Thursday, November 1, 2018

Fathers and Time

Of the three patriarchs, the one with the briefest of appearances and the fewest mentions in the Biblical verses is certainly Isaac, son of Abraham and father to Jacob. A Talmudic passage attributes the three daily prayers to three different verses, each one associated with a patriarch. The morning service, Shacharit, is attributed to Abraham (Genesis 19:27); the afternoon service, Mincha, was first prayed by Isaac (Genesis 24:63); and the evening service, Ma’ariv, or Arvit, is ascribed to Jacob (Genesis 28:11).

The verse associated with Isaac appears at the end of this week’s parasha, when Abraham’s servant escorts Rebecca to meet and marry Isaac. It states: “And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the evening time; and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, the camels were coming” (Genesis 24:63). Rabbi Elie Munk (1900-1981 Germany and Paris), in his classic “The World of Prayer” explains the connection between each patriarch and the time of day of the prayer attributed to them. His words, quoted below, are well worth repeating.

Abraham’s life was like the rising sun that waxes even brighter. Blessed with abundant success in all his undertakings, he stood alone facing the entire world and summoning it to the altar of the One and Only God. Yet he was neither envied nor hated, but highly revered as a prince of God.

During Isaac’s life the light began to grow dimmer. The sun, which had shone for his father, had passed the zenith and had begun to descend. Isolated on account of his ‘walking before God,’ he was greeted only with envy by his contemporaries for the divine blessings he received. He had to withdraw into himself and his household. With his birth the ominous presage of ‘your offspring shall be strangers’ becomes a reality.

Finally, with Jacob, the shadows of night close in. His entire life was a concatenation of trials and tribulations. Only in fleeting moments did he experience the joy of life. 

Yet all three Patriarchs, much as their lives differed, found the way back to God in prayer. They left as their heritage to us the means of elevating ourselves to God from the most divergent times of life: - when the rays of morning rouse all to life, when the waning of the sun turns us to earnest self-contemplation, and when the night summons us to rally our thoughts towards God.

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