Fleeing from Esav, Yaakov leaves Beer Sheva and sets out for Charan, the home of his mother's family. After a 14-year stint in the Torah Academy of Shem and Ever, he resumes his journey and comes to Mount Moriah, the place where his father Yitzchak was brought as an offering, and the future site of the Beit Hamikdash. He sleeps there and dreams of angels going up and down a ladder between Heaven and earth. G-d promises him the Land of Israel, that he will found a great nation and that he will enjoy Divine protection. Yaakov wakes and vows to build an altar there and tithe all that he will receive. Then he travels to Charan and meets his cousin Rachel at the well. He arranges with her father, Lavan, to work seven years for her hand in marriage, but Lavan fools Yaakov, substituting Rachels older sister, Leah. Yaakov commits himself to work another seven years in order to also marry Rachel. Leah bears four sons: Reuven, Shimon, Levi and Yehuda, the first Tribes of Israel. Rachel is barren, and in an attempt to give Yaakov children, she gives her handmaiden Bilhah to Yaakov as a wife. Bilhah bears Dan and Naftali. Leah also gives Yaakov her handmaiden Zilpah, who bears Gad and Asher. Leah then bears Yissachar, Zevulun, and a daughter, Dina. Hashem finally blesses Rachel with a son, Yosef. Yaakov decides to leave Lavan, but Lavan, aware of the wealth Yaakov has made for him, is reluctant to let him go, and concludes a contract of employment with him. Lavan tries to swindle Yaakov, but Yaakov becomes extremely wealthy. Six years later, Yaakov, aware that Lavan has become dangerously resentful of his wealth, flees with his family. Lavan pursues them but is warned by G-d not to harm them. Yaakov and Lavan agree to a covenant and Lavan returns home. Yaakov continues on his way to face his brother Esav.
Children Of The Fathers
“He encountered the place…” (28:11)
Rashi: “He (Yaakov) instituted the prayer of Ma’ariv.” (Talmud Bavli 26b)
A true story.
Reuven decided after his Bar Mitzvah that he would never daven (pray) without a minyan (quorum of ten men).
Returning home one night at 3:00am from an out-of-town wedding, Reuven fell into bed exhausted. As soon as he had turned out the light, he realized that he hadn’t prayed Ma’ariv, the evening prayer. With tremendous effort, he dragged himself out of bed and started to dress.
Where to find a minyan at this time of the morning?
No problem. As anyone who lives in Jerusalem can tell you, day or night, you can always find a minyan at the shteibelach in Zichron Moshe.
That night there was a miracle.
Zichron Moshe was totally deserted; no one was there; nary a hobo, nada.
Taking out his cellular phone, he dialed the number of a large taxi company.
“Hello! Can you please send five taxis to the shteibelach in Zichron Moshe?”
“Adoni (my dear sir)! It’s three o’clock in the morning! You think I have FIVE taxis? What do you think I am, a magician? …I only have four.”
“Okay. So send four!”
He dialed another number. “Hello, please send five taxis to Zichron Moshe…”
Within twenty minutes, there was a procession of nine taxicabs parked neatly outside the shteiblach.
“Adoni,” said one of the drivers, “Why do you need nine taxis? There’s no wedding here, no Bar Mitzvah, nothing.”
“I want you all to turn your meters on and come inside with me. We are going to pray together the evening prayer — arvit ”
Dusty yarmulkes (skullcaps) emerged from the glove compartments of the taxis, some woken from a hibernation that stretched back to their owner’s own bar mitzvah.
It wasn’t easy. Despite being obviously fluent in Hebrew, the drivers had no idea how to pray: what and when to answer; when they should pray aloud and when in silence.
It took them quite a while.
When they had finished, everyone went out to the taxis; the meters in the cars were pushing upwards of 80 shekels. The drivers turned off their meters and Reuven pulled out his wallet.
“How much do I owe you?” he said to the first taxi driver in the line.
“Adoni, what do you take me for? Do you honestly believe I would take money from a holy Jew like you who just gave me such an opportunity? Do you know how long it is since I prayed?”
He moved down the line to the second driver. Identical reaction. And the third and the fourth, all the way down the line to the ninth…
Not one would take a penny.
However distant a Jew may be from his or her heritage, there’s a little Jewish spark that never goes out.
Judaism is not just a religion; Jews are a people. Our faith is not just intellectual, it’s hereditary; it’s in the genes. We are the children of the children of the children… of those Jews who came out of Egypt, who received the Torah. Ultimately we are the children of three fathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov.
According to one opinion in the Talmud (Berachot 26b) it was the Fathers, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov who instituted the three daily prayers; they are prayer itself, and prayer was their bequest to us.
The Hebrew word for father, av, is an interesting word – it connects the first two letters in the Hebrew alphabet – aleph and bet.
The Torah begins with the letter bet: “Bereshit bara Elokim…” “In the beginning…”
Why doesn’t the beginning begin with aleph? Why does the beginning of the Creation start with the second letter of the alphabet, with bet? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to start the world with the first letter of the alphabet, with the aleph?
The aleph is always beyond.
The numerical value of aleph is one. There is only one Existence that is truly One, and He is infinitely beyond.
This world begins with bet.
A father is someone who connects the bet to the aleph. The Fathers are prayer itself, for what is prayer if not to connect; to connect to the aleph; to connect to beyond?
That was their bequest to us; that is the spark that lives in the heart of the children throughout all the generations.
So next time you see a line of deserted taxicabs in Jerusalem with their meters running outside a shul, know that the children are alive and well and still connecting to the Fathers… and beyond.
- (Based on a story heard from Rabbi Adam Heavenrich)