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PARASHAT VAYERA 5758
The daily prayers were instituted by our forefathers... Avraham instituted the morning prayer, as the verse says, "Avraham arose early to stand at the place in which he had earlier stood [in prayer] before Hashem" (Bereishit 19:27)... Yitzchak instituted the afternoon prayer... and Yakov instituted the evening prayer. (Berachos 26b)
Our Sages tell us that the three prayers of the day were established by our three forefathers. Although the exact wording of our prayers is clearly a later institution, it is reasonable to assume that it was composed with this point in mind. We may expect the life history and accomplishments of each forefather to be reflected in "his" prayer.
Although the keynote of our services, the Shemoneh Esreh, is nearly identical in all three of the daily prayers, nevertheless the introductory prayers which precede the Shemoneh Esreh vary greatly from one prayer to the other. It is in these that we would expect to find an allusion to the patron of that particular prayer. Let us search the daily prayers for such allusions.
The first prayer of the day is Shacharit, or the morning prayers. The poem "Adon Olam" plays a prominent part among the opening words of Shacharit. It has been suggested that this is associated to the teaching of the Gemara in Berachot (7b), "From the day Hashem created the world no-one ever called Him 'Master' (Adon), until Avraham came and called Him 'Master' (Bereishit 15:8)." Avraham was the one who taught the people of the world that they are not free to do as they please; there is a Master up above to Whom we must hearken. Since Avraham instituted the morning prayer, we mention his most important teaching at the very beginning of this prayer. (Tikun Tefilah in Otzar ha'Tefilos citing the Vilna Gaon; introduction to Koheles Yitzchak on the Torah, citing a student of the Vilna Gaon; see also Sidur Sha'ar ha'Rachamim, written by Rav Pinchas of Polotzk, student of the Vilna Gaon, for a similar approach.)
We end the introductory Psalms of the morning services with the prayer "Yishtabach." In at least some versions (Sephardi; Kabbalistic/Nusach Sefard), Yishtabach ends with five consecutive phrases, the acrostic of which spells out "Avraham!" This was undoubtedly instituted for the same reason.
Twice a day, in the morning and the evening, we precede the Shemoneh Esreh prayer with the recital of the verses of the Shema. This is a particularly appropriate introduction for the prayers of Avraham and Yakov.
As we have explained elsewhere (Parasha-Page, Vaetchanan 5756), the Shema has to motifs: (1) accepting upon ourselves Hashem's sovereignty (Mishnah, Berachot 13a), and (2) accepting upon ourselves to learn Hashem's Torah (Gemara, Berachot 14b). These two themes correspond exactly to the primary teachings of Avraham and Yakov. Avraham taught the world that Hashem is the Master of all Creation and that it is He Whom we must serve (Rashi Bereishit 12:5; 21:33; see also above, II). The morning Shema ushers in Avraham's prayer by emphasizing this theme. Yakov's life was dominated by the study of Torah (Rashi Bereishit 25:27; 28:9,11). We therefore introduce his prayer with Shema as well, this time because of the other theme of Shema.
It is also interesting to note that in Shema we call on "Yisrael" to hear our proclamation that Hashem is One -- "Hear O Israel [Yisrael]!" The name "Yisrael," besides referring to the collective Jewish population, is used to refer to both Yakov (Bereishit 35:10) and Avraham (the first Israelite; compare Tehilim 105:7 with Divrei Hayamim I 16:13).
The blessings which surround the Shema in both the morning and evening prayers may also be interpreted as specific to Avraham and Yakov. In the morning, we precede the Shema with two blessings: one an ode to the Divine force driving what we call "nature," and another blessing Hashem for lovingly choosing Israel from among the other nations. The first is easily associated with Avraham, for it was through Avraham's contemplation of nature that he came to recognize the Hand of Hashem in this world (Midrash Raba, beginning of Lech Lecha). The second certainly applies to Avraham, for it was he that Hashem lovingly chose from all the nations of the world (as worded in Nechemya 9:7, "Asher *Bacharta*..."). After Shema we bless Hashem for redeeming Israel -- which, specific to Avraham, may be alluding to Avraham's miraculous salvation from imminent death first at the hands of Nimrod and later at the hands of the warring kings (Rashi Bereishit 18:27).
In the evening, we introduce the Shema with two blessings, the first over the day/night cycle and the second over the study of the Torah and Hashem's love for His people. The first is appropriate for Yakov, since Hashem altered the daily cycle for him, letting the sun set early at one point, and having it set late for him at another point (Rashi Bereishit 28:11; 32:32). In this manner Hashem demonstrated specifically to Yakov His dominion over the cycle of day and night, and it is thus appropriate during the prayer of Yakov to offer recognition to Hashem for his control over this cycle. The second blessing certainly is specific for Yakov, for he exemplified the study of Torah (as mentioned above) and Hashem singled Yakov out to express to him His love (Malachi 1:2).
After Shema, we first bless Hashem for redeeming Yisrael. Since we find that Hashem "redeemed" Yakov (Yeshayah 44:23), and that Yakov's second name was Yisrael, the blessing clearly may be referring to the experiences our forefather Yakov. Next, we bless Hashem for protecting us and spreading His protective tent over Yisrael. This may be alluding to the incident in which Hashem prevented the hostile Canaanite nations from chasing or harming Yakov (Bereishit 35:5).
When Yitzchak went to pray his afternoon prayer (Bereishit 24:63), Avraham had sent his slave Eliezer to find Yitzchak an appropriate mate. As some commentaries explain, Yitzchak was apparently going to pray for the success of the slave's mission. No sooner did he begin to pray, then he lifted his eyes and saw that they were answered! Eliezer was returning successfully with Yitzchak's wife-to-be, Rivkah (ibid.). In a similar manner, we are told that one should take careful care to concentrate during the afternoon prayers (even though they are prayed when one is weary, immediately after a day of work), since they are sure to be answered (Berachot 6b). On Shabbat, we refer to the afternoon prayers as "prayers in a time of Hashem's goodwill." Perhaps the power of Yitzchak's original afternoon prayer imbued these prayers with their unique potency.
May Hashem answer all of our prayers, in the merit of our saintly forefathers!
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