Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Avodah of Mincha

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Parshas Chayei Sarah begins with the passing of Sarah Imeinu about whom Rashi testifies that all her years were equally good, “kulan shovin letovah.” Avrohom Avinu then sends his trusted aide Eliezer to his homeland to find a life mate for Yitzchok.

Having arrived in the city of Nachor in Aram Naharayim, Eliezer prayed that Hashem send him the girl destined for Yitzchok. We are all familiar with the test he set up to help him identify Yitzchok’s bashert. If the girl would not only offer to quench his thirst but would offer to give water to his camels, Eliezer would then be certain that she was Yitzchok’s intended. And that is exactly how the events played out.

Eliezer completed his mission and returned to Avrohom with Rivka. Yitzchok brought her to Sarah Imeinu’s tent and married her. Only then, the posuk tells us, was Yitzchok consoled over the loss of his mother. Rashi explains that when he brought Rivka to the tent, he saw that she was a worthy replacement for Sarah. For as long as Sarah lived, a candle remained lit in the tent from Erev Shabbos to Erev Shabbos, the dough in the tent was blessed, and the spirit of Hashem hovered over the tent. When Sarah passed away, these three things disappeared, but when Rivka took up residence there, they returned. Thus, Yitzchok found his nechama.

To more fully understand this nechama, we must probe into the meaning of the lights we ourselves kindle on Erev Shabbos. The candles are lit to provide shalom bayis, peace in the house; the halacha mandates that if one can only afford either kiddush wine or candles, the candles have priority, because peace in the Jewish home is a supreme need and there can be no peace without light.

The reference to the ner, light, which remained doluk, lit, from Erev Shabbos to Erev Shabbos, signifies that a Shabbos-like peace reigned in the home of Avrohom and Sarah throughout the week. In tribute to this rarified atmosphere, the onon, a Divine cloud, hovered over their tent. As Hakadosh Boruch Hu says (Medrash, Parshas Pinchos), “Lo motzosi kli machzik brocha elah hashalom,” the vehicle for blessing is peace.

When Yitzchok brought Rivka into his mother’s tent and saw the ner of shalom was rekindled - and that in turn generated the return of the onon - he was reassured that life in his home would reflect the spiritual elevation of his parents’ home. This was a true nechama.

Perhaps we can understand Yitzchok’s nechama on a different level.

The Tur (263) states that there is a machlokes Rishonim with respect to when kedushas Shabbos begins for a Jew who is mekabel Shabbos. The Behag holds that when a person lights the Shabbos candles any time after the time for the tefillah of Mincha - Plag HaMincha - Shabbos begins for him with that act of lighting.

Tosefos disagrees and maintains that the onset of Shabbos does not depend on when the candles are lit, but that it begins with the tefillah of Arvis. When a Jew davens Maariv, that is when he must begin observing the laws of Shabbos, says Tosefos.

The Gemorah in Brachos states, “Tefillos avos tikknum,” the avos were the originators of the three tefillos we pray each day. Avrohom instituted Shacharis, Yitzchok instituted Mincha, and Yaakov instituted Arvis, or Maariv.

Avrohom was the av hamon goyim; he was the first to call out in G-d’s name. This is signified by Shacharis, the prayer at the beginning of the day. He introduced the idea of sanctifying one’s day by beginning it in the morning with tefillah.

Yaakov was the first of the avos to go into extended golus. The tefillah he instituted is recited in the dark and signifies that even in times of darkness, a Jew never gives up; he maintains his faith and can exude holiness. It also signifies that a Jew can bring holiness into the darkness of exile.

Yitzchok originated the tefillah of Mincha, which is recited in the middle of the workday. Mincha signifies that a Jew can make the mundane holy. By breaking off in the middle of work and davening, a Jew proves that his priorities are in order; he knows success in business comes not from his own skill but from Above. He also signifies that he can raise his level of kedusha even while engaging in regular workday activities.

