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
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?
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.
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:
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.
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.
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?
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.
יִמְצָאֵהוּ בְּאֶרֶץ מִדְבָּר וּבְתֹהוּ יְלֵל יְשִׁמֹן יְסֹבְבֶנְהוּ יְבוֹנְנֵהוּ יִצְּרֶנְהוּ כְּאִישׁוֹן עֵינוֹ
He found him in a desert land, and in the waste, a howling wilderness; He compassed him about, He cared for him, He kept him as the apple of His eye.
Ishon is also a pupil – The Tiferes Shlomo says that this passuk is specifically referring to one of the special aspects of Sukkot as a time specifically to work on shmiras einayim – guarding of one’s eyes (pupils). We ask in Mussaf on the Shalosh Regalim: v’hareinu b’vinyano – to see the building of the Beit HaMikdash. Only with einayim tehorot can we behold sights of kedusha.
Rav Schorr writes that we go into the Sukkah as a haven, so to speak, from the outside world. Inside the Sukkah, we see the stars and the faces of our family and friends, G-d willing.
The third bracha of Bilaam is the famous blessing of Mah Tovu Ohalech Yaakov…Bnei Yisrael are praised for their modesty (because the entrances of their tents did not face one another).Shmiras einayim, however, is not only about shielding our eyes from improper sights and images; sifrei mussar also speak about this trait in connection with not looking upon others in a disdainful, critical, judgmental or jealous manner. Sukkot comes immediately after Yom Kippur – a day during which we hope to rectify our actions and turn bad habits around. A humble suggestion, that perhaps one function of the Sukkah is to emphasize not looking at other people after Yom Kippur and think either (1) that they didn’t use Yom Kippur properly, or (2) the opposite – seeing someone trying to correct their ways, and thinking “who does this person think he/she is; all of a sudden this person is frum…etc.”.
וְעַל חֵטְא שֶׁחָטָאנוּ לְפָנֶיךָ בְּשִׂקּוּר עָיִן
עַל חֵטְא שֶׁחָטָאנוּ לְפָנֶיךָ בְּעֵינַיִם רָמות
Why the double-eye language? Rav Schorr quotes the Taharat Kodesh, who says that the amount a person is careful with what he looks at in the world (and how he looks at his fellow man) before Mashiach, will be commensurate with how much he WILL be able to see upon the arrival of Mashiach, b’meheirah b’yameinu.