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

Ever have a bad day? Bad week? Bad month? Bad year? No? OK, you can stop reading here.

For the rest of us, we can take solace in the knowledge that people have been having rough spots, sometimes for prolonged periods of time, for as long as there have been people to have them. In our next exploration of thrice-daily Tefillah as established by our forebears, we will look into Yitzhak's experience in a field one afternoon, long ago.

We'll start, once again, with the nuts and bolts. The Babylonian Talmud tells us: יצחק תקן תפלת מנחה Isaac established the afternoon Tefillah. We are led to Genesis 24:63, in which we read that Isaac went out to the field lasuach (לשוח) towards evening. This verb "lasuach" comes from a root which can mean a number of things including meditate, commune, or converse. This is then connected to a supporting statement in Psalm 102, v. 1: A prayer of an afflicted/lowly man, when he is faint and pours out his plea/complaint (sichah) before Yah. 

Here we have Tefillah combined with sichah, and a very different type of prayer arises than that which we observed in the story of Avraham Avinu. The psalm tells us of a person who is bemoaning his mortality, which seems to be closing in fast. We practically experience alongside the psalmist the exhaustion and regret of his life as he yearns to feel G8d's presence in his time of need, in his waning days. 

What do we know about Isaac at this time of his life? He is awaiting word from his father's servant as to whether a bride has been found for him, he is mourning his recently-deceased mother, and he can also be said to have a bit of a trauma history in his journey up to Mt. Moriah with his father as a child. So, in the midst of this rough time, he goes into the field to pour it all out to the One who is always available to receive it.

I know I have had many such experiences. Sometimes you just can't get a friend on the phone, or it is the middle of the night, or you're driving in your car and don't want to risk dialing. Maybe you're even crying so hard that, even if you did get a friend on the phone, they couldn't possibly hope to understand a word you utter. So, what's left but to pour it out to G8d? 

Writing in the early part of the 12th Century, Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi muses: "The longer you put off prayer times, the heavier and darker your soul becomes, as the gunk of life accumulates and bumps up against her." (my translation) One of my teachers, in a class about how to avoid burn out, shared her list of strategies. I can still hear her voice saying, "Take a mincha!" She did not necessarily mean we should go and recite the mincha liturgy each day, just that it is important to take some time in the afternoon to refresh the soul from the bumps and gunk we may have encountered over the course of the day.

I heard a midrash about Rivkah's reaction upon seeing Yizthak in the field that day. We read in Genesis 24:64: Vatipol me-al ha-gamal. This is usually translated as something like: She alighted from the camel or She quickly descended from the camel. However, the verb נ-פ-ל is more commonly translated as to fall. Rivkah saw him, and fell right off her camel! What could cause her to fall? The midrash (I'm sorry, I can't cite a source for you) tells us that Yitzhak was awash in light as he communed with HaShem in the field that day.  

Now, doesn't that sound refreshing? I think I'll go try it! May you be blessed with minimal bumps and gunk today.

תפלות אבות תקנומ The Prayers of our Fathers (Part 3: Things that go BUMP in the night)

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