parasha

Chayei Sarah 5780

Three Prayers: Self-Confidence, Acceptance, and Despair – Chayei Sarah
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites

In this week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, we read about the passing in old age of Sarah and of Abraham, and their burial in Me’arat Hamachpela (the Tomb of the Patriarchs) in Hebron.  We thus part from the first father of the Jewish nation: Avraham Avinu, and from the first mother: Sarah Imenu.  Despite the fact that they lived more than 3500 years ago, their legacy has remained. It continued to flourish with their offspring: Isaac, and then Jacob, and then his twelve sons, and their descendants, reaching all the way to us.
Our nation’s three daily prayers are among the important legacies we received from the fathers of the nation:

Abraham composed the morning prayer (Shacharit)…Isaac composed the afternoon prayer (Mincha)…Jacob composed the evening prayer (Arvit).
(Babylonian Talmud, Brachot, 26)

These three prayers express three different stances of man’s before G-d, and together they create the legacy of the three fathers: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Each of them composed a prayer that represented his own unique state – and the three combined have shaped the Jewish world view since then.

Shacharit is said early in the morning.  A person is facing a day of activity, rushed or relaxed, predictable or unexpected.  First, he prays a prayer that precedes all activity.  According to halacha (Jewish law), no activity should be done before prayer. Actually, as soon it is possible, a person should communicate with his Creator and pray before Him in anticipation of the coming day.  The prayer does not make human activity unnecessary.  It leaves a full day in which a person has to make decisions and carry them out.

It isn’t surprising that the Shacharit prayer was composed by Abraham.  He was a man who lived his whole life searching.  He did not rest or rely on anyone.  He embarked on journeys, battled, purchased lands and spread his faith.  Abraham was an active person, the “founding father” of the nation. Abraham’s prayer is the one that leaves us with great potential for action.  In contrast, the person who composed the Mincha prayer as evening approaches was Isaac.

Isaac added another layer to prayer. Shacharit invites the person to begin a full day of activities.  But when the day is coming to a close, this is when we must examine if the day turned out as we had planned: Did we make the right choices? Did we implement decisions we had made? Did we succeed in what we tried to do? The answers are not always simple, and often make us feel uncomfortable.

Mincha is recited before sundown, as the day is about to end.  This is when a person turns toward G-d in a prayer different from that of the morning.  If the morning prayer is recited with a sense of confidence as we face the new day, Mincha is said with a sense of acceptance, as we internalize that we are limited in our scope of success. This prayer was composed by Isaac, the Jewish nation’s second father.  A considerable part of his life was limited and reliant on the grace of his family. Isaac’s legacy is a pray of acceptance of our limitations and the expression of the fact that G-d leads man and supports him in every situation.

Jacob’s prayer is Arvit, said at night.  This is the prayer composed out of despair, in darkness.  Arvit expresses a person’s cry when he loses self-confidence.  A person discovers how deep darkness can be and how difficult reality can be.  When Jacob was in the midst of a frightened escape from his brother, facing the unknown, and thick darkness enveloped him, he remembered he had an address he could turn to for help. He turned to G-d and created the third prayer of the day, Arvit.

These three prayers represent the three existential states in which a person turns to G-d.  Everyday, when we pray these three prayers, we express our faith that in every situation, in any state we’re in, we can open our hearts and talk to our Creator.

 

 

 

All Torah weekly sections