Teaching Messianic Jewish Spirituality in Moscow - Day Three - Toward a Messianic Jewish Understanding of Prayer

May 29, 2014

On the third day in Moscow, we convered many subjects relating to Torah/Holy Instruction and Avodah/Jewish Prayer, as well as G'milut Hasadim [Deeds of Lovingkiness], and Ritual Life. These are four panels of our Cube of Messianic Jewish Spirituality, which I taught on earlier in the week, and which constituted the integrating center of our course. Here is one of the lessons I taught on this day.

The Connection Between Sacrifices and Prayer From the Days of the Temple to the Present Day

Reuven Hammer teaches us the following about the origins of Jewish liturgical prayer.

The earliest reference we have to an order of prayer is found in a section of the Mishnah Tamid 5:1. It is the record not of a public service, but of a private one conducted by the priests alone.

Describing the way in which the daily morning sacrifice, the tamid, was offered, the Mishna tells us that after completing the sacrifice, the priests left the sacrificial court and went down to the Hall of Hewn Stone, a chamber in the Temple complex which was used for large gatherings, including the meeting of the Great Court (the Sanhedrin). This room was not part of the sacred area of sacrifice or the public courts in which people stood to witness the ritual.

The text continues:

The leader said to them, "Recite one blessing," and they blessed.

They recited the Ten Declarations, "Shema," "And it shall come to pass,"

"And He said..."

They blessed the people with three blessings: "True and steadfast," "The service" and the blessing of the Priests.

In other words, sometime prior to the year 70 CE, there already existed an order of prayer, a siddur, if you will, for a service that was recited daily by the priests.

Unfortunately, we do not have a similar record of an order of service for laymen, nor did laymen participate in this service. It was private, exclusively for the priests. No one else was present. Therefore we cannot say if it reflected prayers uttered by Jews elsewhere or not. Perhaps this was the service from which non-priests later copied their liturgical order, expanding it for more general needs. In any case, this service was in no way part of the sacrificial order. If anything, it interrupted the sacrifices, since it was only afterward that the priests returned to the Temple proper to offer the incense and conclude the Temple service...

This service was well-suited to the priests. Having offered the daily sacrifice, they proclaimed the blessedness of the God whom they served and in whose sanctuary they officiated. They read from the words of that God, reenacting the ceremonies of acceptance of God, His word, and the basic doctrines of Torah. They proclaimed their belief in the truth of the Torah, after which they prayed that God accept the service of the people and bless them....[Earlier] the sacrificial service had been totally devoid of the spoken word. But the force and importance of the word divorced from sacrifice as a method of communicating with God had become so important by the period of the Second Temple that the priests themselves, the very guardians of the sacrificial rites, sought to incorporate it into their own daily experience. It was as if the sacrificial ritual was insufficient if performed by officiants who did not make clear that the accepted God and His Torah or who did not petition the Lord for the good of Israel.

Although well suited to the specific needs of the priests, this service also contains the basic elements of every Jewish worship service. It begins with praise of God, continues with Torah, and concludes with petitionary prayer. Praise, Torah and petition describe all of Jewish worship. [The foregoing comments by Reuven Hammer found on the web at http://www.jhom.com/topics/firsts/siddur.html]


The Connection Between Sacrifices and Prayer Strongly Rooted in the Tanach and Brith Chadasha

The connection between sacrifices and prayer is strong in Jewish life. It is so natural that we take it for granted. For example that when people are portrayed in Tanach as offering sacrifices, prayer is always part of the process. Prayer and sacrifice are inextricably intertwined. So it is that Abraham built altars and called upon the Name of the LORD [in prayer], and when Elijah built his altar on Mt Carmel, we read, "When it was time to present the meal offering [mincha], the prophet Elijah came forward and said, 'O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaasc, and Israel! Let it be known today that You are God in Israel and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that You, O LORD, are G-d, for you have turned their hearts backward. Then fire from the LORD descended and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the earth and it licked up the water that was in the trench. When they saw this, all the people flung themselves on their faces and cried out, 'The LORD alone is God! The LORD alone is God!" [1 Kings 18:36-39].

