The articles in this column are transcriptions and adaptations of shiurim by Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, zt”l.
Isaac went out to meditate, lasuach, in the field (Genesis 24:63). Our Rabbis derive from here that Isaac instituted the afternoon prayer, Mincha. They also derive from the verse “And Abraham arose and stood (omed) at the place before G-d” (Genesis 19:27), that Abraham instituted Shacharit, the morning prayer. What is the difference between sicha and amida as they relate to prayer?
The Talmud says that an individual who missed one of the daily prayers should add an additional amida, Shmoneh Esray, to compensate. The Talmud (Berachot 30b) offers two opinions as to how much time to wait between the required and compensatory prayers based on the time required to collect ones thoughts prior to prayer. The first says to wait ad shetitchonen da’ato, derived from the same root as Vaetchanan. The other says to wait ad shetitcholel da’ato, derived from the same root as Vayechal. Both root words derive from terms associated with Moses’ prayers.
Vayechal refers to an extended, unbounded, uninterrupted prayer, like the one offered by Moses demanding that G-d forgive the Jewish People and reestablish His relationship with them after the sin of the Golden Calf. Moses, kvayachol, grabbed the coat of G-d and refused to let go until G-d accepted his prayer on their behalf. The Vayechal type of prayer facilitated Moses’ demand for a positive answer on behalf of the people.
On the other hand, Moses’ prayer on his own behalf to be allowed to enter the Land of Israel was comparable to that of a poor person begging for a favor. It was a brief supplication. G-d ordered him to cease praying, as his request was denied. Prayer associated with Va’etchanan is characterized by brevity. The poor person may be granted a brief opportunity to request a favor, but he cannot demand anything and must terminate his request when ordered to do so.
Preparation for prayer must be commensurate with the type of prayer offered. Vayechal, a prayer offered on behalf of the community in crisis, requires longer preparation, as the stakes are much higher and failure is not an option. The petitioner must be prepared to extend himself for 40 days and nights in focused prayer on behalf of the community. Vaetchanan, a prayer offered by the individual on his own behalf, requires shorter preparation as the scope of the prayer is more restricted. Ultimately the petitioner, who may be in extreme distress, recognizes that G-d may not grant his request. In that case, he must be prepared to cease his prayer and accept G-d’s decision.
Rambam distinguished between prayer types in Mishneh Torah by separating them into different sections. On the one hand, avoda shblev, a devotion of the heart that obligates an individual to pray daily, is described in Hilchot Tefillah. The other aspect of prayer that obligates us to cry for help and sound an alarm in time of crisis (Numbers 10:9) is described in Hilchot Taanit. The avoda shblev aspect of supplication classifies daily prayer within the restricted, Vaetchanan type, limiting man to pray three times daily. The communal crisis aspect adds an additional prayer, Neila, (Rambam, Hilchot Taanit, chapter 1), as crisis requires unrestricted, Vayechal type prayer.
Now we can distinguish between the amida of Abraham and the Sicha of Isaac. Abraham’s kindness radiated externally towards the larger community. Abraham stood tall and resolute in his amida, petitioning G-d on behalf of the community consisting of the five towns. He pursued every avenue of prayer in his attempt to save them. Isaac personified hidden inner strength. His prayer was personal, like the inward focused prayer of the pauper, ‘A prayer for a poor man when he enwraps (ki yaatof) himself and pours out his words (sicho) before G-d’ (Psalms 102:1). Ki yaatof refers to the poor man, stooped over from the weight of his burdens, who wraps himself in his prayer shawl as he pours out his heart before G-d. Sicha indicates the limited Vaetchanan style of supplication, where downtrodden man approaches G-d on his own behalf with great trepidation.