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Jacob had left Beersheba and was travelling to Haran. He arrived (vayifga) at a certain place (bamakom) and stayed for the night, because sun had set. He used one of the stones for a pillow, and lay down to sleep (28:11-12).
The Talmud (Berachot 26b) brings the Aggadic tradition of the Patriarchs instituting the three daily prayers, quoting in support hints from the text. Abraham initiated shacharit (the morning prayer), Isaac mincha (the afternoon prayer), and Jacob arvit (the evening prayer).
Jacob's instituting arvit, the evening prayer, is based on the opening words of this Parasha. The words vayifga bamakom can be translated literally as "he arrived in a certain place". It may also be translated as he suddenly met G-d - the word makom also being a euphemism for G-d. Additionally, it can be rendered as "he prayed to G-d" - based on the double meaning of the word vayifga. [Indeed, it may be claimed that it is impossible to produce a perfect translation of the Hebrew text as the Hebrew words are deliberately selected to convey double and triple meanings at the same time, in the spirit of "there are seventy faces to the Torah".]
In contrast to shacharit and mincha, the Halacha gives a non-mandatory status to arvit. This is reflected in the non-repetition of the Amida prayer at arvit. This is not out of slight to Jacob, but perhaps because of the temporary aspect of what his life stood for. For his middle years were in exile to Laban's household. And his last years were in Egypt, outside the Promised Land. It was his descent to Egypt which set in motion the process by which the Israelites would enter the darkness of being slaves in Egypt. The Jewish people should thus look at the darkness of hard times and persecution as being temporary, and not a cause of despair.
In addition, the text does not state vayagiya lamakom - he arrived at the place, but vayifga bamakom - he suddenly arrived at the place. Indeed, it is the simultaneous meaning of he suddenly met G-d that connects with Jacob with prayer. When something good or bad happens to a person that is instant and totally unexpected, the prayer is unstructured, it is spontaneous. It is more likely to be personally authentic and totally sincere, on the spectrum of the sudden realization of: "Ah - the Hand of G-d suddenly intervened on my behalf" to a desperate "Please G-d, get me out of this mess!" This contrasts with the more structured approach that reflects something planned, along the lines of "Abraham got up early in the morning" (22:3), and "Isaac went to meditate in the field in the latter hours of the day (24:63).
Thus the non-compulsory nature of the Amida prayer of arvit is not a slight to Jacob. On the contrary. The Amida prayer may be seen as a structured compromise because it may be too much to expect everyone to engage in spontaneous prayer each and every evening.
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
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