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Exodus: the saga continues

The gift of good intentions

I recently learned a new Hebrew word: mincha, gift or offering. It's also the name of one of the three daily services: ma'ariv (evening), shacharit (morning), and mincha (afternoon). On Shabbat there's an extra service, musaf, recited after shacharit -- but in the order of ordinary daily prayer, there are three times to pray, and mincha is one of them.

The Talmud gives two reasons for the thrice-daily schema. One is that the services parallel sacrifices once made in the Temple (two sacrifices a day, plus burning leftovers at night; or, in an alternate interpretation, the evening service derives from the need to say the shema before bed). The second argument holds that each Patriarch started one of them and the custom stuck.

Mincha is the shortest of the three services, consisting (in the Ashkenazic tradition to which I belong) of three main prayers: the ashrei, the amidah, and the aleinu. Despite its brevity, many Jews no longer davven it regularly, because it falls just before sundown. It's tricky to stop and pray then in a busy law office...or a medical practice...or a house where the kids have just come home from school and need snacks stat! Midrash links this service to being "in the field," so some argue that it's meant to interrupt the workday: making it either a frustrating obligation that sets us apart from others, or a shining opportunity to embody humane work practices by pausing to center ourselves before the sun goes down.

Lots of people sell wee pocket-sized copies of the mincha liturgy, to facilitate praying it on the go (you can even get it for your Palm.) I'm not sure whether to be amused or alarmed that someone has ruled it acceptable to davven mincha while driving a car.

Despite these handy accessories, I doubt I'm likely to start davvening mincha regularly (I'm still aiming for a reliable morning practice)...though I do like the idea of pausing the workday before sundown for a few minutes of connection. Expanding my mind through Rabbi Shefa Gold's ashrei chant could be nice. Or an amidah comprised of a few minutes standing and chatting with God by the metaphysical water cooler. Or contemplating how I can help bring about a day when unity pervades creation (as described at the end of the aleinu).

Granted, these are non-mainstream ways of conceptualizing mincha...but what does "mainstream" really mean in such a glacial riverbed as Judaism, where so many shifting streams braid together? There are plenty of branches further-out than mine (like this Breslover teaching that mincha harmonizes the process of absorbing wavelengths of God's light into the world during the spiritually-dangerous afternoon.)

Me, I'm just pleased to learn what the word mincha means. (The other two daily prayer sessions have names relating to their time of day, and I'd always assumed that this one did, too.) I like the idea of making a gift of my intentions every afternoon as daylight wanes.