Chayei Sarah: Mincha in a Field (A response to the Pittsburgh Massacre)
Lilui Nishmas the 11 Kedoshim who perished in the Pittsburgh Massacre
“And Isaac went forth to pray (lasuach) in the field towards evening, and he lifted his eyes and saw, and behold, camels were approaching.” (Genesis 24:63)
The Gemara in Berachos (26b) derives from this pasuk that Yitzchak instituted the Teffilah of Mincha.
Upon analysis, several questions can be asked on this passuk.
1) What is the meaning of the word lasuach?
The Rashbam understands that the word lasuach comes from the word siach which means to plant. Lasuach basadeh: He (Yitzchak) planted trees and looked after his workers.
Rashi says that it is similar to the word sicha, which means speech.
Why didn't the Torah use an ordinary word to describe prayer? It seems that Mincha has somewhat of a different quality to it than other Teffilos and in some way is more closely identified with planting and speaking. What is the inner nature of Teffilas Mincha?
2) What is the significance of the fact that the first Mincha ever davened took place in a field?
3) The Torah tells us that this particular Mincha took place towards evening. Is the Torah simply telling us the time that Mincha is meant to be davened or is their perhaps a deeper message the Torah is trying to convey?
4) The Torah tells that Yitzchak lifted his eyes and saw camels approaching. It does not say that Yitzchak saw Rivka approaching. Why does the Torah feel the need to highlight camels in the midst of informing us about the institution of Mincha and Yitzchak meeting Rivka for the first time?
Alone in the Field
After Yosef HaTzaddik reveals himself to his brothers, he sends them to inform his father that he is alive. He also sends with them wagons that contain all the wealth of Egypt. “He saw the wagons Yosef had sent to transport him, then the spirit of their father Yaakov was revived.” (Bereishis 45:27) Rashi explains that Yosef gave them a sign, that which he was studying when he left Yaakov – egla arufa, and this is what it says: "He saw the wagons (agalot) Yosef had sent."
Yaakovs final lesson to Yosef was the teaching of the egla arufa. Why did Yaakov choose this parsha as his last shiur to Yosef?
How will the lesson of the egla arufa keep Yosef empowered throughout his long galus in Mitzrayim?
What is it about the message of egla arufa that revives the spirit of Yaakov Avinu? Regarding the Egla Arufa the Torah states “If a slain person be found in the land which the Lord, your God is giving you to possess, lying in the field, [and] it is not known who slew him…”
The Torah teaches that when a corpse is discovered in the field and the killer remains unknown, the elders of the city nearest the corpse wash their hands in water at the place where the heifer is axed. They then say: "Our hands have not spilled this blood, and our eyes did not see." (Devarim 21:7)
Chazal ask, would it enter our minds that the elders of the court are murderers? Rather, that he did not come within our presence and we sent him off with no food, nor did we see him and leave him without escort. (Mishna Sotah 9:6)
The lesson of the egla arufa is one of responsibility. Had the elders of the city sent off this person without food or an escort they would have been responsible for his death even though they did not actually commit murder
A field is a dangerous place. In a field we are alone and vulnerable.
It is in the field that Kain kills his brother Hevel.
Eisav is described as a hunter, a man of the field. In the field Eisav engages in murder and immorality (Gemara Bava Batra 16b). Accordingly, we read about a field of Edom and a field of Moav, but never about a field of Yisrael.
If a woman is raped in the field the Torah (Devarim 22:26,27) tells us “Whereas to the girl, you shall do nothing the girl did not commit a sin deserving of death… Because he found her in the field. The betrothed girl had cried out, but there was no one to save her.” The imagery is very powerful. A betrothed girl finds herself alone in a field, screaming for help but with no one there to protect her.
How does a person survive in a field?
When we feel that we are not alone in this world, when we feel that others care about our well being, it empowers us to survive even in the most dangerous circumstances. I once heard that the two most powerful worlds in the English language are “me too.” Knowing that someone else shares our experience somehow eases our burden. If we allow someone to leave our presence without the feeling of being well cared for it sends them a message that they are alone in the world and it opens them up to attack from outside forces.
