- Prayer - The Shemoneh Essray
- Moshe Ben-Chaim
- Today, we do not sacrifice, as there is no Temple in which
to sacrifice. Without Temple, G-d cannot be properly designated
as the Recipient of our offerings. Without Temple, human emotions
run misguided, and are often attracted to idolatrous modes of
worship. The institution of the Temple, with it's hundreds of
laws governing all services, served to direct each of man's thoughts
and actions towards the proper worship of G-d. If even one of
the Temple laws went unfulfilled, man's nature is enabled to
seep into areas, other than Torah law. This is very dangerous,
as the religious emotion - heightened to its zenith during temple
service - is at risk of following idolatrous emotions, as opposed
to G-d's Temple laws. When the Temple existed, its laws directed
man's actions and thoughts to fall perfectly in line with correct
ideas of the Creator, and His true worship. Without Temple, there
cannot be sacrifice. The Talmud cites and instance (metaphorically)
where the idolatrous emotion emerged from the Holy of Holies
as a fiery lion. This teaches that the idolatrous emotion is
as brazen as fire, as strong as a lion, and is intimately connected
to the most religious of all areas - the Holy of Holies in the
Temple. If you recall, we discussed that according to one view,
the Temple was instituted only as a response to the Golden Calf.
Temple is a means to address the idolatrous element in man.
- With no Temple, our prayers (the Shemoneh Essray) take the
place of sacrifice. "Uh-nishalma parim sifasaynu",
"...and we will pay for oxen, (with) our lips". (Hosea,
14:3) This means according to the Targum, that "the words of our lips should be received before G-d
as pleasant, oxen sacrifices". Our prayers today take the
place of sacrifice. What is sacrifice, and how do our verbal
prayers meet the same requirement, that they are a replacements
- Talmud Berachos 26b states that according to Rabbi Yosi ben
Rabbi Chanina, Abraham instituted the morning prayer service,
Isaac instituted the afternoon's service, and Jacob, the evening
service. Modeling prayer after our forefathers, prayer is therefore
to be recited three times daily; morning, afternoon and evening.
Berachos 29b also derives prayer times of sunrise and sunset
from Psalms 72:5, "They should fear you with the sun, and
before the moon in all generations." Prayer is therefore
defined as a "fearing of G-d". As such, prayer is properly
aligned with the solar events of sunrise and sunset. Witnessing
such heavenly phenomena, we stand in awe of G-d's might as the
sole Creator, and this state of awe is complimentary to prayer,
which is essentially "praise" of G-d. Although we ask
our requests in prayer, the initial three praises form the essential
element of prayer - praising G-d. Aligning our prayers with evidence
of G-d's might (sunrise and sunset) we thereby compliment our
praises of G-d.
- We also learn from Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi that our prayers
parallel the morning and afternoon sacrifices, and the burning
of the animal sections which endured all
evening. We are confronted with a few powerful questions:
- 1) From where is prayer derived? Are
prayers derived from the sacrifices offered each day, or from
our forefather's prayers?
- 2)Why didn't all three forefathers
pray at all three intervals each day?
- 3) If the forefathers themselves offered
sacrifice, how can we suggest that prayer is 'in place' of sacrifice?
They performed both!
- 4) What is significant to prayer, and
to sacrifice, that both must performed at these times?
- The most primary concept in sacrifice
is that we kill a living being in our approach to G-d. We are
saying in other words, that we sacrifice 'ourselves' - by proxy.
The animal is in our place. We wish to show that our very lives
are for no other purpose than to serve G-d. Sacrificing a living
being, we express our own wish for self-sacrifice in G-d's worship.
For this reason, Abraham and all the forefathers sacrificed,
even before the Torah's command existed. Adam, Cain, Abel, Noah
also sacrificed. This institution of sacrifice is not Torah-dependent,
but an integral, human expression of man's approach to G-d. But
sacrifice does not include one element which man requires in
relating to G-d; dialogue. This is where prayer comes in. As
G-d is our Maker, Provider, and the "All Knowing",
man praises, requests from, and thanks G-d. These comprise the
three components of prayer. This is predicated on the very fundamental
that G-d relates to man. G-d is real to one who prays properly
- he recognizes G-d is aware of all, and that man may relate
- We asked earlier, "Why didn't
all three forefathers pray at all three intervals each day?"
