The Chachamim said, "A person should always be conscientious concerning the Minchah prayer, for indeed, Eliyahu was only answered through the Minchah prayer" (Berachot 6b). One must be especially careful to pray Minchah, since it is unlike Shacharit and Ma’ariv whose times are specified: Shacharit – immediately after waking up from one’s sleep; and Ma’ariv – upon returning home. At Minchah time, a person is often preoccupied with his affairs; therefore he must overcome his concerns and designate time to pray.
Indeed, the purpose of the Minchah prayer is to sanctify a person’s daily work in the face of all obstacles and difficulties, accusers and prosecutors. Therefore, specifically through his Minchah prayer, Eliyahu was answered in his battle against the Ba’al worshipers.
In the Minchah prayer a person infuses his daily life with holiness, lending an added sanctification of Hashem’s Name to the day. Perhaps for that reason this prayer is named "Minchah," meaning donation and gift. By praying Shacharit, we fulfill our obligation to thank Hashem for all the good He has given us, and in Minchah we add more prayers. Shacharit refers to everything that Hashem has given us in His abundant graciousness, and Minchah arises from our daily actions.
2.The Order of the Prayer
The majority of Geonim and Rishonim maintain that there is no need to recite the passages of the Korbanot before praying Minchah. Neither the Rambam (Hilchot Tefillah 9:8), nor the Shulchan Aruch mention that Korbanot are recited at Minchah. Still, there are Rishonim who write that the passages of the Tamid and the Pitum HaKetoret are recited before Minchah, just as it is proper to say them before Shacharit (Rama 234:1; 132:2). Those who follow the Ari are more meticulous about reciting Korbanot before Minchah (Kaf HaChaim 232:6; Piskei Teshuvot 234:1).
All are accustomed to saying Tehillah L’David (Ashrei) before the Amidah of Minchah because it is proper to praise Hashem prior to praying the Amidah. It is, indeed, a kind of Pesukei d’Zimrah before the Minchah prayer (see earlier in this book 14:1-2). However, it is not an absolute obligation to recite it before Minchah, and therefore, in a situation in which the time to pray Minchah is about to lapse, one must skip Tehillah L’David and immediately start reciting the Amidah (Mishnah Berurah 234:6). Likewise, if the congregation is ready to begin the Amidah, he should skip Tehillah L’David so that he can start praying together with them in a minyan (Mishnah Berurah 108:14; Or L’Tzion, part 2, 15:3).
After Tehillah L’David the chazan recites Half-Kaddish, following which the congregations begins the silent Amidah. Subsequently, the chazan says Chazarat HaShatz. Birkat Kohanim is not recited in Chazarat HaShatz of Minchah, for fear that perhaps the Kohanim drank wine at the meal beforehand and will come to bless the nation when they are inebriated. However, on a public fast day, there is no such concern, and therefore they bless the nation then (on condition that the congregation prays after plag haminchah, as explained earlier in this book 20:5).
After the Amidah, prayers of supplication (Tachanunim) are recited. According to the Sephardic custom, Vidui, the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, and Nefillat Apayim are all said; whereas according to the Ashkenazic and Yemenite (Baladi) minhag, only Nefillat Apayim is recited. Subsequently, the chazan says Kaddish-Titkabal. On days on which Tachanun is not recited (as explained earlier in this book 21:7-8), the chazan recites Kaddish-Titkabal immediately following the Amidah repetition.
Sephardim say "Lamenatze’ach Bin’ginot" (Psalm 67) followed by Mourner’s Kaddish, and conclude the prayer with Aleinu L’Shabe’ach. Ashkenazim do not recite Lamenatze’ach. They say Aleinu L’Shabe’ach and then Mourner’s Kaddish.
3. Minchah Time Corresponds to the Time of the Tamid Offering
The Chachamim established the time of the Minchah prayer to correspond to the afternoon Tamid. In principle, the time of the Tamid offering starts after six hours into the day, for that marks chatzot (midday), and the sun then begins to descend towards the west. However, the Chachamim were concerned that perhaps an incorrect estimation would be made regarding the position of the sun; therefore they established that the Tamid can only be offered half an hour later, which means that the time of Minchah starts at six-and-a-half hours into the day. 1
In actuality, the Tamid offering was the final offering of the day, after which it was not permissible to offer burnt offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, or guilt offerings. Therefore, it was customary to delay bringing the afternoon Tamid offering until after nine-and-a-half hours of the day already passed.
