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 for sacrifice?
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 to G-d.
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.