Friday, November 16, 2007

Parashat Va-yeitzei: Patriarchs and Prayers


The latest Parasha from Daniel Pinner. Shabbat Shalom!

by Daniel Pinner

“Jacob went out from Beer Sheva, and went towards Haran. When he encountered the place he slept there because the sun had set; he took from the stones of the place and put them around his head, and he lay in that place. And he dreamed: behold – a ladder set firm groundwards, with its head reaching to the heavens. And behold – angels of G-d were ascending and descending on it. And behold – Hashem appeared above him, saying: I am Hashem, the G-d of Abraham your father and the G-d of Isaac; the Land upon which you are lying – I will give it to you and to your seed.” (Genesis 28:10-13).

Thus begins Jacob’s exile. Leaving Beer Sheva, he travelled towards his uncle Lavan in Paddan Aram (“The Field of Aram”)/Aram Naharayim (“Aram of the Two Rivers”), some 500 miles (800 km) north-east of Beer Sheva as the crow flies, passing through both Jerusalem and Beth El. “When he encountered the place” – meaning the Place, the Place on which the Holy Temple would one day stand – he prayed the Evening service.

Each of the three Patriarchs instituted one of the three daily services: “Abraham instituted the Shacharit [Morning] Service, as it says, ‘And Abraham rose up early in the morning to the place where he had stood before Hashem’ (Genesis 19:27), and the term ‘stood’ can only refer to prayer, as it says, ‘And Phinehas [Pinchas] stood to pray’ (Psalms 106:30). Isaac instituted the Mincha [Afternoon] Service, as it says, ‘And Isaac went out to supplicate in the field towards the evening’ (Genesis 24:63), and the term ‘supplicate’ can only refer to prayer, as it says, ‘A prayer of the pauper when he faints, and pours out his supplications before Hashem’ (Psalms 102:1). Jacob instituted the Aravit [Evening] Service, as it says, ‘He encountered [va-yifga] the place and he slept there’; and the term va-yifga can only refer to prayer, as Jeremiah (7:16) says: ‘As for you – do not pray on behalf of this nation, do not raise joyful song and prayer on their behalf, and do not encounter Me’” (Berakhot 26b, Genesis Rabbah 68:9).

Thus Jacob completes the triad of prayers that his descendants have continued with ever since. Rabbi Yitzchak Abuhav (fourteenth century Spain) pointed out that the second letter of each patriarch’s name alludes to the service that he instituted: the second letter of Abraham is bet for boker (“morning”); the second letter of Yitzchak is tzaddi for tzohorayim (“afternoon”); and the second letter of Ya’akov is ayin for erev (“evening”).

It appears that each prayer is inherently connected both with the distinctly separate missions of each patriarch, and with what their names suggest. Abraham’s name was given by G-d because his task was to be av hamon goyim, or “father of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:5). “Father” connotes progenitor – the source of life, harking back to the beginning. It is appropriate that at every new dawning, the prayer that accompanies the beginning of the day is the one instituted by Avraham, the father of the multitude of nations.

Isaac’s task, by contrast, was to be the central of the three patriarchs. He was the only one of the three who never left the Land of Israel; he was the only one of the three whose name was never changed. Isaac represents stability – the bright sunlight of the afternoon. Hence the afternoon is Isaac’s time to pray.

Jacob is the patriarch who is most intimately connected with exile: Abraham was born in Ur of the Chaldees and later came to Israel, lived the majority of his life in Israel, and eventually died in Israel; Isaac never left Israel; Jacob fled Israel for exile when he was 63 years old (Megilla 17a, Genesis Rabbah 68:5; see Rashi on Genesis 28:9), returned home after twenty years, returned to exile in Egypt when he was 130 years old (Genesis 47:8-9), and eventually died in Egyptian exile. The 210-year exile in Egypt began with Jacob. As much as morning represents redemption, so nightfall represents exile. Thus it is supremely appropriate that the prayer of night-time, of exile, should be that of Jacob.

The Rambam summarizes as follows: “Adam was given six commandments…and Noah was given an additional commandment, [not to eat] the limb torn from a living animal... Abraham was given the additional commandment of circumcision, and he also prayed the Shacharit [Morning] Service. Isaac took tithes, and added an extra prayer towards the end of the day. And Jacob added the [prohibition against eating] the sinew of the thigh vein, and he prayed the Evening Service” (Laws of Kings 9:1).

It is interesting to note this juxtaposition of mitzvot. Following the Rambam, Abraham instituted both Shacharit and circumcision – circumcision being at the morning of the Jew’s life.

The Rambam does not explicitly specify when Isaac took tithes; but according to the Kessef Mishneh, the Torah alludes to Isaac’s tithing his produce in the verse, “And Isaac sowed in that land, and that year he reaped a hundred-fold; and Hashem blessed him” (Genesis 26:12). This is also the understanding of the Radbaz in his commentary on the Rambam, following Rashi on this verse. The Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 64:6) likewise says, based on this verse, that Isaac gave tithes. So Mincha, the prayer instituted by Isaac, is inherently connected with tithes, one of the mitzvot inherently connected with the Land of Israel – that Land that Isaac, alone among the patriarchs, never left.

And the Evening Service is connected to the prohibition on eating the sinew of the hind vein, which was commanded because the angel smote Jacob on the thigh (Genesis 32:25-33). That event occurred at night, but specifically at the very end of the night, as the sun was about to rise, as Jacob was entering the Land of Israel, as the night of exile was drawing to its close. So Jacob, in instituting for us both the Evening Service and the prohibition on eating the sinew of the hind vein, is the bridge that connects the long night of exile with the beginning of the morning of redemption.

And this puts Jacob’s prayer at the very beginning of our Parashah into a new light. On his way out of Israel, as the sun set, at the very beginning of the night, at the very beginning of his exile, he stopped to pray specifically at the future site of the Holy Temple. And there, G-d promised him: “the Land upon which you are lying – I will give it to you and your seed”. “G-d folded up the entire Land of Israel and placed it in its entirety beneath our father Jacob, so that it would be easier for his descendants to conquer” (Hullin 91b).

At the start of exile, without knowing how long it would last or what awaited him there, Jacob already prepared the way home – both for himself and for his descendants. There he set the foundation for what was to become the locus of Judaism for all time – the Holy Temple, connecting Heaven with earth, and specifically Heaven with the Land of Israel. He set out the path for us, his descendants who have returned to the Land of Israel. As soon as we will control the Temple Mount, we will – without further effort, without further strife – control and live in peace in the entire Land of Israel.


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