Bereishit 24:63 reads: 

And Isaac went out to meditate (lasuach) in the field at the eventide; and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, there were camels coming (JPS translation, 1917) 

Most English translations render the verse’s word lasuach as “meditate.” A modern translation of the word may be “to wander,” or else “to converse.” The Rabbinic tradition, though, overwhelmingly interprets the word lasuach to mean “to pray.” Proofs are brought from throughout the Bible to show that this is the meaning of the word, and that Yitzchak was praying when he first met Rivkah.  

The Talmud (Brachot 26b) teaches that, according to the view that the daily prayer services were established by the Patriarchs, rather than according to the daily sacrifices once offered in the Temple. We learned last week that, according to that tradition, Avraham established the shacharit (morning) prayer. The Talmud bases this on the verse (19:27): And Avraham rose early in the morning to the place where he stood there, before the face of the Eternal. There can be no “standing” but prayer, as it is written (Psalm 106:30) And Pinchas stood up and carried out sentence (“pilel,” often used to mean “prayed”) and the plague was abated.  

The Talmud goes on to say that Yitzchak established minchah, the afternoon prayer, based on the verse cited above. 

How are the shacharit and minchah prayers different? In terms of the services themselves, there are some clear differences. Minchah is extremely short. It consists of Ashrei, an Amidah, tachanun (a prayer for forgiveness), and Aleynu. The morning services, on the other hand, is preceded by blessings said to prepare for the day, some Torah study, a series of Psalms and other Biblical verses, culminating in Shriat Hayam, the Song of the Sea; all this as a preparation for prayer, which only comes after the Shma and its blessings have been recited! Even afterwards, another Ashrei is required, along with some other concluding prayers. Whereas minchah rarely takes more than ten to fifteen minutes, shacharit can take up to forty five. 

But beyond the length of the services and their liturgical requirements, the verses that the two prayer services are based on reflect different moods and attitudes. Avraham stood before the Eternal, watching the destruction of the cities of S’dom and Amorah after praying that they be spared. There is urgency in his prayer. He wakes early, ready to bear witness to something horrible and momentous, urgently seeking the Eternal. Yitzchak, on the other hand, goes out to the field. His prayer has no context of judgment or sentence. He does not need to rush to it. He has gone out lasuach, to “wander” in the field. Alternatively, as most English translations have rendered the word lasuach, he has gone out to “meditate.” He has gone out for sichah, for “conversation” with G-d. s 

When a religious Jew wakes in the morning, their first responsibility is to prepare for a day of avodat Hashem, of serving G-d. One carefully prepares to encounter the Divine through blessings, Torah study, saying Shma, and then, finally, one may pray. In the afternoon, the day has taken on its flow of actions and responsibilities. Prayer in the afternoon is sichah; something that can happen within a wide range of time during the day. It is something that we do while wandering; something that we do without urgency, in meditation. It is done where we happen to be; “in the field”.  

Shabbat Shalom! 

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