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.

Three Set Times for Prayer: Sacrifice & Gratitude

Introducing Keva. Structure. Form. Nuts and bolts. Because I said so. 

R. Joshua b. Levi said: The Tefillot were instituted corresponding to the continual (i.e. Daily) sacrifices.  (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 26b) 

We've discussed at length the idea of our thrice-daily prayer being related to the stories of the patriarchs' (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) adventures in prayer. Here's another idea. This idea comes from the notion that our prayer times relate to the structure of daily sacrificial rites during the times of the Temple. After the destruction of the Temple, we had to find a way to open the portal to Divine Connection no matter where we were, and no matter that we no longer had a central meeting place in which to practice these sacrificial rites.  

Happily for us (because it means we don’t have far to look), the instructions for the general timing of these events is found right there in the Torah. Bamidbar 28:2 tells us: Command the children of Israel and say to them: את קרבני לחמי לאשי ריח ניחחי תשמרו להקריב לי במועדו Be mindful to make the offerings to me in their time - my offerings of my food, made by fire, a pleasing odor to me. From there, the text goes on to describe the daily offerings - a lamb (among other things) in the morning and at twilight - as well as the offerings for festivals throughout the year.

I’d like, very much, to offer some words about the translation of this verse, but I think that’s another post. For now, let’s stick to the nuts and bolts, which offer a couple of problems of their own. First of all, what defines morning? What is twilight? And, hey, I only see TWO times mentioned here, how do you get three prayer times out of that?

If you were wondering these things, once again you are not alone! Returning to Berachot 26b: "And here is the teaching in agreement with R. Joshua b. Levi: Why is it declaimed the morning Tefillah can be said until midday? Because the morning continual offering could be brought until midday. R. Judah says: Until the fourth hour, because the morning continual offering could be brought until the fourth hour."

I will not go on to quote the whole thing, but will paraphrase. R. Joshua b. Levi tells us we can say the afternoon Tefillah until evening, while R. Judah says it can be said until the middle of the afternoon. And, yes, we are talking specifically Amidah when we say Tefillah here.

As for our THIRD Tefillah, first I'll tell you WHY we say this. There is a third, even though there are only two continual offerings (korbanot), "Because the limbs and the fat which had not been consumed by the evening may be offered at any time during the night." (Berachot 26b) Hence, three Tefillot, and the evening Tefillah may be said at any time. This also explains why the evening Amidah is always said silently - it only KIND OF corresponds with a fire offering. There is also an argument that says the Patriarchs did institute our prayer structure (as we explored the last few weeks), but that the rabbis later found a basis for it in the korbanot.

OK, that was some serious nuts and bolts! There is much more to say about the times of our three daily Amidot/Tefillot/tefillot  - LOTS. But I will leave you here, with an invitation to consider the things in your life that are facilitated by structure. Are there things you do each day, which would be much less likely to happen if they didn't have times assigned to their doing? Weeklies that you might not show up for if they didn't happen at the same time each week? What would lie undone if you were to wait until you felt like doing it? How have you benefitted from some sort of prescription in your life?

Next: Three daily gratitudes.

Three Set Times for Prayer or Gratitude, Gratitude, and More Gratitude

The Prayers of our Fathers: Prayers and Answers (an aside)