Yaakov sent Yosef on a mission to go to his brothers in Shechem. He understood the danger of the mission and that Yosef was going to be in a vulnerable position. Even Yaakov did not foresee that it would be more than 20 years before he saw Yosef again. What was his final message to Yosef? You are not alone. No matter what you go through on your journeys in life, no matter how many fields you find yourself in, know that just as the Jewish Nation takes responsibility for a stranger murdered in the field, I your father take responsibility for you. Not surprisingly the Torah tells us “Then a man found him (Yosef), and behold, he was straying in the field, and the man asked him, saying, "What are you looking for?” And he said, "I am looking for my brothers. Tell me now, where are they pasturing?" Immediately upon setting out on his journey Yosef is lost in the field, alone and looking for his brothers. How does Yosef survive in Mitzrayim? How does he become the paradigmatic Tzaddik in the lowest place on earth? He had the security of knowing that while he may have been distant from his father, he carried Yaakov with him in his heart. When he finds himself engaged with the wife of Potiphar he sees the image of his father in the window and he finds new levels of strength to resist the temptation. Though Yosef may have been lonely, he was never alone.
More than twenty years later, Yosef does not want to merely send a message to Yaakov that he lives. For that a simple communication from his brothers would have sufficed. Yosef wants to tell his father so much more than that. He wants to tell Yaakov, it has been a long time since we have seen each other. It has been a long time since I learned Torah with you, since I felt the warmth of your embrace. And yet, please know that while it seems as if we have not spoken for an eternity, I heard your voice within me. I did not merely survive in this galus, I thrived in this galus. I have obtained all the wealth of Mitzrayim without sacrificing the ideals that you taught me. And how did I do this? Because I knew that you took responsibility for me. I did not leave the city to go into the field unescorted because the lesson of the egla arufa was with me the entire time.
Mincha: Confronting the Night on the Horizon
Yitzchak is the paradigm of gevura, strength. Having just lost his mother Sarah, he finds himself in a precarious state of being alone in the world. A dear friend of mine lost his mother and he shared with me that no matter how old a person is, even if they are already a grandparent themselves, there is a comfort in knowing that you have a mother to take care of you. It is not coincidental that Yitzchak's Mincha took place “towards evening” in a field. It expresses the inner state of consciousness that Yitzchak was experiencing. Alone. Vulnerable. Afraid. And in that state, Yitzchak inaugurates Teffilas Mincha. In talking to Hashem he is no longer alone to face the perils of life.
As we head into the darkness of night and we find ourselves vulnerable in the field we survive by talking to Hashem. By opening up a dialogue and sharing with Him our fears of the night that's to come, we feel cared for and held. Whereas Shacharis establishes a consciousness for the day ahead, Yitzchak “planted” (see Rashbam above) in all future generations of Klal Yisrael the ability to reach out to Hashem when we find ourselves alone in the field.
The Gemara (Berachos 56b) says that if one sees a camel in his dream it’s a sign that he was destined to die but he was saved from death. Yitzchak lifted his eyes and saw camels approaching. Yes, he is meeting his wife Rivka for the first time but he sees so much more than that. He sees salvation from death. After Sarah Imeinu passed on Yitzchak could not see how he would survive without his beloved mother. But when he sees the camels he understands that through his marriage to Rivka he will have a partner, a companion, a wife, someone who he will take responsibility for and in turn someone who will take responsibility for him as well. No matter what trials and tribulations lie ahead in life we have been spared from death because we know that with each other we can survive. Yitzchak does not merely see Rivka, he sees camels and he knows he is not alone.
Mincha is a Teffilah that Jews have been praying for generations. We have faced the impending darkness time and time again. In Pittsburgh, in Israel, in France, in Germany, in Spain… We have often found ourselves in the field, vulnerable to antisemitism and staring into the darkness on the horizon. Perhaps we are afraid to show up to Shul this Shabbos? Perhaps we are afraid to go shopping in the Gush? It is not an unfamiliar feeling but we will continue to do what we have been doing since Yitzchak planted Mincha in us all those years ago. We will turn towards Hashem and know with certainty that whatever lies in store for us we are not alone and we will be afraid no more.