arriving by night at the holy location where he had his prophetic dream of “Jacob’s Ladder”, he is described as encountering the place (Gen. 28:11), where this “encounter” is also explained to be prayer.

According to this explanation for the source of prayer it would seem that the inner dimension of prayer is not at all standard, but rather the quality of the prayers at these different times of the day are uniquely reflective of the quality inherent to that particular time.

In fact, the inner qualities of each of these spiritual beacons resonated with the quality of the particular time of the day in which each fathered his prayer.

Avraham’s central attribute was loving-kindness, chesed, whose love and illumination he shared with the world, just as the morning sun spreads warmth and light over the world. Yitzchak’s main quality, seen in his submission to sacrifice, was fortitude and self-control, gevurah, under the onslaught of strict judgment, just as the noon-day sun is harshest at its zenith but gradually succumbs to the onset of night. Yaakov’s prevailing trait was faith in redemptive Divine mercy, rachamim, despite the gloom and obscurity of exile into which he was cast, just as night is a time of darkness and occlusion, but whose deepest point actually heralds the dawn.

Accordingly, even if the wording of the prayers is essentially the same throughout the day, the inner intention with which we infuse our prayer should vary according to the shifting spiritual shades of the day: The morning prayer should be suffused with renewed passion and enthusiasm, as in the verse, “to relate in the morning Your kindness, chesed” (Ps. 92:3); the afternoon prayer should be proffered with focus and concentration, suspending and sacrificing our worldly involvements for the purpose of prayer; and the evening prayer should be filled with faith that G-d will literally and figuratively “see us through the night”, as in the verse, “and to recall your faithfulness, emunah, in the night” (ibid).

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