My Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Moshe Meiselman recently told me the following story:
“A man came to me and said, ‘My wife and I waited many years before having a child and since then many years have passed without any more children. Perhaps the Rosh Yeshiva could give us a bracha for another child?’
“I requested permission to ask him two personal questions and he agreed. ‘Are you and your wife careful to keep all the laws of family purity?’
“When he answered that unfortunately they sometimes cut corners I told him, ‘If you would like Hashem to grant you a child, you must first show Him that you respect the area of halacha that is directly connected to having children.’
“Then I asked him if he makes sure to daven Mincha every day. Quite uncomfortable, he answered that sometimes he is deeply involved in his work and Mincha just falls through the cracks. I told him, ‘If you are davening to Hashem and asking Him for this great present you must respect the matter of tefillah. That means davening all three tefillos every day.’
“He accepted upon himself to be more careful in these two areas and a year later he invited me to be the sandek at the bris of his son.”
The Gemara in Berachos (26b) states that the Avos instituted the custom to pray three times a day: Avraham started Shacharis, Yitzchak Mincha, and Yaakov Ma’ariv. These three tefillos are not three separate prayers – they fuse together into one unit that encompasses our entire day. Missing even just one component makes it so much harder to establish a deep connection with our Creator.
Let us understand the concept of these three prayers and how each one reflects the patriarch who established it.
Evil Nocturnal Powers
Many think that evil prevails at night because it is dark. The Ramchal (Derech Hashem Part IV 6:1) tells us that exactly the opposite is true – it is dark at night because evil prevails! Basically, Hashem in His infinite wisdom allows the powers of tumah and evil to spread throughout the universe specifically at night. In order to keep us out of harm’s way, He makes the world dark so that we will stay indoors and sleep until the morning.
One of the great rabbis of our generation commented that with the advent of modern technology, the protection afforded by the onset of darkness has ceased to exist. Huge, powerful lights make the night seem bright as day, and as a result the nightlife of bars, theaters, and clubs continues until the wee hours of the morning. It is no surprise that people are getting dragged into evils the likes of which we have never seen before.
We must be aware of the spiritual dangers that prowl at night and avoid being clutched by their wicked claws.
From midnight, the powers of evil begin to wane until, finally, when the morning arrives, they retreat to their hiding places. Even though the sun now shines brightly, the aftermath of the ruckus caused by the nocturnal perambulations remains. It is our job to remove those effects and prepare the world for the new day.
The first step is netilas yadayim – washing the hands. While we slept we tasted a sixtieth of death due to the fact that the connection to our neshamos was lessened and the remnants of that tumah are found on our hands. Washing three times with a cup not only removes that spiritual filth – it also cleans the world of its impurities.
Next, we daven Shachris. Through this tefillah we prepare the world to receive its daily sustenance. This is why it’s is the longest prayer of the day, as it must bring down all that is needed for that day’s mission. We daven Mincha during the afternoon to bring over the blessing to the next part of the day. Since we are just moving over what we already received in the morning, it is not as long of a tefillah. Finally, at night, we have a slightly longer prayer, in order to bring that sustenance to the new time zone – nighttime.
Now we can explain how the three tefillos correspond to each of the forefathers. Let us suggest that the tumah that spreads at night muddles our awareness that Hashem created the universe, that He is its Master, and takes care of us completely. The more clarity we achieve through these three prayers, the more of Hashem’s blessing we bring upon ourselves.
When we wake up in the morning for a new day, there is a certain feeling of freshness – as if it is a brand new world. Indeed, we say in one of the blessings before krias Shema, “hamechadesh betuvo b’chol yom tamid ma’aseh bereishis – In His goodness He renews daily, perpetually, the work of creation.” Through looking at the world, Avraham discovered that Hashem created it and he served Him based on that recognition. He instituted Shachris so that we also should instill in ourselves that awareness. Each segment of the morning prayer shows us how every part of the world was created by Hashem.
Once we go to work and are involved in our own matters, we are in danger of forgetting about Hashem. Yitzchak is the one who teaches us how to avoid that. He gave himself over completely as an offering to Hashem, as he realized that our very being is all a present from Him and, if necessary, we must even give up our lives for His sake. It goes without saying that we must also live with that awareness.
In Parshas Toldos (Chapter 26) we find a description of Yitzchak’s involvement with worldly matters such as planting fields, digging wells, and dealing with the damages caused by Avimelech’s servants. Through it all, his faith in Hashem did not falter, as he prayed to Hashem for help and thanked Him for success. Therefore, it is quite apropos that Yitzchak should be the one to institute Mincha. Stopping in middle of our day to daven, reminds us Who is really helping us with our livelihood. And the Tur says that since doing so is quite difficult, the reward for it is tremendous! Mincha prevents us from patting ourselves on the back and saying “Kochi ve’otzem yadi asah li es hachayil hazeh – My strength and the might of my hand made me all this wealth!” (Devorim 8:17)
Night settles, and the powers of evil are set loose. We retreat to our homes and place ourselves in Hashem’s hands. This was Yaakov, the one who endured so many trials and travails throughout his life and eventually went into exile. He instituted Ma’ariv so we should realize that Hashem is protecting us even in the darkness of the galus. This gives us another reason to serve Him. He is “Shomer Yisrael – the protector of Klal Yisrael.”
We now see how the three tefillos work together to help us remember throughout the different parts of the day that we are totally in Hashem’s hands.
Rav Shimshon Pincus would say that sometimes we think, “What are my tefillos worth? How much kavana did I have anyways?” This is a huge mistake! We must realize that since these tefillos were instituted by the Avos, the very words are more powerful than an atom bomb – no matter what level of kavana we had. Let’s not take them lightly!