The Sages instituted a fixed text for prayer, so that all would be able to pray eloquently and for appropriate objectives. Yet the Sages also warned against prayer that is keva — literally ‘fixed’ or ’set.’
What exactly is this keva prayer that one should avoid?
The Talmud quotes a number of explanations. The simplest definition is that keva is a prayer consisting solely of the prescribed text, without any personal or individual requests. Others explain keva to mean a dry, sterile prayer, lacking heartfelt petitions.
And a third explanation is that keva refers to a basic outlook that looks at prayer as a burden. Instead of viewing prayer as fulfilling a natural spiritual need, it is seen as a religious duty that must be discharged.
While most of these explanations speak of some quality of spontaneity and personal connection to prayer, the final opinion quoted in the Talmud is much different. This opinion maintains that we should make an effort to pray at the optimal hour for prayer. By making this effort, we demonstrate that we pray not just to fulfill an obligation, but that we aspire to pray at a special time of ratzon, Divine favor.
And when is the best time to pray? This may be ascertained from the words of the psalm:
“They will revere You at sun[rise], and before the moon, for all generations.” (Ps. 72:5)
The best time for the Shacharit prayer is the first opportunity of the day to pray — “with sunrise.” And optimal time for the Minchah prayer is at the end of the day, as the sun is setting — “before the moon.”
According to Rav Kook, there is more to this than making the effort to pray at the optimal hour. By timing our prayer to coincide with the transition between day and night, our prayer is no longer a reflection of only our own personal needs and wants. It is no longer keva, bound and limited to our private world.
Rather, prayer at sunrise/sunset reaches beyond the boundaries of the inner self and touches the splendor of the universe. It reflects how God’s kindness fills the world. Prayer at sunrise and sunset awakens within us a sensitivity to the majesty of creation. “The heavens recite God’s glory, and the sky declares His handiwork” (Ps. 19:2).
Therefore the psalmist counseled to ‘revere God at sunrise.’ Witnessing the constancy of the laws of nature helps instill an awareness of the underlying wisdom in God’s creation.
It is fitting that we should draw feelings of awe and reverence from the wellsprings of creation, a universe where every detail articulates the wisdom of its Maker. For those who disregard God’s handicraft, these feelings become deadened. Rather, we should follow Isaiah’s advice:
“Lift up your eyes on high and contemplate. Who created these? Who takes out their host by number?” (Isaiah 40:26)
(Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. I on Berachot 29, IV:49)