Parashat Haye Sarah
Praying in the Fields
For Isaac, praying in nature was a crucial element of worshipping the Divine.
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Since Isaac went to the field to pray in this week's Torah portion, the world has not been the same. The Talmud offers two sources for our requirement to pray three daily prayers; one is the prayers of the three forefathers of the Jewish people. Abraham is credited with instituting shaharit, the morning prayer; Isaac grants us minhah, the afternoon prayer; and Jacob gives us ma'ariv, the evening prayer.
The Talmud cites a verse from the Book of Genesis to establish each prayer. For Isaac, on whom we will concentrate, it is written (Brahot 26b):
"Isaac instituted the afternoon prayer service, as it is said, 'And Isaac went out to su'ah in the field before evening' (Gen. 24:63); and there is no sihah except prayer, as it is said, 'A prayer of the afflicted man when he swoons, and pours forth his supplications (siho) before God' (Ps. 102:1)."
Si'ah and Su'ah
The Sages saw these verses as being connected in the linguistic similarity of the word siah, and they saw in them that what Isaac was doing was praying. However, this claim is made on the seemingly ambiguous meaning of su'ah found in the verse related to Isaac. From where does this connection come?
One Talmudic commentary, Tosafot, suggests that the reason this word is used in both places is that while one might have thought that Isaac simply went out to speak with someone in the field, he actually went out to pray.
However, the term evokes a striking similarity to a word of the same root found earlier in Genesis: "Now all the trees (siah) of the field were not yet on the earth and all the herb of the field had not yet sprouted, for God had not yet sent rain upon the earth and there was no man to work the soil." (Gen. 2:5)
The use in our verse relating to Isaac may now take on an additional dimension--it seems there may have been an agricultural element to Isaac's outing in the field. Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir (Rashbam) suggests that what Isaac was actually doing in the field was planting trees as well as checking up on his agricultural efforts.
What was it that the Talmudic sages saw in our verse to understand that Isaac was praying? Is it possible that the Torah would make sure to tell us that Isaac was engaged in mundane agricultural activities?