Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

Congregation Agudath Sholom | 301 Strawberry Hill Ave | Stamford, CT 06902 (203)-358-2200 www.agudathsholom.org

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Walk Article


Chaye Sara-5779 

Rabbi David Walk 


It takes a tough person to daven a tender MINCHA. Here's the problem: Mincha falls out, for much of the year, during the work day. In Jerusalem the final time for Mincha gets as early as 4:39 PM and in New York as early as 4:28 PM, clearly within business hours. This presents both practical and halachik problems. Practically, it's often hard to get away from the work demands to find a quiet space to daven, and, sometimes, one might actually get so engrossed in work that it's easy to forget that the clock is ticking on Mincah. Halachikally, it's problematic to daven on the clock when you work by the hour. So, you either need the boss' permission or do it on a break. In New York, there are buildings known for their mincha minyanim. I understand that the Chrysler Building is very nice. Agudath Yisroel lists over fifty minyanim in, Downtown and Midtown Manhattan. You have to choose. Should I daven in a jewelry store, a financial enterprise, lawyer's office, garment manufacturer, or, perhaps, the best davening takes place in the many medical facilities, especially if you need a MISHEBEIRACH. 

But my favorite is the New York State Thruway minyan at the rest stop between exits 15a and 16 (Northbound). Officially sanctioned by the NYS Thruway Authority, who only allows davening in 'designated Mincha area' and prohibits the selling of food or solicitation of Tzedaka, 'A Thruway representative will be present at all times.' Does the governor decide the Nusach? 

The point is: Finding time to daven Mincha well is very hard. So, it should come as no surprise that we associate davening Mincha with Yitzchak, the most otherworldly of our Patriarchs. And, of course, it happens in this week's Torah reading: Isaac went forth to converse in the field towards evening...and he lifted his eyes and saw, and behold, camels were approaching (Breishit 24:62-63). The Midrash teaches that 'converse (LASUACH)' denotes prayer (Breishit Raba 60:14). So, this is a great week to discuss an important idea about davening. 

One of the most repeated lines in our prayers is: Holy, holy, holy is the God of Hosts, Who fills the universe with Divine Glory (Yeshayahu 6:4). We say this verse at least 4 times daily. There are two major problems in this verse. One obvious, the other subtle. 

The first problem is the repetition. Why holy x 3? The Targum solves that problem by translating the verse this way: Holy in the highest heavens, home of Divine Presence; Holy on earth, product of God's strength; Holy forever in all times and places.' In other words, God's holiness is everywhere and everywhen. The Rav suggested that the triple aspect of holiness is that there are three categories of holiness: time, place or thing, and humanity. 

But neither of those solves problem number 2: The verse is a paradox. Holy means separate and far removed. How can God's holiness be far away and yet, simultaneously, fill our universe? Or as many philosophers have asked: Is God immanent or transcendent? It would seem that you can't have both. The Rav liked to have his cake and eat it, too. He averred that we can and must live with paradoxes. I noticed during the recently completed High Holidays that there's another path to take, and the prayer book suggests it. 

The third blessing of Shmoneh Esreh is called KEDUSHAT HASHEM or the sanctity of God's Name. It begins like this: You are Holy, and Your name is Holy, and holy ones praise You daily. For the first time this Rosh Hashana, I read this line and realized, 'That's P'SHAT in KADOSH, KADOSH, KADOSH!' The first Kadosh, indeed, means that God is transcendent and, seemingly, unreachable. However, the second Kadosh implies that God gave us a method for accessing this sacredness, and that's the Divine Name. God's name is not only holy, it also provides a method for contacting God, by invoking it in our prayers. The third Kadosh teaches us that God's Glory can truly fill this world, if enough brave and holy individuals dedicate themselves to that endeavor. 

In other words, the verse doesn't present a paradox; it presents a game plan. God's initial aloofness is a challenge to the spiritually dedicated in our midst. They feel the urge to fill our realm with this holiness and glory. This also explains the next three paragraphs in the Machzor. After we state that we can access this holiness we have three sections beginning with the word UV'CHEN (and so). These paragraphs plot the progress of our interfacing with God's glory. First, we're petrified (PACHAD) of the enormous gulf between us. Then we display respect (KAVOD) for God's granting us a lifeline, through the Divine Name. Finally, we're overjoyed (S'MEICHIM) that we have made contact with the otherwise unreachable and ineffable. 

This also makes sense in the context of Yitzchak. Who else had the spiritual power to use the Divine Name to access God's presence? Avraham taught the world that there is an unbelievably distant and Holy God. Yitzchak's willingness to be sacrificed at Mt. Moriah (now the Temple Mount), made the breakthrough, which Avraham called HASHEM YIR'EH, which can be rendered either 'God will see (those who come to the Temple)' or God will be seen (by accessing Divine Holiness). Ya'akov, with his large family totally dedicated to the covenant, began the process of spreading the holiness throughout this earthly realm. When the Men of the Great Assembly wrote the Shmoneh Esreh, they were rejecting that the triple Kedusha introduces a paradox. They were teaching us that it's a process. It's a road map. 

Next week I'll discuss more about the character of Yitzchak, but it's vitally important to see his role in teaching us how to daven. Yitzchak isn't only about the challenge of Mincha. He's also about the potential of invoking God's name. He's about the power of prayer, anytime and anywhere.