Photo Credit: Jewish Press

We have a popular phrase, ‘food for thought.’ The Kuzari says that prayer is ‘food for the soul.’ He elaborates that just as we meet the needs of the body by eating three meals, so too our neshamas have similar needs to meet. And so, on a spiritual level, Shacharis, Mincha, and Maariv are the ‘food’ equivalents of three meals a day. The Avudrahan backs this up with an interesting gematria. He points out that each Shemone Esrei has nineteen brachos. Therefore, in a full day of prayer, we get a total of fifty-seven blessings. The Hebrew word zan (nourishment) also equals fifty-seven, further directing our attention to prayer as the sustenance of the neshama.

Indeed, the Zohar also describes prayer as spiritual food. The Kuzari develops the thought adding that when one hasn’t davened for a while, his neshama weakens in a manner similar to the weakening of the body that comes about through fasting. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why many great people such as the Chazon Ish used to daven Mincha as soon as one is allowed, in order that there should not be such a big gap between Shacharis and Mincha. Following this pattern, we find that most yeshivas daven Mincha in the early afternoon. (Of course, there are other reasons such as davening Mincha near the time of the afternoon Tamid offering, which Mincha commemorates.)


The Shala”h HaKodesh, basing his remarks on a Rashb”a, comments that the three daily prayers correspond to the three phases of human life; namely, the years of growth, the stationery years, and the years of decline. Viewed in this way, Shacharis corresponds to the time periods of childhood, adolescence, and budding maturity. Mincha relates to the years of middle-age, and Maariv focuses on one’s golden years. Thus, while davening, it would be proper to focus on one’s children and grandchildren during Shacharis, and upon elderly parents and grandparents during Maariv.

Furthermore, since the majority of one’s mature years fall within the middle-age bracket, it explains to us why the tefillah of Mincha is described as being so important. As the Gemara in Brachos says, “Great is the prayer of Mincha for Eliyahu was only answered during the Mincha prayer.” Indeed, a middle-aged businessman who finds it difficult, especially during the winter months, to leave the office smack in the middle of the day in order to catch Mincha, should be alerted to the fact that Mincha is the most critical prayer for the middle-aged man.

The Zohar Chadash shares a fascinating piece of information with us. It teaches that the angel which brings up our morning prayer is Michoel. The Mincha prayer is delivered by Gavriel, while the Maariv prayer is presented by the malach, Nuriel. Interestingly, the word magein – shield, that is mentioned so prominently in the beginning of our prayers (when we thank Hashem for being MaGeN Avraham), is an acronym of Michoel, Gavriel, Nuriel. This is very fitting since indeed the true shield of our people is the power of our prayer. As it says, “Ha kol kol Yaakov, v’hayadaim yadei Eisav.” While Eisav uses the power of his hands and muscles, we wield the power of our mouths in prayer and Limud HaTorah. So also, the legendary Magen Dovid, the six-sided Star of David which was Dovid HaMelech’s emblem when he went to war, signifies the realization that it wasn’t Dovid’s military might or strategic genius which won the battle, but rather the defense of the One Above Who is in all six directions, above and below and to all four sides. Thus, this star represents the great power of praying to He Who rules over all.

It is interesting to note that many of our prayer customs are directly related to the fact that nowadays, tefillah is a substitute for korbonos (sacrifices). Thus, for example, we daven standing, as the Avoda in the Beis HaMikdash had to be done while standing. We daven in a Makom K’vuah, a fixed place, similar to the sacrifices which had to be slaughtered and sprinkled at fixed places by the Altar. We try to pray in the Synagogue just like the sacrifices had to be offered in the Temple. We wear dignified clothing (Chassidim even add the gartel as a special garment for prayer similar to the Kohanim who donned the bigdei Kehuna). We wash our hands just like the Kohein sanctified his hands from the kiyor (laver). We word our prayers in the plural since they correspond to the community offerings. We try not to have any untoward thoughts during davening for by sacrifices certain untoward thoughts render the korban pigul and therefore unusable. We try to utilize prayer to bring ourselves closer to Hashem similar to the korban whose very root, korav, means to come near. All our prayers incorporate a plea for help to repent and a request for forgiveness and pardon. For many of the sacrifices were for the express purpose of atonement.

The Klei Yakar states that when one davens with passion – his or her heart aflame with heartfelt emotion, it corresponds to the fire on the Altar which consumes the offering. Rabbeinu Bachya adds that when one sheds a tear in prayer, this is symbolic of the lofty ritual of nisuch hamayim, the holy water libations that were done with great pomp and ceremony during the Succos festival. Mr. Yitzchak Lowinger told me in his father’s name, that we know that every sacrifice was accompanied with salt, as it states, “Al kol karboncha takriv melech.” He beautifully explained that tears contain salt so, when one cries during a davening, besides the great effect that it has since the gates of tears in Heaven are never shut, it also represents the salt that accompanied every offering.

One might ask, with all this comparison to sacrifices, why don’t we pray on elevated places? After all, the Altar was elevated off the ground. Indeed, we are taught to pray at low places, as it says, “Shir Hamalos Me’mamakim, a Song of Assents from the Depths.” And the Gemara constantly refers to the chazan as one who is “Yoreid Lifnei HaTeiva – He who goes down to the pulpit.” And in many ancient shuls, and several contemporary ones as well, we find that the leader of the prayer services goes down a step to officiate in prayer!

The answer to this question is taught to us by Chazal with the lesson, “Ein gavhus lifnei HaMakom – There is no elevation before Hashem.” This means that if one were to climb up ostensibly to get closer to G-d, it would be akin to a blasphemous statement that G-d does not fill the entire world. This is also one of the reasons why we pray Shemone Esrei silently (thus it is known as the Silent Devotion) for if we were to raise our voices, it would imply that we need to speak up for G-d to hear us, while in truth Keil Deios Hashem, G-d knows our minds and is the Yodeia Machashavos. Of course, we also pray silently so as not to distract others.

There is yet another reason why we pray silently. The Zohar in Shemos (89) writes that one of the angels of prayer that helps carry our tefillos to Hashem is called oznayim, Ears. And he only hears prayers that are not audible to humans. (One should note that certain prayers, especially those said in Lashon Kodesh and in the presence of a minyan, do not need any intermediaries, and go straight to Hashem. Also, we mentioned above that the angels were Michoel, Gavriel, and Nuriel (and not Oznayim!). Perhaps this can be explained by analogy to an internet connection. Just like with the internet, a connection is achieved through multiple substations, so too certain prayers might involve a network of angels before a prayer gets to Hashem.

We are taught that one who prays should davenEl HaKosel,’ directly facing a wall.’ Besides the obvious reason, that this helps to avoid distractions, there is also again the analogy to korbonos which were applied against the wall of the Altar. But the Sefer Shomeia Tefillah offers a fascinating observation on the word kosel. He points out that the word kosel is made up of the Hebrew letters chof and vov, and then the word teil, which means a mount. Chof-vuv (26) is the gematria of Hashem’s ineffable Name, Yud-Kei-Vuv-Kei and thus, when we are charged to daven to the kosel, we are being taught to focus on Hashem and the Mount, namely the Har HaBayis and the Beis HaMikdash.

In the merit of our sincere prayers, may we be zoche to good health, happiness, and everything wonderful.


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