Parshat Vayishlach: Gifts
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יַעֲקֹ֗ב אַל־נָא֙ אִם־נָ֨א מָצָ֤אתִי חֵן֙ בְּעֵינֶ֔יךָ וְלָקַחְתָּ֥ מִנְחָתִ֖י מִיָּדִ֑י כִּ֣י עַל־כֵּ֞ן רָאִ֣יתִי פָנֶ֗יךָ כִּרְאֹ֛ת פְּנֵ֥י אֱלֹהִ֖ים וַתִּרְצֵֽנִי׃
“But Jacob said, ‘No, I pray you; if you would do me this favor, accept from me this gift; for to see your face is like seeing the face of God, and you have received me favorably.’”
No matter what I do, I cannot convince my children to like any holiday more than Hanukkah. This is, of course, because of the presents. Who can blame them though? Everybody likes gifts. What are the gifts, however, that really matter? The word for “gift” used in the verse above is rather unusual. In Hebrew, a gift is called a מתנה, “matana”, but not here. The word here is מנחה, “mincha”, which is the same name for the daily afternoon service.
For somebody trying to pray the traditional three daily services, this one can be the most challenging. The time for the mincha service starts in the afternoon and continues through sunset, which is, for many of us, the busiest time of the day. Setting aside a moment to pray during the work day at those hours is a tall order. In the afternoon hours, the momentum of the day is in full force, and stopping to do anything beyond one’s intended trajectory can feel impossible.
This is why the afternoon service is called “mincha”: we are asked to give of our most precious commodity, time. We set aside time when it is most difficult to do so and dedicate it to connecting with God and our tradition. So too, we can choose to give of this precious commodity to others. It may not be wrappable or come in an exciting box, but the gift of time, the gift of being fully present with another person, is the most precious gift we can give.