The Avot’s Prayers by Dani Yaros


While describing Yaakov’s flight from his hostile brother, Eisav, the Torah states, “VaYifga BaMakom VaYalen Sham Ki Va HaShemesh,” literally translated as, “He (Yaakov) met the place (Har HaMoriyah) and he slept there because the sun had set” (Bereishit 28:11).  Rashi, however, quotes the Gemara in Berachot (26b), which says that the word “VaYifga” also connotes Tefillah, prayer. The Gemara learns from here that Yaakov instituted the nightly Maariv prayer.  Previously, the same Gemara derived from “Asheir Amad Sham,” (19:27) that Avraham instituted Shacharit, the morning prayer, and from the words in  “LaSuach BaSadeh,” (24:63) that Yitzchak invented Minchah, the afternoon prayer.  This Gemara is difficult.  How do Chazal see that these words connote prayer?  Certainly it is a nice idea to suggest that the Avot came up with our Tefillah structure, but these arguments do not seem to have any thematic basis (they learn from Pesukim).  Nonetheless, my Rebbe, Rabbi Jachter, often likes to say that Chazal did not just randomly come up with Derashot on Chumash while sitting on a beach chair relaxing; rather, these Derashot came about through a real understanding of the Torah’s words.  From where,  do Chazal learn these particular Derashot?

Shacharit is recited in the morning as the sun is rising.  The shining sun represents confidence, hope, and the arrival of good times.  For example, while trying to portray a dangerous and scary scene, very rarely does a movie director make the setting a very sunny, warm day outside.  Rather, he sets a dark, rainy scene.  In the Torah, Shacharit is connected to a positive, hope-filled time in Avraham’s life, to reflect in Shacharit positive feelings and hope.  After leaving Charan and arriving in Eretz Yisrael in Parashat Lech Lecha, Avraham faces few physical hardships.  He is respected by kings such as Avimelech and is very successful in his endeavors, which include defeating the four kings as well as bringing people closer to Hashem.  The one time that Avraham faces hardship after arriving in Eretz Yisrael occurs in Egypt with Paroh, an incident that did not take place within the confines of Eretz Yisrael.  In fact, the Ramban feels that it was a mistake for Avraham to descend to Mitzrayim.  Furthermore, Avraham represented the future hopes of Klal Yisrael as a nation led by Hashem.  This generally cheerful time in Avraham's life and its significance portray the deeper meaning behind Shacharit; it is therefore quite apt for Avraham to have created the prayer of Shacharit.

Minchah, has much in common with Yitzchak’s personality.  It is often pointed out that it is difficult to find time to daven Minchah.  Shacharit is said early in the morning before the day really has begun, while Maariv is said after one’s hectic day is over.  Yet Minchah is right in the middle of the day, when one often has many other responsibilities to attend to.  Nonetheless, Chazal insist that one stop working and daven Minchah.  In fact, it takes a lot of strength and self discipline to recite Minchah on a regular basis, as often it severely interrupts one’s schedule.  How is this related to Yitzchak?  Chazal teach us that Yitzchak represented the trait of “Gevurah,” strength.  Only a Gibor, a strong person, could have instituted Minchah as a prayer to be said on a regular basis.  Once again, it is apparent why Chazal determined that it must have been Yitzchak who first said Minchah; Minchah is a perfect representation of Yitzchak’s personality.

Finally, when night comes, one is required to daven Maariv.  In Kabbalistic sources, the night is often said to contain evil spiritual forces.  Certainly, the night represents uncertainty because of the basic fact that it is hard to see where one is going at night.  This uncertainty represents Yaakov’s life.  As he instituted this prayer, Yaakov was about to embark on a twenty-year journey that would take him away from his spiritual family and Yeshiva, where he had spent the first 84 years of his life, to a contaminated Chutz LaAretz, where he would encounter his sneaky and devious father-in-law, Lavan.  Yaakov often would not be able to determine what was in front of him and what tricks Lavan was scheming.  Maariv represents praying to Hashem even when times are bleak and uncertain.  Therefore, it was only proper that Yaakov institute this prayer, as hard, testing times represented his life, just as it represents one main theme of the Maariv prayer.

It is apparent why Chazal determined that Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov came up with Shacharit, Minchah, and Maariv, respectively.  These prayers represent the lives and essences of each of our forefathers.  Chazal’s statements clearly were not stated on pure whim, but rather were deeply rooted in the Torah’s portrayal of the Avot.

-Adapted from a Dvar Torah in Thinking Outside the Box, by Yochanan Kirshblum

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