Why did Elijah wait until the time of the meal offering to call upon G-d in prayer? Because it was at approximately 3:00 PM that the priests would be offering the evening offering in the Temple, and he knew that this was the most appropriate time to offer this crucial prayer. And why is it that we read in Daniel chapter six that Daniel prayed three times a day with his window open toward Jerusalem? Because, even though the Temple was no longer standing, these three times a day were the times when sacrifice would be offered in the Temple, and would be the appropriate time to pray. And by the way, it is certain that he prayed prayers similar to those the priests used to pray in the Hall of Hewn Stone in connection with their own sacrificial service.

Why do we read of the Sh'lichim Yochan and Kefa going up to the Temple "at the hour of prayer, at three o'clock in the afternoon" [Acts 3:1]? Why was it the hour or prayer? Because it was the time when the afternoon sacrifice [mincha] was being offered, and sacrifice and prayer were meant to go together. This is the same reason why Cornelius is praying at about three o'clock in the afternoon when he is visited by the angel [Acts 10:3]. Cornelius was a god-fearer, meaning that although he was not a convert to Judaism, having not been circumcised and fully accepted the yoke of the commandments, he nevertheless followed Jewish patterns of piety, attended synagogue and admired the Jewish way of life. Notice that he prayed when the sacrifices were being offered, even though he was not at the Temple, just as Daniel prayed during the time of sacrifice even when the [First] Temple lay in ruins.

And notice too that Matthew 27:46 says it was about 3:00 PM when Yeshua died. Could there be some connection here with the fact that he was our atoning sacrifice?


The Connection Between Sacrifices and Prayer Is Reflected

In the Design of Siddur-Based Services

 To this day, our people pray three times a day because of the pattern of sacrifice and prayer which prevailed when the Temple stood.

In Jewish life, there are three daily prayers, shacharit (the morning service), minchah (the afternoon service) and ma'ariv (the evening prayer). Shacharit and minchah correspond to the morning and evening daily sacrifice; the tamid. This was a type of olah (burnt offering) that was brought every day of the year, including Shabbat. No sacrifices were ever brought at night, however, Jewish tradition suggests that ma'ariv corresponds to the burning of the limbs of the korbanot that had been brought during the day. This could be completed at night if there was insufficient time for them to be burnt during the day.

Shacharit (Morning Service)

  1. Shacharit may be recited from the rising of the morning star (dawn) until one third of the day has passed.
  2. According to tradition, Abraham instituted the morning prayer service (Gen. 19:27): "Next morning, Abraham hurried to the place where he had stood before the Lord." The sages understood the word "stood" to indicate prayer.
  3. Shacharit [actually the praying of the Amidah during Shacharit] corresponds to the daily morning sacrifice offered in the Temple.

Mincha (Afternoon Service)

  1. One of the three statutory daily prayers. It was ordained primarily as a substitute for the Mincha sacrifice that was once offered in the Temple. One may recite the Mincha prayer at any time after midday until sunset.
  1. Tradition holds that the patriarch Isaac introduced the Mincha prayer service. This notion is based on the text "And Isaac went out walking (to meditate) in the field toward evening ..." (Gen. 24:63).
  1. The Talmud (Ber. 6b) reminds us "One must always exercise great care with the Mincha service, for the prophet Elijah's (plea) was only answered at the Mincha service", as it is recorded: "When it was time to present the meal offering, the prophet Elijah came foreward and said .. " (I Kg. 18:36)

Arvit (Evening Service)

  1. One of the three daily prayer services; also referred to as Ma'ariv. It may be recited at any time during the night from the end of dusk until the rising of the morning star.
  2. According to tradition, and based on the verse, "He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set" (Gen. 28:11), the patriarch Jacob is the originator of the Arvit prayer. Regarding this verse, the Talmud (TB. Ber. 26b) explains that the Hebrew word for "came upon" (paga) implies prayer.
  3. In ancient times, Arvit was considered optional, since Shacharit and Mincha were established to correspond to the daily sacrifice offered respectively morning and night. The Jewish people as a whole, however, accepted Arvit as a popular and beloved prayer service and thus changed its status to a service of obligation

The Connection Between Sacrifices and Prayer and Messianic Jewish Prayer Practices

Here are some reasons why Israel is responsible to offer these kinds of prayers regularly, and why we Messianic Jews should do so above all:

