1) WHO INSTITUTED THE TEFILAH OF MINCHAH?
QUESTION: The Gemara quotes Rav Safra who refers to Minchah as the "Tefilah of Avraham." However, the Gemara in Berachos (26b) says that Yitzchak Avinu instituted the Tefilah of Minchah. Why does the Gemara here attribute Minchah to Avraham Avinu?
(a) The TOSFOS YESHANIM answers that Avraham Avinu himself was the first to pray Minchah and Ma'ariv. He prayed three times a day just as he observed all of the other Mitzvos of the Torah and of the Rabanan. However, Yitzchak Avinu was the first to institute Minchah (and Yakov Avinu the first to institute Ma'ariv) as a Tefilah for all of the members of his household to recite.
If Avraham Avinu was the first to pray Minchah, then how does the Gemara in Berachos derive from the verse, "Yitzchak went out to converse in the field" (Bereishis 24:63), that Yitzchak instituted the Tefilah of Minchah? Perhaps, like his father, he merely recited Minchah for himself (as Yitzchak also observed all of the Mitzvos), but he did not institute it for others. In addition, if Avraham Avinu did not find it necessary to institute Minchah for his entire household, why did Yitzchak Avinu do so?
Perhaps the Gemara in Berachos is addressing the following question. If Yitzchak Avinu recited Minchah every day, then why does the Torah record that Yitzchak recited Minchah on that specific occasion? It must be that the intention of the verse is to teach not only that Yitzchak Avinu himself prayed, but to offer an explanation for why Yitzchak Avinu instituted the Tefilah of Minchah for his entire household. The verse teaches that at the time that Yitzchak Avinu prayed Minchah, Hash-m bestowed upon him a great kindness, for it was at that moment that his bride, Rivkah, arrived, confirming that Eliezer succeeded with Divine assistance in his mission to find a bride for Yitzchak Avinu. Out of gratitude to Hash-m, Yitzchak Avinu instituted the Tefilah of Minchah as an obligatory prayer for his entire household, because he understood that it was in the merit of his Tefilah of Minchah that Eliezer succeeded in finding him a wife.
This approach also explains Yakov Avinu's institution of the Tefilah of Ma'ariv. The Torah relates that Yakov Avinu recited Ma'ariv at Beis El (Bereishis 28:11). The Torah's intention is not to teach merely that Yakov Avinu followed the ways of his father and grandfather and prayed Ma'ariv. Rather, the Torah's intention is to teach that because of what occurred on that particular occasion, Yakov Avinu decided to institute the Tefilah of Ma'ariv for his entire household. It was at that time that Hash-m promised to protect him as he sojourned outside of Eretz Yisrael. Yakov Avinu understood that Hash-m's promise at that time was a sign that his Tefilah of Ma'ariv afforded him the merit of Hash-m's protection. For this reason, he instituted that his entire family should always recite Ma'ariv. (M. Kornfeld)
(b) TOSFOS in Berachos (27b) and the TOSFOS YESHANIM here (in his second answer) explain that the first person to recite Minchah was Yitzchak Avinu. Rav Safra refers to the prayer as the "Tefilah of Avraham" because Avraham also recited Minchah after Yitzchak had instituted it.
Why, though, does Rav Safra refer to Minchah as "the prayer of Avraham," if Avraham Avinu was merely following his son's example? It should be called "the prayer of Yitzchak," since Yitzchak originated the Tefilah of Minchah. Perhaps the Gemara mentions Avraham only because it refers to Avraham's Zerizus in praying Minchah at the earliest possible time. Since Avraham Avinu is known for his exceptional Zerizus (as the Gemara here describes), he certainly taught that attribute to his son; Yitzchak's timing for Minchah may be attributed to his father. In this sense, it is correct to refer to Minchah when recited immediately after Chatzos as "the prayer of Avraham." (M. Kornfeld)
(c) RABEINU CHANANEL and the ARUCH (Erech "Shachar") explain simply that although the Torah mentions Minchah explicitly only with regard to Yitzchak Avinu, all of the Avos recited Minchah.
