Chazal teach us, “The Patriarchs instituted the [three daily] prayers…Avraham instituted the morning prayer…Yitzchak instituted the afternoon prayer…Yaakov instituted the evening prayer…” (B. Talmud, Brachot 26b). The verse the Talmud uses to demonstrate that Yitzchak established the afternoon prayer, or “Mincha,” is found in this week’s parsha, as it says, “Yitzchak went out toward evening to meditate in the field” (Bereshit 24:63). Yet, Chazal teach elsewhere that the reason for the three different prayers in the day is because each one “corresponds to the three changes in the day” (Y. Talmud, Brachot 4:1). This makes sense, as the morning prayer, “Shacharit,” comes from the word, “shachar,” which means, “dawn,” and “Maariv” comes from the word “erev,” which means “evening.” However, the word for the afternoon prayer, “Mincha,” which means, “gift,” does not seem to reflect any change in the day.
The great Chassidic master, Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berdeitchev was troubled by this anomaly, and offers an explanation which not only teaches us why the afternoon prayer of “Mincha” does in fact reflect its place in the day, but also, why “Mincha” is associated with Yitzchak. According to Reb Levi Yitzchak, “I believe the root of the word, ‘Mincha’ is simply ‘gift’…[because] this prayer is presented at a time of day when people do not think that they have to either thank God for having awoken well from their sleep, or after having completed the day’s chores without problems and entrusting their souls to God once more when they lie down, confident God will restore it to us in the morning. Neither of these considerations motives people to devote time to prayer in the middle of their daily activities. If we take time to pray during the [middle] of the day nonetheless, God may consider this as a gift from us to Him” (Keudshat Levi, Parshat Chayei Sarah).
The afternoon is the time of day when we are most busy, and carving out time to spend with God may seem the furthest from our minds as we rush to meet bottom-lines and dead-lines. However, when we take time to offer ourselves to God through our prayers, God receives the words of our mouths as true gifts from our souls. In the Kabbalistic literature, Yitzchak represents the Sefira of “Gevurah,” or “restraint.” Thus, during the time of day when things seem busiest, Yitzchak was nevertheless able to exercise holy restraint – to set aside his earthly pursuits and focus on spiritual ones. Yitzchak was able to accomplish his spiritual communication with God in the afternoon by going out into the fields to find solitude and disconnect from the pressures of running his estate, as Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav says, “Grant me the ability to be alone. May it be my custom to go outdoors each day among the trees and grasses, among all growing things and there may I be alone, and enter into prayer to talk with the one that I belong to.”
We all have ways of calming down from the stress of our long afternoons. Yitzchak found his way among the trees of the field. Thus, each one of us should find our own way of finding a space – a physical, emotional and spiritual space, to center our beings, focus on the spiritual and speak with the Almighty. If we can do that, even during our busiest days, we will able to present God with a gift whose worth is incalculable, whose value is priceless and whose power can open all the gates of heaven.