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HiyyeSara 5783       November 19, 2022

Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg

Shabbat Shalom.

     This week, our parsha comes to the end of the saga of Abraham. Having been tried by God through the near sacrifice of Isaac last week, the final details of Abraham’s life are recorded here. First there is the death of his beloved Sarah and the purchase of a burial cave in which he will inter her remains. Seeing Isaac lost without his mother, Abraham arranges, without any input from Isaac, to find a bride for his 40-year-old son from back in the “old country.” Abraham sends a trusted servant to find Isaac a proper bride.

     Soon she arrives and turns out to be a good match for Isaac who marries her and learns to love her. Abraham, meanwhile, remarries, has some more children, and ensures that Isaac will inherit not only the family wealth, but the family religion as well. At the end of the parsha, Abraham dies and is buried next to his wife by both of his sons, Isaac and Ishmael.

     There is a lot to focus on in this parsha. God promises land to Abraham, but Abraham will still have to buy land for a burial cave from the local landowners. Why not consult or even send Isaac on the journey to find a wife? Why does a servant have to find a wife for him? What did Isaac and Ishmael talk about when they came to bury their father? Clearly, they had a lot of family history that needed to be resolved.

     But this week, Rabbi Eli Kaunfer, from Yeshivat Hadar in New York City, in his D’var Torah, turns his focus on the meeting between Isaac and Rebecca. The Torah records that Isaac went walking in the fields around evening time and sees a caravan of camels approaching. Rebecca, on one of those camels, sees Isaac and asks who that man might be. She is informed that she is seeing her future husband. She then prepares to meet him, by cleaning herself up from the long journey.

     Later Rabbis will conclude that Isaac is out in the field creating the Mincha service, to be recited at the end of the afternoon. Abraham, who rises early creates the Shacharit service, and Jacob will work late into the night and create the Maariv service. Thus, the three required services in Judaism, Shacharit, Mincha and Maariv, were created by the patriarchs themselves. The patriarchs are all related and so are the three services. They all contain an Amidah, a time of personal prayer, a time to pray what is in our hearts, and this Amidah is what binds them together. Since our parsha is dealing with Mincha, Rabbi Kaunfer turns his attention to the creation of the afternoon service. Rabbi Kaunfer writes: We saw that Avraham was credited with establishing Shaharit in Parashat VaYera, when he returned in the morning to look out over the destroyed city of Sodom. Morning is a time of clarity, where the world is set before us, and we face our reality, whether or not it intersects with our hopes.

     But Minhah is a time of blurriness and fading light. Yitzhak is a biblical character who always struggled with seeing and seeing clearly. In fact, in the end of our verse, Yizkhak does not see Rivkah, even though she is before him; he only sees the camels (Rivkah, by contrast, sees Yitzhak, Genesis 24:64). Later, of course, Yitzhak cannot see well enough to distinguish between his two sons, Ya’akov and Esav. This inability to see well coincides with the time of Minhah.”

     Anyone who drives a car at dusk knows that it is harder to see in the fading light. Our eyes are switching from daylight to night vision. As our day vision switches off and night vision switches on, we have a short time when neither one is fully working, making it hard to see. As Rabbi Kaunfer notes, Isaac is the patriarch who seems to have an ongoing vision problem. He sees the caravan in the distance but has no idea who is coming. Rebecca sees the man in the field and is able to inquire about his identity while still far enough away to make herself presentable. She will later take advantage of Isaac’s vision issues to ensure that Jacob will get the blessing he intended for Esau.

     Rabbi Kaunfer does not see this as just a prologue to the Jacob/Esau rivalry. There is a lesson out here in this field for us as well. We are still reciting Mincha at this blurry time of the day. What lesson is the Torah trying to teach us?

     Rabbi Kaunfer continues his lesson: “How might we also experience the moment of fading light as engendering a different emotional character to our Amidah—even if the words are exactly the same as the morning prayer? We might feel different when the sun is setting; perhaps like Yitzhak felt before he saw Rivkah, when he continued to suffer from the loss of his mother, and at 40 had no prospects for love.”

     The beginning of a day may be a time of clarity. When we wake up, we have every intention of getting our tasks done during the day. However, we know that life does not always take into account our intentions. Just one phone call can set us off on an unexpected path for an hour or more. We might unexpectedly meet an old friend and more time gets shaved off from the time we have allotted for our tasks. Sometimes, before we know it, the day is almost over, and we have not accomplished all that we intended to accomplish at sunrise.

     The beginning of our day often is a time of clear thinking. By late in the day, our minds have grown blurry. It is not a good time to be starting new tasks. It is not a good time to try and concentrate on something that requires having our full mind on the task. We are tired, we are worn down, perhaps a few short tasks can get done but basically the day has been shot. We have done lots of things during the day, but very few of the items we were prepared to do in the morning light.

     The morning Amidah and the Evening Amidah are almost exactly the same. We recite the same words at the end of the day as we say at the beginning of the day. The words have not changed. What has changed is inside us. We are not exactly the same at the end of the day as we were at the beginning. As we recite the Amidah for the second time, we check in with our emotions and our accomplishments. How have they changed over the course of the day? This does not mean that the day is wasted; instead, it means that we walked a different path than the one we expected to walk at sunrise. What expectations should we be setting for tomorrow?

     One other item. We are used to thinking that the Amidah is a fixed prayer. We recite almost the same words both in the morning and in the evening. But the Amidah was never supposed to be a fixed prayer. The words of the Amidah are designed to help us examine our lives, to examine the way we spend our time, to examine the goals that we have set for the day and to add to those words personal prayers to God to help us accomplish what we have set out to do, not just in the morning, but in the afternoon when we take stock of how much we have accomplished and how much more there is to do. I know that some people have a problem with prayer, especially prayer that is asking God for anything. The Amidah, however, is designed to include personal prayers of any kind, the words of the Amidah guiding us to focus on where we can use God’s help and what we can rightfully expect from God.

     When Isaac went out into the field, he did not expect to meet his future wife there. He was a man suspended in time. His mother had died, and he was lonely and lost. He was 40 years old, he had almost died, and he had no heir to live on after him. Isaac didn’t even have someone to love to replace the lost love from Sarah. He was a man with a broken heart who went out into the field to talk to God. Isaac needed God to show him what was to come next in his life. Isaac looks up and sees, in the distance a caravan, a row of camels that will bring about the answer to his prayers.

     Mincha is often a service that gets rushed. Nobody has the time these days to open up to God during Mincha. We are busy and need to get through with the service so we can finish what needs to be accomplished during the remaining daylight. Isaac is teaching us that even in this rushed moment of prayer, we should stop and consider where we are and where we will be going as the last moments of the day go by. The day that is ending may all be a blur in our minds, but we can use this service to refocus our minds and set our sights on the evening and on the day that is yet to come. We can’t see clearly into the future, but the future has set its sights on us. Mincha is the few moments it takes to lift up our eyes and get an idea of what is yet to come.

     Let us take the time in our Amidah to pray not only words on a page but offer to God what is on our minds. Let us open not just a siddur but let us open our hearts as well. May God hear our prayers and may we lift up our eyes and maybe, just maybe, find our answers in the darkening moments of our day. And let us say….             Amen and Shabbat Shalom

Mon, December 11 2023 28 Kislev 5784