I do not know that they didn't. All we learn from Rabbi Yosi
ben Rabbi Chanina is that the 'institution' of each prayer was
formulated by each of the forefathers. However, this does not
mean that each one did not partake of prayer at various times,
each day. We must then ask , "What is the significance is
of the Talmud's teaching, that each one instituted a different
prayer?" When reading the Otzar Tefilos on the daily morning,
Shemoneh Essray prayer, he cites the Kuzari. The Kuzari makes
reference to the famous question on the formulation: "G-d
of Abraham, G-d of Isaac, and G-d of Jacob". Instead, it
could be formulated as: "G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."
The latter more efficiently describes the idea. However, as the
Kuzari mentions, with the latter formulation, we lose a fundamental
concept; that each forefather acknowledged G-d as a result of
his own investigation. Isaac didn't simply worship Abraham's
G-d, nor did Jacob. But each of the forefathers (although taught
by his father) came to recognize the truth of the Creator's existence
and providence through his own thinking. Thus, G-d's name is
associated with each forefather, individually, not collectively.
Each one - individually, through his own thinking - arrived at
the conclusion that G-d exists. This being so, why must we mention
this at the commencement of prayer? It is clear; prayer is an
act of attesting to truth. Simple recitation of the words is
meaningless. Unless we arrive at the truth of G-d's existence
and providence through our own thinking - as the forefathers
did - we are not verbalizing an idea which we feel is true. Enunciating
truth, means, by definition, that we agree wholeheartedly with
that truth, and to do so, we must arrive at that truth through
our own thinking, resulting in honest conviction.
- We learn that prayer is to be an expression
of one's conviction in the existence of G-d. G-d is the One to
be praised - the primary focus of prayer. And due to our recognition
of His might, we request our needs from Him alone. We then offer
thanks for His kindness, as the conclusion of prayer. The fact
that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says that prayers are in
place of sacrifice, means that the "law" to pray satisfies
our requirement of sacrifice, in some manner. He does not argue
the fact that the forefathers prayed. His statement addresses
a different point; the post-Sinai law of prayer. Once the Temple
was no longer, the Rabbis formulated the very prayers - already
recited in some form - as satisfying some aspect of sacrifice.
- Prayer, as an institution, originated with our forefathers.
It is an act integral to man's relationship with G-d, which predates
Sinai - our acceptance of a system of law. But the 'law' to pray
must be post-Sinai, by definition. Maimonides states this law
is derived from "And you shall worship Hash-m your G-d..."
(Exod. 23:25) This obligatory prayer, was formulated to comply
with the times of sacrifice. Maimonides, in his Mishneh Torah,
omits any mention of the forefathers in his section on prayer.
He too would agree that the forefathers prayed, but again, the
law to pray is derived from this verse above and formulated in
line with the times of sacrifice. Prayer as a law was not derived
from the forefather's actions, which were prior to our Law. However,
this does not mean that we cannot model our prayers in some manner
after them. This appears to be the position of Rabbi
Yosi ben Rabbi Chanina.
- Abraham, Isaac and Jacob prayed at morning, afternoon and
night respectively. We do not derive our prayers from these general
times, but from the specific hours delineated by the sacrifices
in the Temple.
- What we may derive from the forefather's prayer times is
this; no portion of the day may be experienced without prayer.
Morning, afternoon and evening, are all recognized times zones.
Man relates to his day through periods of time, but not necessarily
by the hour. Thus, 10:00 and 11:00 are virtually the same in
man's experience. But morning is a much different experience
than afternoon, and this is certainly true about our experience
of night. "One must relieve himself at night as he does
in the day." This shows that man is more modest during the
light hours, as he can be seen more readily. At night, man's
instincts swell, assisted by the cover of darkness. As man turns
his attentions towards different activities as the day changes,
and various emotions swell with the day's progress and the setting
of the sun, man must regroup and make certain his experiential
and internal changes do not divert his attention from G-d. This
was taught by the forefathers' various times of prayer. G-d was
not absent from their thoughts during any period of the day.
And as we said, each one deserved to have G-d's name associated
with him individually, as each one came to recognize G-d, not
through habit, not through inheritance, but through earnest study
and conviction on their own.