The TOSFOS RID explains that Rabeinu Chananel means that the Gemara here argues with the Gemara in Berachos which says that Yitzchak Avinu instituted the Tefilah of Minchah. The Gemara here follows the other opinion in Berachos which says that the Anshei Keneses ha'Gedolah, and not the Avos, instituted the Tefilos, and that they correspond to the Korbenos Tamid which were offered in this Beis ha'Mikdash each day and whose fats were burned each night.
2) LEARNING A HALACHAH FROM AVRAHAM AVINU
QUESTION: The Gemara quotes Rav Safra who says that one should recite Minchah, the "Tefilah of Avraham" (see previous Insight), as soon as the eastern sides of the walls begin to darken (that is, as close as possible to midday). Rav Yosef questions how we can derive a Halachah about how to pray from the conduct of Avraham Avinu.
What is Rav Yosef's question? Why should we not derive a Halachah from the conduct of Avraham Avinu?
(a) RASHI explains that Rav Yosef's intention is to ask that Avraham Avinu was especially fervent in his performance of Mitzvos (see Chulin 16a), and it is not logical to require l'Chatchilah that everyone be as zealous as Avraham Avinu and recite Minchah immediately after midday. Rather, one who is particularly zealous in his performance of the Mitzvos should emulate Avraham Avinu and recite Minchah as soon as possible, as Avraham Avinu did. The Rabanan, though, cannot enact a requirement l'Chatchilah for everyone to be as zealous as Avraham Avinu.
(b) RABEINU TAM and the ARUCH (as explained by the RITVA) understand that Rav Yosef's intention is to ask how a Halachah can be derived from an act that was done before the Torah was given. Halachos may be derived only from what was done after the Mitzvos were commanded.
The Gemara answers that since we derive the precept of "Zerizin Makdimin l'Mitzvos" from the conduct of Avraham Avinu, we should also be able to derive the preferable time to recite Minchah from the conduct of Avraham Avinu. The Gemara rejoins that Halachos indeed may be derived from what was done before the Torah was given, but only when there is no indication that such a practice was discontinued or changed at the time of Matan Torah. In the case of Minchah, there is evidence from a Tana that from the time of the giving of the Torah it is no longer proper to recite Minchah immediately after midday. The Tana teaches that the Korban Tamid can be offered a half-hour after midday (and not immediately after midday). Therefore, even though Avraham Avinu recited Minchah immediately after midday, there is no reason for us to do so.
(c) The MAHARATZ CHAYOS (Chulin 16a) explains, based on the Yerushalmi (Moed Katan 3), that although we may not derive Mitzvos or Halachos from the conduct of the Avos before the Torah was given, nevertheless we may derive guidelines for what is considered praiseworthy conduct from the Avos.
According to this, the Gemara's question may be understand as explained by the Aruch (in (b) above), but the answer may be expressed differently. The Gemara's answer is that we do not mean to derive a Halachah from the prayer of Avraham Avinu, but rather a commendable practice: one should be "Zariz" and pray Minchah immediately after midday. The Gemara's proof that this practice may be learned from Avraham Avinu is that the practice of "Zerizin Makdimin l'Mitzvos" is learned from him (from the way he conducted his Bris Milah). (See Insights to Chulin 16:2
3) AVRAHAM AVINU OBSERVED ALL OF THE MITZVOS
QUESTION: The Gemara says that Avraham Avinu observed all of the Mitzvos of the Torah, even though the Torah had not yet been given. To emphasize the point, the Gemara says that Avraham Avinu observed even the rabbinical enactment of Eruv Tavshilin.
Why does the Gemara choose this Mitzvah, of all the Mitzvos, to emphasize that Avraham Avinu observed the Mitzvos? (TOSFOS YESHANIM)
(a) The RITVA explains that Eruv Tavshilin differs from other rabbinical enactments insofar as it is not a prohibition. The Rabanan did not enact Eruv Tavshilin in order to prevent people from transgressing a Torah prohibition. Rather, the Rabanan enacted Eruv Tavshilin in order to enhance a person's Shabbos enjoyment by encouraging him to put away some food for Shabbos and not to eat all of his food on the Yom Tov that precedes Shabbos (Beitzah 15b). The Gemara teaches that Avraham Avinu fulfilled even this type of enactment.
