Isaac and Mincha

          Of the three patriarchs, Isaac gets the short stick. He is passive and manipulated by others. Similarly, of the three prayer services of the day, Mincha gets the short stick. It is often a rushed prayer service in the middle of the afternoon, without the time and attention given to it of Shacharit when we wake up and Maariv before we go to sleep.
          At the same time there is something significant about the Mincha prayer. In our Torah portion it says that Isaac went out לשוח בשדה, to walk/meditate in the field.[1] Rashi says this means he prayed, pointing out that the same root is used in the psalm תפילה לעני: “a poor man when he is faint and pours forth his plea before God.”[2]

          Isaac poured forth his plea in the field. Perhaps he was brimming with anticipation, filled with both excitement and anxiety, about the woman coming who he was going to marry. His prayer was so powerful that when Rebecca glimpsed him from a distance she fell from her camel.[3] She then veiled herself,[4] the origin of the bride’s bedeken for Ashkenazi Jews before a wedding. The sources used for Abraham creating Shacharit and Jacob creating Maariv, that Abraham “arose early in the morning”[5] and Jacob “arrived at the place and stayed the night”[6] pale in comparison to the one for Isaac. Here is someone calling out to God before meeting his wife.

          Rebbe Nahman of Bratslav began the practice of hitbodedut. It is like a walking meditation, only during it one is conversing with God, saying whatever comes to his/her mind without filter. The first time I did this I thought it was strange but afterwards I enjoyed being able to speak with the Holy One without a filter; that in that moment it was just me and God. I also found that verbalizing my thoughts cleared my mind and had a freeing effect. I imagine Isaac doing the same thing, pouring out his soul to God at a pivotal afternoon in his life.

          For those of us who do not pray Mincha on a regular basis, I challenge us to, whether through the traditional liturgy or pouring out one’s heart to God. In the midst of the afternoon, when we can often feel a lull or just a desire to finish what we are doing, it is pivotal to set time to take a break and have time just to commune with the Holy One. If we do so, we might even lose track of time, getting engrossed in our hitbodedut, our solitary conversation with God. I hope that we will take time out of our busy schedules, not only on Shabbat but also during the week, לשוח בשדה, to meditate in the fields as we strengthen our connection with the Holy One.

[1] Genesis 24:63

[2] Rashi on Genesis 24:63 ד”ה לשוח בשדה based off Psalm 102:1.

[3] Genesis 24:64

[4] Genesis 24:65

[5] Genesis 19:27 Abraham arose early the day Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed.

[6] Genesis 27:11

Arranged Marriages Versus Love

        This week we read about the first arranged marriage in Judaism. Abraham makes his servant swear to find a wife for Isaac, and we find out that Rebecca is the ideal candidate. Not only does she give the servant water but also gives to his camels.[1]

          In contrast, next week Jacob chooses his own wife: Rachel. He did obey his parents’ wishes by going to the land of Haran rather than marrying a Hittite, yet he chose the woman he wanted to marry, even kissing her.[2]

          Which is better: arranged marriages or marriages based on love? I suppose it depends what one’s cultural background is. Interestingly, Sir Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l cites Rabbi Joseph Kolon the Maharik, who comments “The command to love your neighbor overrides the command to obey your parents. Since the love of husband and wife3030 is a supreme example of love of neighbor, it too takes priority over a parents’ wishes.”[3] The word for neighbor, רע, is the same word used in the שבע ברכות, the seven marital blessings, where spouses are referred to as רעים האהובים.

          The lesson for us today is sometimes we as parents want things for our children that they do not want for themselves. We might have increased vision as a result of our experiences. Yet, as Rabbi Sacks writes, “to be a Jewish parent is to make space for your child, as God makes space for us, His children.”[4] May we work on making space for our children, especially when they make choices we’d rather they not make. Let us have the confidence in how we raised them that they will do fine and if they make a mistake, they will learn and grow from it.

[1] Genesis 23:19

[2] Genesis 26:11

[3] Rabbi Joseph Kolon, Responsa 164:3. In Jonathan Sacks Covenant & Conversation Genesis: The Book of Beginnings (New Milford, CT: Maggid Books, 2009), pg. 137.

[4] Sacks, pg. 140.