Posts Tagged ‘Mincha’

Mincha Mincha

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

By Sam Glaser

As a teenager I remember the call as I walked down Kikar Tziyon (Zion Square) in Jerusalem. The call of “Mincha, Mincha,” rang out from the entrance of a small storefront shul. I would do my best to avoid the squat elderly man with a thick Sephardic accent that beckoned in the doorway. God forbid I have my afternoon fun interrupted with 10 minutes of boredom as I stood there pretending to pray. As a young traveler I did not have any tradition of the afternoon prayer ritual. At that point in my life I was aware of Shachrit, the morning service which I avoided since I saw it as far too long and inconvenient. I was familiar with Ma’ariv, the evening service from Friday nights at Camp Ramah. But Mincha? No, Mincha was a foreign word to me, lost in the same summertime wasteland that claimed Shavuot, S’firat Ha’Omer and the “Three Weeks.” If it was left out of our annual Hebrew School lexicon it couldn’t be something I needed to worry about.

All that changed after a eye-opening trip to Israel in my twenties when I fell in love with text study and Shabbat. At that point I hungered for more connection as long as the rituals didn’t take too much of my valuable time. I was careful to manage the balance of You-ish and Jew-ish: Too much of this Judaism thing might make me a freak, but a short minimum daily requirement promised to hedge my bets. Over the next several years wrapping tefilin in the mornings became a cherished habit and gave me the discipline to chew on those thorny Hebrew paragraphs until they were smooth like the worn black leather on my arm.

Mincha followed later. Much later.  After all, who has the time mid-afternoon to stop all the action to pray? Didn’t we just say those same words in the morning? I’m a busy recording professional with clients and deadlines. I owe it to my customers to be focused on their music and not shuckling away in some secret hiding place.

Two factors inspired me to make Mincha the centerpiece of my day. The first is my limited attention span. I’m a believer in “living by the mitzvot,” in other words, if I feel a certain mitzvah is “killing” me, I feel no remorse in minimizing it. Shachrit takes a long time and when I’m davening on my own, I take liberties with shortening the Pseukei D’zimra (opening prayers of praise,) for example. Mincha fits in this perfect 5-10 minute window of opportunity where I can dive in and then re-enter the workday.

Another factor is the power of consciously unplugging from my work to plug into my relationship with God. After I received my undergrad degree from the University of Colorado Business School I pondered continuing my education with an MBA. Many of my peers recommended that I should get some work experience in my father’s garment business and only then go back for an advanced degree. True, the MBA curriculum wouldn’t change, but I would change in that I would be better equipped to know what questions I had to ask and what real world business challenges needed to be overcome. Mincha is the same way…you are already out on the test track of life. In the morning your day is theoretical. By Mincha time, you know exactly what you are up against. For me, that creates more intense, deeply felt prayer.

In fact, interrupting the workflow has it’s own celestial merit. We are told in the Ethics of the Fathers that we are not free to desist from the work at hand but we should not feel compelled to finish it. As Rabbi Joe Black says, we must “leave a little bit undone.” A spiritual person has no qualms about asking for God’s help, bringing one’s Partner in Heaven into a very tangible relationship in all endeavors. Taking that break before the sun goes down on my workday allows me to fill my prayer with specific requests based on what I’m going through at the time.

Our thrice daily prayer ritual reflects the contributions of each of our three forefathers. Avraham gave us the custom of Shachrit due to his early morning service reported in the Torah. Yaakov gave us Ma’ariv due to his intense nighttime experience on Har HaMoriah dreaming of ladders stretching up to heaven. We have Yitzchak to thank for Mincha. He is described as “conversing in the field” before the sun set when his besheret Rivka gets a glimpse of him for the first time. Likely this 30-something young man was praying hard for a wife. It’s no wonder that we too are “in the field” when we daven Mincha, either in the agricultural sense toiling the ground by the “sweat of our brow” or in whatever “field” we are engaged.

Yitzchak’s quintessential quality was gevurah or strength/discipline. That makes perfect sense in that this easily overlooked prayer service requires supernal discipline to break away from one’s workday. Once you get the ball rolling it’s hard to stop. Halacha demands that we do Shachrit before we eat breakfast which I believe is a great tactic to make sure we “wrap up” before we get wrapped up in our day. Once we get started in our eating/commuting/work routine it’s easy to forget matters of the spirit. Mincha, on the other hand MUST by definition interrupt the daily flow in order to complete it before the sky gets dark, and that takes tremendous discipline to achieve on a regular basis.

Mincha has three primary facets: Ashrei, a prayer where we butter God up, the Amidah where we ask for whatever we need, and then the Aleynu where we conclude by praying for God’s oneness and Tikkun Olam, the healing of the world. One might think we have already praised God so much in the morning that no more praise is needed, but the rabbis gave us the custom of a third repetition of King David’s Ashrei to get back into a mindset of gratitude. The popular Artscroll prayer book asks the reader to “concentrate intently” in only one sentence of the entire siddur, and that is the “Poteyach et yadecha” line of the Ashrei. This single sentence sets us up for a powerful prayer moment: God opens his hand and satisfies the desire of every living thing. When I’m hustling midday for gigs, when I’m feeling jealous of peers, when it seems that we’ll never have enough cash flow, I read this line and feel comfort. That, my friends, is reason enough to do Mincha.

