VAYEITZEI (Genesis, 28:10-32:3) — “Time to Pray!”

It is well‑known that religious Jews pray three times a day.  When you live, as I do, in a community that consists of literally thousands of observant Jews, it is possible to find services to accommodate diverse schedules.  

At the break of dawn, many synagogues are already filling with “early-birds” rushing to recite the morning prayers at the earliest possible moment in the day.  The retirement community where I work provides an 8:30 Morning Service for those who can sleep a little later. 

There are even commuter busses – complete with Torah scrolls –  that have rolling services so you can pray on your way to work. 

The Afternoon Service can be recited from shortly after noon until sundown.  (Some have the custom to extend this for a short time after sundown.)  This can present a challenge, especially in the winter, for those hoping to remain gainfully employed.  Many businesses schedule a short break for the Afternoon Service.  (I was once shopping in a local supermarket when I suddenly heard an announcement on the overhead: “There will be a Minyan for Mincha in the Meat Department in 5 minutes.”)  

Evening Services can be recited shortly after sundown.  For this reason, many synagogues schedule the Afternoon Service right before sundown, and have the Evening Service a little while later.  But this doesn’t work for everybody.   There are lots of synagogues to choose from with lots of different starting times.  Sometimes I come in from out of town late at night, so I proceed to a particular Chassidic shul where I can find Minyans at 12 or later.  There is a synagogue (AKA a “Minyan Factory” where the last service of the evening begins at 2:30 a.m.!) 

Yes, “Davening,” or praying, three times a day, is a hallmark of our religion.  But it wasn’t always that way.  Although Davening Mincha (the Afternoon Service) and Maariv (the Evening Service) are very Jewish things to do, Abraham apparently didn’t do those things.  Isaac, quite a religious Jew, didn’t Daven Maariv either.  That was Jacob’s innovation: 

Jacob left Beer-Sheba and went toward Charan.  He came upon the place and spent the night there because the sun had set. . . He lay down to sleep there.  He had a dream: a ladder was standing on the ground with its top reaching toward Heaven.  G-d’s angels were going up and down on it.  G-d stood over him and said, “I am the G-d of Abraham your ancestor and the G-d of Isaac.  I will give the land upon which you are lying to you and your descendants.  Your descendants will be (as numerous as) the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west, to the east, to the north and to the south.  All the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.  I am with you.  I will protect you wherever you go, and I will return you to this soil; I will not leave you until I have fulfilled this promise to you.”  (Genesis, 28:10-15)  

These were words that Jacob needed to hear.  He was on his way, for the first time in his life, to the Diaspora.  He was leaving the Holy Land to escape the murderous intentions of his brother and to find a wife.  His future, our future, was at stake.  He arrived, without realizing it, at the site of the future Temple.  It was already a holy place.  Abel, the second son of Adam and Eve, had built an altar there.  Jacob’s grandfather Abraham had built an altar there, and almost offered Isaac upon it.  And now Jacob was there.  

“He came upon the place and spent the night there because the sun had set. . .” Rashi explains that the Torah uses an unusual word (vayifga) for “He came upon” because it has a double meaning.  It also means “he prayed.” 

“He prayed in the place . . . because the sun had set.”  Rashi explains that Jacob originated the Evening Prayer.  

Jacob, in his hour of need, turned to G-d in prayer.  G-d responded with assurances that everything was going to be alright. 

Our Sages point out, based upon this and other verses, that the morning, afternoon, and evening services were instituted by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob respectively.  We, their children, follow their example.

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Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin points out that each of the Patriarchs had different experiences that led to each of their prayers.  Abraham was greatly respected.  The various kings of the world accorded him great honor and accepted him as THEIR king.  He enjoyed wealth and esteem.  His sun shone brightly like the morning sun.  All was bright in his world and he thanked G-d for this brightness.  Hence, the Morning Service.  

Isaac lived at a time that the dark night of exile was approaching.  He was the first Jew to be driven from his home.  (Ibid. 26:16) Our Sages tell us that the Egyptian Exile began with the birth of Isaac.  Darkness was coming.  He even lost his vision in his old age.  “Isaac went out to pray in the field before evening. . .”  (Ibid. 24:63) Before the impending darkness of the difficulties just over the horizon, Isaac prayed for G-d’s deliverance.  Thus, Mincha, the Afternoon Service.  

Jacob lived in the darkness that his father had foreseen.  He lived a life of difficulty.  His brother tried to kill him.  His father-in-law consistently cheated him.  His son and his daughter were abducted.  In his own words, “The days of my life have been few and hard.”  (Ibid. 47:9) In the darkness of his pain, he turned to G-d.  And G-d responded with reassurance.

