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Simcha Groffman

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Kinder Torah
For parents to share with children at the Shabbos Table

Parashas Vayetze


"It is getting late - look, the sun is setting. We must hurry if we want to reach the city before nightfall."

"What is the rush?"

"The city gates are closed and bolted at dusk. The king's palace also accepts no guests or ministers. He judges no cases. All day the palace gates were open to welcome his subjects. At nightfall, all is closed and locked until the following day."

"We do not want to be left outside. What does the king do at night?"

"He spends private time with his family and dear ones. He gets to relax with them without the burden of receiving the public. They and only they will be admitted to the royal palace after nightfall."

"We have nothing to worry about! We are family members! My grandfather was the king's brother."

"That is wonderful! His Majesty will accept us after nightfall, and spend time with us alone in the royal palace. He can then grant our private requests."

"What a privilege and pleasure! We must take advantage of it."

* * *

This story is based upon a parable from the Maggid Tsedek. He finds an apparent contradiction between the beginning of the first blessing of the Ma'ariv prayers and the Neilah prayer. "With wisdom He opens the gates (of heaven)". Is this indeed the time of the opening of the heavenly gates? In the Neilah prayer (recited at dusk at the conclusion of Yom Kippur) we beseech Hashem to open a gate for us at the time of the locking of the gates. Is nightfall the time of locking gates or opening gates? He answers this seeming contradiction with the parable of the king's palace gates. All day they were open to the public. The king carried out his royal responsibilities. Understandably, this left him no time to be with his loved ones. Now, at dusk, the palace gates are closed to the public and opened to his majesty's cherished ones. They are free to spend time with him, get to know him, and put forth their private requests. He will protect them and grant their wishes. We, Klal Yisrael are the Almighty's "am segulah" - treasured people. In the evening, the gates are open to us, to have our special private time with the King of kings, the Holy One Blessed be He.

* * *

Although Yaakov Avinu fixed the Ma'ariv prayer, it was still considered reshus (optional). Why was it of lesser status than the obligatory prayers of Shacharis and Mincha that Avraham and Yitzchak established? If we examine the events in the beginning of parashas Vayetzeii Bereshis 28:11, we see that Yaakov Avinu did not intend to fix a new prayer. He was traveling from Beer Sheva to Choron and intended to pray the Mincha prayer, but the sun suddenly set and it was night. The prayer consequently became an evening prayer - Ma'ariv, with the status of reshus because it was prayed without the intention of fixing a new prayer.iii Pardes Yosef cited by Iyun Tefillah Another reason for the optional status has to do with korbonos. The morning korbon tomid atoned for aveyros of the previous night, and the evening korbon tomid atoned for aveyros of that day. Corresponding to them, the Shacharis and Mincha prayers were instituted, providing a kapora, as the korbonos did. The Ma'ariv prayer, however, has no korbon. Therefore, its original status was reshus.iiii The Rif and all other codifiers have ruled that Ma'ariv has been accepted and hallowed by custom and is therefore an obligatory service (Metsuda Siddur) The question remains, how could the Elders fix a prayer without a corresponding korbon? From where will the source for the kapora (atonement) come? Abudarham answers that although the Mizbeach was not consuming an obligatory korbon, it was not necessarily empty. If there were remaining limbs and fats from the korbonos of the day, it was consuming them. These burning remains did not provide a complete kapora, therefore we need to add the words, "Vehu rachum yichaper avon" - And He the Merciful One atones iniquity at the beginning of Ma'ariv.iiv Abudarham The Elders fixed the recitation of this verse (Tehillim 78:38) thrice daily. Its plea for a kapora is enhanced by the fact that it contains thirteen words, which correspond to the thirteen middos ha'rachamim (attributes of mercy). Three times thirteen equals thirty-nine. The thirty-nine words correspond to a punishment of thirty-nine malkos (lashes), which atone for our sins. The intention is that since the Yetzer Hara overpowers us every day, this prayer helps, in place of the malkos, to request atonement from the Almighty.vv HaYashar cited by Kavannas HaLev The Etz Yosef adds that in the times of the Beis HaMikdash they would administer malkos between Mincha and Ma'ariv. After sinning all day, the lashes would atone for them. Therefore, they would say after the malkos, "Vehu rachum". "After we have been whipped, let the punishment atone for us." Additionally, during the time of the lashing they would say the verse three times, which adds up to 39 words corresponding to the 39 lashes.

* * *

Rav Hirsch elucidates the verse with a thoughtful insight. At the beginning of a new day, we look back upon our deeds of the past day and are filled with a crushing sense of inadequacy. Only the thought of Hashem's compassion, in which He has so often granted us atonement in the past, can sustain us. The mystical sources relate that when darkness falls, the wicked ones are judged twice as severely in gehennom. They have three prosecutors - 'mashchis' (destruction), 'af' (anger), 'cheima' (rage), who are all mentioned in the verse. "And He, the Merciful One, forgives iniquity and does not destroy (yashcis). He frequently withdraws His anger (apo) and does not arouse all His rage (chamoso)." We beseech His compassion to overcome them, for we ourselves are fearful of the punishment of gehennom.vvi Zohar Rus cited in Shaar HaRachamim May Hashem have rachmonus and save us from all sins and retributions.

Kinderlach . . .

Night is a time when we need an abundance of heavenly mercy. It is a time of severe judgment. There are no obligatory korbonos on the mizbeach to provide a kapora. The Almighty's palace gates are closed to accepting the prayers of strangers. Where can we turn? Who will help us? "Vehu Rachum - And He, the Merciful One" will grant us a kapora patiently, without anger. He will open His palace gates to us, for we are His "am segulah". We can enter, and enjoy private time with the King of kings. All this can be yours Kinderlach, if you pray the Ma'ariv prayer with true heartfelt kavannah (intention). Open the gates and enjoy your special time with Hashem.

i Bereshis 28:11
ii Pardes Yosef cited by Iyun Tefillah
iii The Rif and all other codifiers have ruled that Ma'ariv has been accepted and hallowed by custom and is therefore an obligatory service (Metsuda Siddur)
iv Abudarham
v HaYashar cited by Kavannas HaLev
vi Zohar Rus cited in Shaar HaRachamim

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