hazzan Diana Brewer was ordained through the aleph ordination program. she leads prayer services regularly at the jewish community of amherst, and is on the staff of the davvenen leadership training institute.

תפלות אבות תקנו The Prayers of our Fathers (Part 1)

So, why do we pray three times a day? Funny you should ask! Lots of folks have been wondering about this for a very long time. I will bring us first to the Babylonian Talmud, tractate (masekhet) Berachot 26b. We find a difference of opinion here. R. Yosi ben Chanina tells us that our Avot (אבות) established (תקנום) this practice. R. Joshua b. Levi says that the rhythm of our Tefillah ( טפלה) corresponds to the cycle of daily sacrifices at the Temple. Who’s right? Happily, we don’t have to decide who is right. Right and wrong doesn’t apply here. Through these two lenses, we are given no less than a kaleidoscope of ideas and approaches that can inform and enrich our own practice.

For no better reason than that the statement about prayer being instituted by our Avot comes first in this Talmud reading, I will begin there. We are first referred to a verse in Genesis (19:27, to be exact). Avraham sets out early in the morning to go and Stand (Amad - עמד - notice anything about this root?) at the place where just the day before, he got into it with G8d about the destruction of S’dom.

From this passage, the Rabbis connect to Psalm 106, in which we learn that Pinchas stood (va-ya’amod - ויעמוד) and prayed or intervened (vayfallel - ויפלל) for the community after the incident with Baal Pe’or. Aha! It’s confirmed: To Stand = To Pray! they conclude.

Now for the White Fire. There are so many details deliciously left to our imaginations in Torah. What did Avraham Avinu pray for that next day? What were his motivations? Many years ago, when I was early in my days of developing a prayer life in recovery, I told my sponsor I was concerned because I didn’t have a concept of G8d. She cheerfully responded, “Oh! You don’t need a concept. You need a relationship.” I also learned that it was important to show up to that relationship consistently, daily, if I wanted it to go anywhere.  I learned that it doesn't matter whether I can feel the Presence in those times of reaching out, and that I need to keep reaching out even if (and perhaps especially if) the conversations don’t go the way I want them to go. I’m pretty sure Avraham was not thrilled when he saw the smoke and fire in the distance, where the city use to be. Nonetheless, he returned to his meet-up spot with the Holy One.

Avraham was moved with compassion for the people of the city in which his nephew Lot lived. In addition to his willingness/desire to keep building this relationship with HaSham, his motivation also had to do with an external circumstance about which he cared a great deal. If you’re reading this blog, you are most likely a person who is, at the very least, interested in prayer, and probably even an active pray-er. I imagine you can think of a time (possibly even sometime today) when you were moved to pray on behalf of other people in need, people for whom you wished some sort of healing or salvation. I can tell you that there are a great many things I’ve prayed for - world peace and the end of slavery among them - which haven’t yet happened. Sometimes I feel discouraged. Even so, I keep showing up, standing up, morning, afternoon, and evening. Just in case…

Shabbat Shalom.

תפלות אבות תקנום The Prayers of our Fathers (Part 2: Let it all hang out)

3 Times a Day