Another feature of this special line is the idea that God satisfies the desire of those with “chai ratzon,” in other words, those who have a will that is alive. So much of our day is often spent in repetitive tasks and drudgery. We take the same way to work every day, eat the same lunch, see the same faces. Our fire is slowly extinguished by the repetition of the “daily grind” and that ennui can soon turn into hopelessness. The idea of this line of the Ashrei is that YOU must take responsibility for keeping your will alive. Only you can change things around. Take a different way to work, get together with old friends, rediscover activities you enjoy, get physical rather than passive in front of a TV screen or a Facebook feed. Being truly alive requires more than just food, water and an occasional jaunt on a treadmill.

In fact, Mincha offers the chance to flex our “will muscle” in the form of the Amidah where we align our personal will with the will of our Creator. (See my May 2012 newsletter on the power of the Amidah and it’s nineteen blessings.) For the advanced davener there is also the chance to have a daily Yom Kippur moment in the form of the brief Tachanun prayers. Finally, Mincha closes with the Aleynu, sending you back to the office with a reiteration of our Jewish mission statement and the satisfaction that you have just completed a sweet and vital mitzvah.

I often hear friends wish for more opportunities for spirituality, complaining that they don’t get uplifted from organized religion. They are put off by synagogue dues and politics, can’t relate to clergy or don’t feel the need to affiliate. Well, Mincha offers a spiritual high and requires only a quiet place to concentrate. What better way to spend 5-10 minutes than connecting with your Creator, analyzing your life, expressing thanks, keeping your precious will alive. Now whenever I see the sun starting to set I hear that clarion call of “Mincha, Mincha” in my mind and I joyfully respond with gratitude for another chance to dance with my Partner in Heaven.(For those who understand Hebrew, the full text of Mincha is here.  For those who don’t, I recommend this siddur with the English underneath every word.)

United We Stand

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

by Sam Glaser

My cherished custom every time I land in Florida is to head straight to the beach and jump in the glassy, warm water. The shock of the Pacific chill is absent…no wetsuit required…and the white sand unfolds to the North for hundreds of miles. Upon arriving on this last trip with my fellow Jewish singer and good buddy Todd Herzog, we dropped our bags at the beachfront hotel and davened a peaceful mincha (afternoon prayer) before jumping into the shallow blue-green playground. As we pondered the pelicans and sandpipers, Todd asked me some penetrating questions about why one would want to say the same exact words three times a day. He was curious what I get out of it. Am I was focusing on just getting the words out or am I actually thinking about meanings? Where do I add my own thoughts? And what happens on Shabbat when we stop making requests from God…what am I praying for then?

This conversation got me thinking about why I am so obsessed about getting in my thrice-daily conversation with our Creator. Is it all hot air? Does God hear me? Is it for God or me? Why do the words have to be just right? Have I been brainwashed? Isn’t repeating the same behavior while expecting a different result the definition of insanity? I know…lots of questions. My first answer is that prayer keeps my God-focus intact. It exercises a spiritual muscle that grows stronger with each repetition. Just like a marathon runner would never start a race without training, saying the Amidah (standing prayer) three times a day keeps me spiritually limber. Using that same analogy, for someone just starting out, I never recommend they try to tackle the whole siddur. Bite size chunks, little by little, adding a few miles a day makes the runner a success rather than a crash and burn heretic. I don’t wait for inspiration to pray that may or may not come. I would argue that davening regularly makes God your best friend, your teammate that you train with daily. It makes the elusive “I-Thou” bond palpable.

The next obvious question is “why repeat these exact words?  How about prayer from the heart?” Over the past twenty years I have found that respecting Jewish tradition is a safe road. Generations of righteous people have rallied around these specific paragraphs for millennia and I believe that they have served as a key to our unique and unprecedented survival. The Men of the Great Assembly codified our central prayer nearly 2500 years ago…and it was clearly already in use when they did so. Among their ranks were several sages of prophetic stature. They boiled down God’s will for the Jewish People in eighteen (later nineteen) crucial categories. When we repeat this menu of our deepest needs, we enact our partnership with God in bringing them to fruition. So central is this prayer to our existence that it is simply referred to as tefila (THE prayer) when discussed in the Talmud. The Sh’ma and psalms are important, but the Amidah is IT. I think Rashi says it best when he explains that l’hitpalel, or to pray, means to dream or think ultimate thoughts. We utter nineteen dreams for humanity and those dreams become part of us, defining our aspirations and clarifying our service to God.