The Gemorah (Brachos 24) derives that Yitzchok instituted the tefillah of Mincha from the posuk in this week’s parsha which states, “Vayeitzei Yitzchok losuach basodeh lifnos ohrev.” The Gemorah translates this to mean that Yitzchok went out to daven in the field towards evening.

Tosefos asks how Yitzchok was permitted to daven in the field, since the halacha is that one should not daven in an open field where it is difficult to concentrate. Tosefos answers that the place where Yitzchok was davening was not really a field; it was the Har Hamoriah. The Gemorah in Pesachim (84) states that Avrohom referred to that hallowed place as a “har,” mountain. Yitzchok referred to it as a “sodeh,” field, and Yaakov called it a “bayis,” home.

Perhaps it was in keeping with the avodah of Yitzchok Avinu that the posuk purposely referred to the place where he initiated the avodah of tefillas Mincha as a sodeh. Yitzchok Avinu’s chiddush was that tefillah is indeed possible even as a Jew is deeply immersed in trying to make parnassa. He can - and must - take a break from his consuming business affairs and turn to Hashem. To hint this to us, the posuk from which we derive the obligation of davening Mincha refers to Har Hamoriah as a sodeh.

It is with this in mind that we can understand the consolation that Yitzchok felt when he brought Rivka to Sarah’s tent.

When Sarah Imeinu lit the Shabbos lights in her tent on Erev Shabbos, she sanctified the profane and the work week. She brought the holiness of Shabbos into her home where it remained until the following Friday when, once again, she lit the neiros Shabbos.

The kedushas Shabbos in her home began at Mincha time as she kindled those lights. Yitzchok learned this avodah from her. He learned from her example how to bring kedusha into a mundane workday. He saw the mechanism by which Friday afternoon is transformed into Shabbos - and how one can add holiness to one’s day and to the Jewish home.

When Yitzchok brought Rivka to the tent, he saw the way she also lit the candles on Erev Shabbos following the time of Mincha and, by so doing, brought the kedusha of Shabbos into the home. Just as it was with his mother Sarah, the holiness and light lasted the entire week. Yitzchok was then assured that with this woman he could build his home, for she knew the avodah of Mincha.

Perhaps this explains the statement that all of Sarah’s days were “equally good.” Since she used the power of making the profane holy, all her days were spent in holiness - as signified by the ner of Erev Shabbos being lit in her tent from Erev Shabbos to Erev Shabbos.

Everything she did was suffused with holiness, which is what Rashi refers to when he writes at the beginning of the parsha that her bread was blessed. For she knew the avodah of Mincha which brings kedusha to the sodeh and is able to raise the level of its produce.

With this in mind, we can understand the test Eliezer conducted to see if Rivka was a fitting match for Yitzchok. Eliezer was looking for a girl who would understand that spiritual elevation is achieved not only through servicing Eliezer, the most prestigious official of her world-famous uncle, the tzaddik Avrohom.

Even when conducting menial chores for camels and cattle, such as bringing them food and drink, one can raise their level of kedusha if they have the proper kavana. A girl who understands this concept and runs to care for the animals as she cared for Eliezer is a suitable life partner for Yitzchok, the originator of tefillas Mincha.

As we seek to find mates, to bring happiness into our home and to bring meaning to the zayas apecha, the daily grind we endure in the sodeh to make a livelihood, we should keep in mind the lesson that Yitzchok Avinu taught when he instituted the tefillah of Mincha.

We should remember our mothers, Sarah and Rivka, and the kedusha they brought into their homes every Friday at Mincha time, which lasted an entire week. We should remember that light - both physical light as well as the spiritual light of Torah - brings peace, and without peace there is no blessing. If we truly seek shalom in our bayis and in our life, we should strive to increase the light of Torah and Shabbos. Then we will surely be blessed, as were Sarah, Rivka and their families, with days that are all good.


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