וַיֵּצֵא יִצְחָק לָשׂוּחַ בַּשָּׂדֶה לִפְנוֹת עָרֶב
Rashi on the passuk says “ein sicha elah teffilah” = the terminology of sicha/conversing connotes prayer. He bases this on a passuk from Tehillim 102:1: יִשְׁפֹּךְ שִׂיחוֹ
From this, we learn that Yitzchak established the afternoon teffila of Mincha.
Rav Avroham Schorr shlita poses a question with regards to Rashi’s assertion. In Devarim Rabba on Parshas Va’eschanan, the Midrash lists 10 expressions for teffila, yet sicha is not one of them. What is the concept of sicha and what kind of teffila is it?
One of the main aspects of teffila is to feel a connection with Hashem; to cultivate a feeling of being bound to our Creator and Sustainer.
The ups-and-downs of life, however, can in cause the intensity of that connection and feeling to fluctuate. When there are many positive things happening in a person’s life, it may be easy to have genuine teffila; for another it may be more difficult because he is distracted by the bounty in his life. Similarly during dark times, G-d forbid, some may find themselves crying out to Hashem in prayer for salvation, others unable to daven in their usual manner.
Rav Schorr specifically writes about the latter – when we experience hester panim – the “concealment” of Hashem’s presence. The idea of sicha as a way to connect with Hashem, is that even when we cannot pray to Hashem properly, there is a special form of connectivity, more akin to conversation than prayer; a simple recitation of words, in the hopes of re-attaining the closeness we once felt.
As we see from Yitzchak, the teffila of Mincha is said ba’sadeh – in the field; in the middle of our tumultuous day. Mincha is arguably the most difficult of the 3 daily prayers to set aside time for, and dedicate concentration toward in a meaningful way.
Of course we should try to find the most optimal frame of mind to daven Mincha, but if and when we cannot, there is still this teffila l’ani – a simple way of trying to connect with Hashem – that we can employ. Hence, the passuk from Tehillim above, now quoted in full:
תְּפִלָּה לְעָנִי כִי יַעֲטֹף וְלִפְנֵי ה’ יִשְׁפֹּךְ שִׂיחוֹ
We ask – in the form of simple conversation – that Hashem lift us up from the state of “poverty” we are feeling, that He bring us out of the state of hester panim, and give us the ability to open our mouths to call out in a more elevated form of prayer.
(Good opportunity to share this amazing song: Link)
Rav Schorr specifically writes (quoting the Ohev Yisrael in Vayeitzei) that the time of galus and the absence of the Beis HaMikdash (i.e. our days), is the time we often have no choice but to employ the sicha form of teffila.
The navi Micha, describing the destruction to befall Yerushalayim, says (3:12):
לָכֵן בִּגְלַלְכֶם צִיּוֹן שָׂדֶה תֵחָרֵשׁ
Therefore, because of you [your sins], shall Zion be plowed as a field
We are in the “field” without the Beis HaMikdash and the avodah that is the ideal form of prayer and way of acheiving dveikus with Hashem. But in the field, we can still converse with Hashem, and ask for better times and increased closeness to come speedily in our days.
Rav Tzvi Sobolofsky shlita offers a slightly different approach, not focusing on the dark times, but instead on the “in between” times. Chazal (Rosh Hashana 18b), while discussing the status of fast days associated with the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, divide Jewish history into three categories: (1) During times of peace, these days become times of celebration; (2) when there are decrees of persecution, we are obligated to fast on these days; finally, (3) at times of neither complete peace nor persecution, these fast days are voluntary. Although we have accepted to fast on these days even during times when there is no outright persecution, technically, these three categories govern the status of these days as actual fast days.
He says that each distinct era in our history was foreshadowed by the lives and tefillos of the three Avos: Avraham taught us to pray during times of peace, whereas Yaakov (having experienced a great deal of suffering in his life) is our model during times of darkness. We emulate Yitzchak when we are somewhere in between the hopeful morning of Avraham and the difficult night of Yaakov.
It is fairly simple to approach Hashem during the morning, when we have just been restored from our slumber (Gemara Brachos 57b, says that sleep is 1/60 death). It can also be easy to reach out to Hashem at night, in a time of despair, with nowhere else to turn.
The majority of our lives, however, are hopefully spent – at the very least – somewhere in the middle. Hester panim does not only mean a time of tragedy or difficulty; sometimes, we simply don’t feel a strong connection with Hashem.
When we are neither basking in Hashem’s warm, morning sun, nor shivering in search of help in the cold night, what is our relationship with Hashem?
Both as individuals and as a nation we are faced with the challenge to maintain our connection to Hashem during the “regular” days. It is the legacy of Yitzchak to turn to Hashem even during these times, in whatever manner we can.
This fits perfectly with the essence of Yitzchak. Yitzchak was not the founder of monotheism, nor was he the father of the 12 tribes. Yitzchak was the transition. He dug the same wells as Avraham. He stayed the course. He was given an idea and a new way of approaching the world and Hashem, that he had to fortify, so that he could hand it off to Yaakov. There was no “flash” to Yitzchak, just constant fire. Yitzchak stayed the course on an everyday basis.
(see Dvar Torah for Emor and Yitzchak’s connection to Shavuos: Link here
The break that we take in the middle of our busy days to recite teffilas Mincha, allows us to remember that Hashem controls all aspects of our lives – the good, the bad and everything in between.