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He had a dream: a ladder was standing on the ground with its top reaching toward Heaven.  G-d’s angels were going up and down on it.  

Prayer is that ladder.  It is a dialog with G-d.  When we pray, when we serve our Creator, we create “angels,” heavenly advocates who go up to Heaven to plead our case before G-d.  Our prayers go up that ladder and G-d’s response comes down.  

Is life going well for you?  Pray.  Thank G-d for what you have and ask for more of the same.  Are things beginning to look scary?  Pray.  Ask G-d to help you through it.  Is your life dark?  Pray.  Ask G-d to show you the dawn’s early light. 

Whether we see Him or not, G-d is always there for us.  Are we always there for Him? 

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links. 

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FROM THE ARCHIVES 

 “How to Say ‘You’re Wrong’ ” (2009) 

I once saw a picture in National Geographic that struck me as strange.  The article was about life in Utah, and included a picture of a Mormon family. The father posed with his children and their four mothers.  Polygamy, although in violation of state (and currently, Mormon) law, continues to exist in Utah.

As an Ashkenazic Jew and member of Western Civilization, I find it very difficult to envision the concept of having more than one wife.  Successful polygamy requires a level of “sharing” and cooperation that goes beyond the mores of our culture. It is not a good system…  

Read more.

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“Are You My Bride? … Are You SURE??”  (2006)

Jacob came to Haran  (in Iraq) in search of a bride. 

Rachel was the one…  A wedding feast took place and Jacob took his veiled bride home to his tent.  It wasn’t until the next morning that Jacob discovered that he had married the wrong woman!  It was Leah!  He had been had!  His uncle had cheated him!… 

…How did all of this happen?  How did an intelligent man like Jacob allow himself to be hoodwinked by his uncle?  How did Laban pull it off?  And how could Leah participate in this fraud?  And where was Rachel?  Why didn’t she step in and stop the wedding?…  

Read more.

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 “Time to Pray!”  (2005) 

It is well known that religious Jews pray three times a day… But it wasn’t always that way.  Although Davening Mincha (the Afternoon Service) and Maariv (the Evening Service) are very Jewish things to do, Abraham apparently didn’t do those things.  Isaac, quite a religious Jew, didn’t Daven Maariv either.  That was Jacob’s innovation… the morning, afternoon, and evening services were instituted by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob respectively.  We, their children, follow their example… each of the Patriarchs had different experiences that led to each of their prayers… 

Read more.

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 “The Gift of Life” (2003) 

… Jacob cried…His nephew, Eliphaz had confiscated all his possessions…. we find Jacob’s reaction surprising.  After all, isn’t spirituality more important than money?  Don’t we usually view a Tzaddik, a righteous person as one who eschews material possessions?  In fact, Jacob had asked G-d to provide him with …bread to eat and clothing to wear. (Ibid, 28:23) All Jacob desired was the barest of minimums – a shirt on his back and a simple meal.  Why suddenly the tears?…  

Read more.

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“Feeling the Void – Filling the Void” (2002) 

Jacob left Beer-Sheba and he went to Haran. (Genesis, 28:10) 

The Torah doesn’t waste words. Rashi points out that the Torah only had to write Jacob went to Haran. The point of the story is that he was now on his way to Haran to find a wife. Obviously, he had to leave his home in Beer-Sheba in order to get there. What is the point of telling us that Jacob left Beer-Sheba? 

The answer, says Rashi, is that Jacob’s departure from Beer-Sheba was a significant event…  

Read more.

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“To Dream the Impossible Dream” (2000) 

Jacob had a tough life.  …he lived in constant fear that he would some day be killed by his jealous brother, or forced to kill Esau in self-defense…  Laban … tricked him into marrying the wrong woman.  … Jacob negotiated a salary for future work – Laban kept changing the terms …When Jacob and his family finally packed their bags and left, Laban pursued them, hoping to kill Jacob… Rachel was unable to have children and there was friction between the two wives.  …sibling rivalry caused additional grief.  He would eventually suffer the anguish and indignity of his daughter’s abduction and violation by a Canaanite.  Then he had to deal with the ensuing violence committed by his sons against the hometown of his daughter’s attacker.  For twenty years, he thought his beloved son Joseph was dead. 

…Where does one find the strength to deal with such adversity?  How did he manage to continue his life in the face of such pain? … 

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at www.TorahTalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in  Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on December 8, 2005 at 11:18 am  Leave a Comment  

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