The SEFER YUCHASIN (Erech "Avraham Avinu") explains that the Rabanan enacted Eruv Tavshilin as a way to fulfill the Mitzvah of "Zachor Es Yom ha'Shabbos" -- "Remember the Shabbos day" (Shemos 20:8). The enactment of Eruv Tavshilin reminds a person that Shabbos is coming, so that he will remember to save some of his delicious food for Shabbos and he will not eat it all on the Yom Tov that precedes Shabbos (Beitzah ibid.). In a similar manner, Avraham Avinu "reminded" the people that the world has a Creator Who created the world in six days and rested on Shabbos.
The GEVURAS ARI adds additional insight to why Eruv Tavshilin exemplifies Avraham Avinu's fulfillment of Mitzvos. He explains that according to the opinion of Rabah in Pesachim (46b), an Eruv Tavshilin permits one to cook on Yom Tov for Shabbos only because of the principle of "Ho'il." When one cooks on Yom Tov for Shabbos, he is actually cooking for Yom Tov itself, since it is possible that guests will visit him on Yom Tov and he will need to serve them the extra food. However, this application of "Ho'il" enables one to cook on Yom Tov only when the guests who might visit are Jewish. One is not permitted to prepare food for a non-Jewish guest on Yom Tov, even if the non-Jew will eat it on Yom Tov.
In the times of Avraham Avinu, there were no other Jews. Consequently, Avraham Avinu could not rely on the principle of "Ho'il" to cook on Yom Tov for a guest who might come and eat with him on Yom Tov, because any guest who might come would not be Jewish, and one is not permitted to prepare food for a non-Jew on Yom Tov. One might have thought that if Avraham Avinu made an Eruv Tavshilin, then he did not properly observe the Mitzvah not to cook on Yom Tov. Therefore, the Gemara teaches that he indeed fulfilled the Mitzvah of Eruv Tavshilin. The Gemara here follows the opinion of Rav Chisda who argues with Rabah in Pesachim. Rav Chisda maintains that the Torah permits one to cook on Yom Tov for Shabbos (since Yom Tov and Shabbos are considered one Kedushah), even without the principle of "Ho'il." (The only reason an Eruv Tavshilin is necessary is in order to prevent people from thinking that one is permitted to cook on Yom Tov for an ordinary weekday.)
(b) The Midrash (Bereishis Rabah 64:6) records the statement differently. The Midrash says that Avraham Avinu observed all of the Mitzvos, even Eruv Chatzeros. Shlomo ha'Melech prohibited carrying an object from one Reshus ha'Yachid (private domain) to another on Shabbos, lest one mistakenly assume that he is permitted to carry from a Reshus ha'Yachid to a Reshus ha'Rabim (public domain) as well. In order to permit one to carry from one Reshus ha'Yachid to another, Shlomo ha'Melech instituted Eruv Chatzeros, which transforms all of the private domains into a single Reshus ha'Yachid. In a similar manner, Avraham Avinu taught the people of the world not to attribute the world and its contents to multiple entities, but to attribute it to the sole Creator, Hash-m, Who is One. (SEFER YUCHASIN, Erech "Avraham Avinu")
(c) According to the RASHBA's text of the Gemara, Avraham Avinu observed even Eruv Techumin (Teshuvos 1:94). The VILNA GA'ON (Kol Eliyahu #26) explains that this is the most accurate text, because the verse itself implies that Avraham Avinu observed the law of Eruv Techumin. The verse says, "Ekev Asher Shama..." (Bereishis 26:5), which implies that with his "Ekev," his heels, Avraham Avinu observed the Mitzvos and did not walk beyond the permitted limit.
According to this text as well, the Gemara alludes to the fact that Avraham Avinu taught people that Hash-m does not remain in His lofty abode in the heavens with no awareness or interest of what happens in the world. Rather, Hash-m supervises both this world and the heavens; the two "Techumin" of heaven and earth are combined under the dominion of Hash-m. (M. Kornfeld)