1. The People of Israel is a Kingdom of Priests and a holy nation.

  • As Priests, we have sacrifices to bring with us in our worship of God: the sacrifices of prayer, thanksgiving, praise and atonement for the sake of Israel, the nations and the entire cosmos. G-d is so holy that all humanity stands in peril not simply due to His wrath, but also to His otherness. It is like mixing matter and anti-matter. As priests we stand between--as intermediaries--buffering the zone of danger between the world and G-d. This is what anthropologists call "liminality"--that in between zone which is fraught with holiness and danger.
  • We are only safe because G-d has bidden us to draw near in our priestly role. Just as the Levites could draw near to G-d the way the average Israelite could not, and just as the priests could draw near to G-d the way the average levite could not, and just as the High Priest could draw near to G-d in a manner unique to himself, so we can draw near to G-d with great intimacy because G-d has bidden us to come. We come near to preserve the world as well as to praise our G-d.

2. By Divine choice, the people of Israel as a whole participate in this mystery.

Although they do not realize it, it is only through the ministry of Yeshua the Great High Priest, that the prayers of Israel have any efficacy. But this has long been God's call on our people: to offer prayers, praises, thanksgivings, petitions, as the people of Hashem.

3. Messianic Jews knowingly approach HaShem through Yeshua the Great High Priest. This gives us greater access, greater intimacy, and greater responsibility.

  • Sacrifices were a means of giving thanks and praise to God, who alone is deserving of thanks and praise. The offering of prayers of thanksgiving and praise was supplemented by prayers of confession, to which God is certainly entitled. This responsibility has never gone out of date.
  • In the Divine design, the reasons for these kinds of prayers and intercesssion is that God's redemptive plan might go forward, and the entire universe eventually be filled with the knowledge of the L-rd as the waters cover the sea. Somehow, through our prayers, we participate in hastening the consummation of all things.

What does Yeshua have to do with all of this?

  1. It is through Him, through faith in Him and in his atonement that we approach Hashem in prayer as our priestly duty: "Through Him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice or praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His Name" [Heb 13:15].
  2. Yeshua is our Great High Priest who establishes for us safety with God so that we might approach Him without terror. This he does through his sacrifice for our sins and his intercession for us.
  3. Yeshua, as Messiah, is the One Man Israel, who in Himself perfectly embodies all that Israel was meant to be and to do [see Isa 49:1-7]. He is that "Israel" in whom G-d is truly glorified, and who will bring the people of Israel back to HaShem. As High Priest he offers to HaShem the sacrifice of Himself, but also the sacrifices of his praises, his thanks and his petitions for the sake of Israel and the world. This is what Hebrews is speaking of when it borrows the language of Tanach and puts these words on the lips of Messiah: "I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you." He is in the midst of the congregation of His people praising His Father. We as His priestly people are meant to join Him.   We come to Hashem in Him, with Him and through Him. As He is, so are we: as He does, so must we--in Him, through Him, and for the honor, glory and progress of the purposes of Hashem.
  4. Yeshua is engaged in loving agony for the culmination of HaShem's saving purpose for the world. In Scripture, HaShem, Messiah, the Holy Spirit, and G-d's faithful people are all described as being engaged in longing and struggle toward the consummation of all things.
    • Colossians 1:24-2:5. Note especially what Paul says in verse 24: "in my flesh I am making up what is lacking in Messiah's afflictions for the sake of His Body." The point is that just as Messiah participates in HaShem's struggle and agony for tikkun olam, the full redemption and repair of the world, so Paul participates in these struggles, and so should we.
    • Messianic Jewish prayer is part of this struggle. After commenting on our struggle not being against flesh and blood but against the powers of wickedness in the heavenly realm, Paul says this:   - "Pray in the Spirit at all times with all kinds of prayers, asking for everything you need. To do this you must always be ready and never give up. Always pray for all God's people. Also pray for me that when I speak, God will give me words so that I can tell the secret of the Good News without fear. I have been sent to preach this Good News, and I am doing that now, here in prison. Pray that when I preach the Good News I will speak without fear, as I should" Eph 6:18-20.

In the Tanach, all sacrifices were to be seasoned with salt. Yeshua told his talmidim, "You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything but is thrown out and trampled under foot" [Matt. 5:13]. We are the salt on the sacrifices of the prayers of Israel--that is part of our function in the world. The only question is, will we play our part?

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