Only when Erev Pesach fell on Erev Shabbat was the Tamid brought immediately after six-and-a-half hours into the day. The reason for this is because the time to bring the Pesach offering is after the time of the Tamid, and in order for all of Israel to succeed in bringing their Pesach offerings before Shabbat arrived, it was necessary to make the time of the Tamid offering as early as possible.
That is the basis for the division of Minchah time into two parts: "Minchah Gedolah" (large Minchah) and "Minchah Ketanah" (small Minchah). Minchah Gedolah starts from six-and-a-half hours and lasts until nine-and-a-half hours, and in principle, it is the proper time to bring the Tamid offering. However, in actuality, only in rare cases is the Tamid brought at Minchah Gedolah. Minchah Ketanah lasts from nine-and-a-half hours until the end of twelve hours, meaning, until the end of the day, within which time the Tamid of the afternoon was offered. The first Minchah period is named "Gedolah" (large) since its duration is longer – three hours; the second, whose time is two-and-a-half hours, is called "Ketanah" (small). As we already learned, these hours are proportional hours. The day is divided into twelve parts and each part is called a proportional hour. In the summer, when the day is long, the hours are long as well, and in wintertime, when the day is short, the hours are concurrently short (see earlier in this book 11:10).
Since the Tamid offering was actually brought at Minchah Ketanah, it is the opinion of the Rambam that l'chatchilah, it is necessary to recite Minchah at that time, and it is only permissible b’dieved to fulfill one’s obligation of Minchah at the time of Minchah Gedolah. That is also how the Shulchan Aruch rules (233:1). However, others maintain that since, in principle, the time of the Tamid starts six-and-a-half hours into the day, it is permissible l'chatchilah to recite Minchah at the time of Minchah Gedolah (Rif and Rosh). Some say that it is even proper l'chatchilah to pray Minchah as early as possible, for those who are expeditious perform mitzvot as soon as they can (Rasag).
In practice, it is preferable to pray at the time of Minchah Ketanah. However, in times of need, it is permissible l'chatchilah to pray Minchah Gedolah. For example, if one has two options: to pray Minchah Gedolah in a minyan, or Minchah Ketanah individually, it is preferable that he prays Minchah Gedolah in a minyan. Similarly, one who is accustomed to eating lunch after the time of Minchah Gedolah, even though he is allowed to rely on those who are lenient and permit eating before Minchah (as explained in halachah 6), nevertheless, l'chatchilah, it is better that he prays in a minyan before that, as practiced in many yeshivot. 2
^ 1.If one mistakenly prayed in the first half-hour after chatzot, the Acharonim disagree as to whether or not he fulfilled his obligation b’dieved. According to the Magen Avraham he did not, whereas according to the Pri Chadash he did. The Sha’ar HaTzion 233:6 indicates that this matter requires further study, and the Kaf HaChaim 2 concludes that because prayer is a rabbinic obligation, when there is doubt, we are lenient, and he does not repeat his prayer. Further, there is uncertainty with regard to that first half-hour, as to whether it is proportional or permanent. The Sha’ar HaTzion 233:8 tends to say that it is proportional.
^ 2.This is how the Mishnah Berurah 233:1 rules and the Yechaveh Da’at 4:19 expands on this opinion. Another reason to pray close to sunset, l'chatchilah, is based on the Gemara in Berachot 29b, where Rabbi Yochanan states that it is a mitzvah to pray with the last rays of the sun, and Rashi interprets this to mean close to sunset. That is also the opinion of Rabbeinu Chananel (brought by Hagahot Maymoniyot in chapter 2 of Hilchot Tefillah). Even though the Gemara states that in the West (meaning Israel) they would curse a person who prayed with the last rays of the sun, this refers to someone who prayed very late, but slightly before sunset is the most praiseworthy time. That is how the Arizal practiced. However, the Maharsha interprets that the Gemara is referring to Shacharit, meaning that the mitzvah to pray with the last rays of the sun is at netz. See Yechaveh Da’at 4:19; there he cites a few Rishonim who maintain like Rasag that it is preferable to hasten to pray Minchah immediately when its time begins.