Shabbat Parashat Vayeitzei | 5769
The Function of Each of the Prayers (based on Berachot 1:60)
Gemara: Rabbi Chelbo said in the name of Rav Huna: one should always be careful about the prayer of Mincha, as Eliyahu was answered only at the time of the prayer of Mincha, as the pasuk says: “And it was at the time of the afternoon offering that Eliyahu approached and said, ‘answer me, Hashem, answer me.’” Rabbi Yochanan says: even at the prayer of Arvit (Ma’ariv), as the pasuk says: “May my prayer be accepted like incense before You, the gift of my hand as the offering of the evening.” Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak says: even at the prayer of Shacharit, as the pasuk says: “Hashem, hear my voice in the morning.”
Ein Ayah: This seems difficult, as the gemara seems to attribute special prominence to Mincha. Since afterward it says that the same is true of the other prayers, what is special about Mincha? The gemara’s language implies that it is not coming just to stress prayer’s value in general.
Let us compare the prayers to parts of the body. There are parts of the body that share a function with another organ. Thus, there is a backup in case one does not work or the presence of another organ improves the functioning. However, the function can be provided even if one organ is not working. There are other organs which, in their absence, no other organ can take their place. We might think that the three prayers are primarily duplicates, whereby, out of the three, at least one proper tefilla (prayer) will be a proper one. Therefore, our Rabbis informed us that each one has its own unique value, in whose absence, another tefilla cannot replace it.
It appears that three matters unique to the ethical activity of prayer are hinted at here. One is that a person’s evil inclination can overcome him, with wildness and silliness that a bad environment fosters, as one is involved in the day’s activities with those who throw off ethics and forget Hashem. Tefilla can return one’s lost spirituality by “spilling forth” his speech to Hashem, thereby elevating his pure conceptions of knowledge of Hashem, pushing off the plaster of falsehood and corruption of the thoughts. That is the special place of Mincha, which comes up in the middle of the day of activity and interaction with many types of people. The proof to the efficacy in this area is Eliyahu, whose prayer at Mincha time was answered as he strove to remove the bad thoughts from the heart of the masses who were worshipping the Ba’al.
The evening prayer’s special function is to elevate man’s spirit so that he not lower his soul with evil and sinful thoughts that go against the Torah and ethics. That is why they bring the pasuk that compares tefilla to incense, as incense atones on the thoughts of the heart (Yoma 44a), which is concealed. Granted, another gemara (Zevachim 88b) says that incense atones private lashon hara, but this also stems from the thoughts of the heart, as the pasuk says: “A person shall not think in his heart of the evil of his heart” (Zecharia 8:17). Alas, all of people’s faults come only from the swelling of their self-love, which breaks ethical fences. Incense comes to arouse the desire to fix one’s ways in his inner chambers, in the realm of concealed matters, which is the foundation of the persistence of the ethical standing.
In the morning, although the spiritual powers are not yet armed with evil, they are still lacking completeness, as sleep was dominant overnight. The powers need to be awakened and arranged in a holy setting so that they will be prepared to think elevating thoughts, in justice and straightness, in fear and love of Hashem. This is Shacharit’s special function, as the pasuk says: “Hashem, hear my voice in the morning; in the morning, I will arrange before you.” I will arrange my spirit and look forward that You will be with me to strengthen me, for he who strives to purify himself is helped (Yoma 38b).
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of
As well as
R ' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld
Hemdat Yamim is endowed by Les & Ethel Sutker of
and Louis and Lillian Klein, z”l.