When my brother and I were getting more involved in our heritage we made a pact with each other that we call “Holocaust Proofing.” Interestingly, we both came up with this practice on our own and then shared it with one another. The idea is that the structure of the siddur is set up for memorization due to the repetitive nature of the prayer experience. Over the years, with minimal effort we were able to internalize the morning, afternoon and evening prayers so that if we were to find ourselves without a prayer book or, God forbid, in an adverse situation, we would always have these crucial words on our lips. In my personal practice I pray without a book every other time so that I don’t lose the accumulated knowledge. One of the keys to this technique is mouthing the words silently, a custom that we learn from our prophetess Hannah when she so ardently prayed for a child. Just scanning the words doesn’t seem to be as effective as quietly pronouncing every last one.

A friend who was recently divorced was appalled that the rabbi writing her Get (divorce document) didn’t have a special kavanah (spiritual intent) as he wrote the letters with careful calligraphy. She kept asking him to try to infuse the document with spiritual meaning and passion and the frustrated rabbi could only reply, “my kavanah is that I’m writing a Get, period!” Sometimes my emotional connection in prayer isn’t so passionate. It’s the exercise that counts. Rabbi Natan Lopez Cardozo states that simply saying the words, even if you are thinking about the stock market, is still a remarkable triumph. Indeed, taking time out from one’s busy schedule to stand with God is a profound step that cannot be underestimated. I find that my personal Amidah is on a continuum, from awe-inspiring, tear filled revelation to squeezing in a quick mincha hiding behind a Christmas tree in an airport. I’m convinced that those radical moments of sublime unity wouldn’t happen if I didn’t subscribe to the “Just Do It” day-to-day practice.

For me, the key is to make each prayer session personal and real. I realize that most minyanim don’t allow slow nurturing of each syllable but I still insist that the key is in living the words. My rabbi Moshe Cohen says the first paragraph of the Amidah is the web address. If you misspell you are going to get some random website. Or worse. there’s any place that you want to deeply focus and use the formulaic words of the millennia, this is it.


Even this single minute of concentration is hard to achieve when your head is filled with worry and deadlines. That’s why we start with a sentence asking God to open our mouths for us; we have to supersede our human limitations to enter the realm of the spirit. A crucial place to pause is the prayer for healing, refa-eynu. The Amidah is written in the plural…it’s not all about you! This paragraph is a perfect place to take a break and earnestly say the names of those who are in need of healing of the body and spirit. I try to make sure I’m focused on Jerusalem during the prayer for the holy city…it’s not enough that I’m facing East; I try to envision a vortex of holiness at the site of the Temple spreading all the way to Los Angeles. During Shma Koleynu I insert anything I’m dealing with at the time, in my own words, silently speaking in plain English exactly what I want and need. Then I make sure that my Modim (thank you) is real, that thanks is pouring out of me like a grateful defendant who just received a positive verdict.

Todd’s last issue concerns how to navigate the personal prayers on Shabbat. The middle thirteen blessings with personal petitions are not part of the Sabbath liturgy. This omission heightens our sensitivity to the glory of the day, since we are tasting “Olam Habah,” a realm where all our needs are met. Crying about our needs can create a sense of lack and potential bitterness, clearly counterproductive in our attempt to establish a sacred island in time. We certainly are allowed to pray for our spiritual needs and for communal imperatives like healing and peace. Our sages recognize that praying for a soul mate is a spiritual need. A good question is what happens for those who only pray on Shabbat…when do they get to ask for their personal needs if not on Shabbat when they do show up to the synagogue?

As I first started praying regularly and respecting Shabbat my main battle was consistency, “walking the talk.”  The beauty of the Amidah is that it helps to unify our inner and outer essence and keep us on a divine pathway. Clearly, success in prayer happens when we are honest in our personal reflection, baring all to our God that perceives all. Tefilah and Tofel, or secondary, have the same root, teaching us that part of the foundation of prayer is making oneself secondary to our Creator. It re-establishes our servitude to a Higher Power; we shouldn’t be cowardly, but humble, making God’s will our will. I have found that this powerful prayer forces me to constantly reassess my personal will with divine will and when in doubt, to err on the side of holiness.

Since the powerful spiritual practice of reciting the Amidah requires engaging and understanding the Hebrew text, it’s important to find a good siddur. The book I prefer is the new Artscroll’s Interlinearsiddur since it has the English printed in a clever way under each word. In fact, I think that it’s intellectually dishonest for a non-fluent Hebrew speaker to use anything else now that this amazing tool is available. It also has the prayer “aerobics” instructions for when to stand, bow and say amen.

In the words of MC Hammer, “We got to pray just to make it today.” Prayer affects worlds beyond our grasp. It connects, corrects, consoles, propels, heals and inspires. With the weight of the world on our shoulders we can opt for fight or flight. As the People of the Book and the Children of Israel, we have at our root a connection to the collective wisdom and strength of the past and a penchant to get into the ring. Yisrael means to struggle with God and man. And win! The Amidah is one of the best tools to unite us as a nation, and when we stand together anything is possible.