Question Part I: Why do we Pray Three Times a Day?

Answer Part I:

First of all, the Rambam1)Hilchos Tefilah 1:1 says that the Torah requires us to pray to G-d at least once a day. The Ramban2)Discussions on the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvos, Mitzvas Asei 5, on the other hand, says that we are only obligated to cry out in prayer to Hashem during a time of crisis. It is clear, however, that one way or another, the Men of the Great Assembly (who lived at the start of the Second Temple period, almost 2,500 years ago) instituted that we should pray thrice daily. You seem to me to ask “Surely there is great depth behind this obligation and why the Rabbis instituted it. Given all that, what is the rationale behind this formalized obligation to pray three times a day?” I will offer one small gleaning as the beginning of an answer.

The Maharal M’Prague writes3)Nesiv Ha’Avodah Chapter 3 that there are three distinct periods of a day, the morning, the afternoon, and the evening, and at each of those times we turn to G-d in formalized prayer to ask Him to help us in each unique circumstance. In the morning, the idea is to ask Hashem for help in “utilizing” all of the potential of the new day for positive things and for growth. In the afternoon, when we are usually at the height of our strength and productivity, the idea is to remember Who gave us all of this strength and capability in the first place. In the middle of our busy days, when we are most productive, it is easiest to forget the Source of our success. In the night, when darkness falls, comes the waning of a person’s strength. We then turn to Hashem with emunah, trusting that He will assure that everything we did in the day that passed should turn out for the good, and that He will protect us and guide us through the darkness to a new day.

Question Part II: Is there any Relation to the Avot (Avraham, Isaac, and Jacob)? I Heard There is a Midrash About That.

Answer Part II:

The Talmud4)Berachos 26b correlates the three prayers to two different aspects: their initiator and their corresponding sacrifice. Avraham Avinu initiated the Shacharis service, Yitzchak Minchah, and Yaakov Maariv. We, too, pray these services at the same times that they did. As well, the three prayers correspond to the Korban Tamid (daily sacrifice). In the Beis Hamikdash, they would bring one sacrifice in the morning (corresponding to shacharis, and one sacrifice in the afternoon (minchah). Any leftover pieces of meat and fats were then placed on the altar at night, corresponding to Maariv.

References   [ + ]

1. Hilchos Tefilah 1:1
2. Discussions on the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvos, Mitzvas Asei 5
3. Nesiv Ha’Avodah Chapter 3
4. Berachos 26b