prayed: O G-d of my father Abraham and G-d of my father
Isaac. You yourself told me; return to the land where you
were born and I will make things go well with you
(32:10). Jacob was frightened and distressed about the inevitable
encounter with his brother Eisav. This fear led to his prayer.
Thirty-six years earlier when Yaakov was fleeing from his brother he
was also gripped by fear and cried out to G-d. Both of these
prayers took place at night establishing the notion of the
Maariv (nightly) service. In fact our daily prayers of Shacharit and Mincha stem from the fact that Abraham
and Isaac prayed in the morning and afternoon respectively.
Being that the Jewish day begins at night one might have
anticipated that Abraham would have davened at night. Yet
he waited till the morning to pray. It would thus appear
that there is some connection between each of our patriarchs
and the time of day they choose to daven.
Night is symbolic of fear and uncertainty. One does not know what the future holds. Exile occurs at night if not literally then figuratively. G-d spoke to Israel in a night vision
do not be afraid to go to Egypt (46:2-3). Daytime on the other hand, symbolizes hope and redemption. Hence the redemption of the Jewish people is compared to the rising sun, starting slowly but bursting forth to give light to the world. If exile occurs at night then redemption must occur at night. And it came to pass in the midst of the day that G-d led the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt (Exodus 13:51).
Yaakov davening at moments of crisis and uncertainty is thus the model for our nighttime prayer of Maariv. Abraham Avinu, the originator of our morning prayers brought light, hope and the promise of redemption into the world. He was born into a environment enveloped in darkness but was destined to be the founder of a great nation that has the potential to be a light unto the nations. Abraham actually davened shacharit immediately after the destruction of Sodom. Judaism has always maintained that from destruction comes the opportunity to build a better future just as a new day brings wonderful opportunities for growth.
The prayer of Yitzchak took place as Abrahams servant was approaching with Yitzchaks bride to be Rivka. As he was about to enter a new stage in his life he meditated in the field. With his formative years behind him but a bright future ahead of him it was time to reflect on the direction of his life. It is no coincidence that our Sages maintain that it is Mincha, coming in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the day, that is our most important prayer.
The Talmud records that the ideal time to pray is at dumbdomei chamah, at the time when the sun is rising (Shacharit) and setting (Maariv). Apparently it is during the transition from darkness to light, from exile to redemption and vice versa that man must be involved in prayer. Only Mincha, the afternoon prayer is said from beginning to end when the sun is shining.
Maariv, Shacharit and Mincha. Exile, redemption and reflection. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Abraham begins his life in exile yet spends his final years in the land of Israel corresponding to Shacharit that begins in darkness it ends with light. Yitzchak spends his entire life in Israel just as mincha must begin and end during the daylight hours. Yaakov while born in the land of Israel spends his final years in exile in Egypt just as maariv begins when there is still a ray of light but ends at nightfall.
While we make reference to the G-d of Abraham, the G-d of Isaac and the G-d of Yaakov in our prayers we conclude our blessing with a reference to Abraham only. While we still find ourselves in exile, in the world of maariv, with much darkness we look forward to the ensuing light of redemption that comes at Shacharit. We must provide the spark of goodness that will allow the redemption to burst forth. Shabbat Shalom!