Vayikra—Like Incense

After taking a handful of the wheat flour and oil, with all its frankincense, the priest shall turn this token portion into smoke on the  altar, an offering by fire of pleasing aroma to the LORD. Lev. 2:2

In Jewish tradition “mincha” has come to be used as the name for the afternoon prayer service.  This service corresponds to the daily afternoon sacrifice in the Torah during Temple times (Num 28:4).   The service may have acquired this name because grain offerings were common in evening rituals (though not unique to them).  Perhaps Psalm 141:2 excercised some influence as well: “May my prayer be like incense before you, the lifting up of my hands like the afternoon offering (minchat ‘erev).”

A lovely Yiddish poem called “Davenen Mincha” was brought to my attention by my friend Michael Getty.  The poem imagines the Hasidic Rebbe Nachman of Breslov giving a teaching on the mincha service to his scribe, Nathan, and assumes one is praying mincha towards the end of the time reserved for it, just before sunset..  Nachman tells Nathan,

The tune is sheer simplicity,
you’re just lending a helping hand
to the sinking day.
It’s a heavy responsibility.
You take a created day
and you slip it
into the archive of life
where all our lived-out days are lying together.
The day is departing with a quiet kiss.
It lies open at your feet
while you stand saying the blessings.
You can’t create anything yourself, but you
can lead the day to its end and see
clearly the smile of its going down.
See how whole it all is,
not diminished for a second,
how you age with the days
that keep dawning,
how you bring your lived-out day
as a gift to eternity.

by Jacob Glatstein, translated from Yiddish by Ruth Whitman

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