Parashat Vayera- The Minha Prayer
At the end of this week’s parasha, Parashat Vayera, God tells Abraham to take his son, Yishak, to Har HaMoria, where he places him on the altar, puts a knife to his neck, and is then stopped by a Divine call from Heaven, after which he receives the special blessing.
In the Selihot, we invoke Avraham and Yishak’s prayers at the Akeida. We say "The God who answered Abraham Avinu on Har HaMoria, answer us! The God who answered Yishak on the altar, answer us!" However, when we open the humash, we do not see that Abraham prayed at Akeidat Yishak, nor do we see Yishak’s prayer.
The Midrash Tanchuma (23) presents an exchange between God and Abraham at the Akeida. Abraham describes how instead of arguing with God, and reminding Him how he was promised that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars in the sky,, Abraham restrained himself and did not challenge God. In return, he then says to God: "When Yishak’s descendants sin and are being oppressed, recall the binding of Yshak, reckon it as if his ashes were piled upon the altar, and pardon them and release them from their anguish."
The Midrash continues and relates that in response, God said: "In the future Yishak’s descendants will sin against Me, and I will judge them on Rosh Hashanah. If they want Me to discover something to their credit, and to recall for their advantage the binding of Yishak, let them blow upon this shofar." This is the prayer we recall during the Selihot – God’s promise to heed to the prayers of his descendants.
While this Midrash explains Abraham’s prayer, we still cannot identity Yitshak’s prayer.
The Tosafot (Pesachim 107a s.v. samuh) asks a very interesting question. While the Shaharit and Arbit prayers are named after the time of day at which they are said, why is the Minha prayer called Minha? He even notes that there was a minha offering in the morning as well. He offers the following answer: The Minha prayer is named after the time during which Eliyahu HaNavi was answered on Har HaCarmel, during the "time of minha." That time, Tosafot says, is a sha’at rason, a time during which God answers our prayer. This is a somewhat difficult answer to accept.
Alternatively, the Sefer Iggeret HaTiyul, written by R. Haim ben Betsalel, the brother of the Maharal of Prague, offers another answer. He suggests that at the time that Yishak was tied to the altar, he noticed that while he was mean to be the olah, there was no minha offering, and every olah offering comes with a minha. In lieu of the afternoon minha offering, Yishak prayed. Therefore, forever afterwards, the afternoon prayer is known as the "minha" prayer.
The Minha prayer has the ability to cancel previous judgments. That is why the Talmud says a person should be especially careful regarding the minha prayer. That is also why we invoke this prayer during our selihot prayers. As we mentioned previously, the behavior of the forefathers is a template for our future, maase avot siman lebanim. The roots of the korbanot are in the behavior of the avot. Just as the prayer of Yishak was answered, so too, we should pay special attention to the minha prayer, and our prayers will also be answered.