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 Hashem 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.
"He encountered the place" (28:11)
Here I am sitting in Jerusalem writing these words on a small black box. Its amazing! And you there in LA. Yes YOU! There you are sitting there on the other side of the globe, watching minute electrons dancing around on a screen in front of your eyes and you can UNDERSTAND what Im writing! Its amazing! More. If this was a .wav file you could hear me! If this was an .mpeg file you could watch and listen to me! (Poor you!) Its AMAZING!
Its so amazing that we dont even notice it anymore. But think for a moment about the millions of man hours and hard work and the ingenuity of thousands of minds that went into providing this amazing device. How many miles of cable, ISDN lines, satellites, satellite launch vehicles, deep-sea cable-layers, microchips, hundreds of thousands of tons of plastic and metal all making it possible for me to talk to you.
Are you still listening?
Now think about this. A Jew gets up in the morning, puts on tallit and tefillin, opens up his siddur and starts to pray and his voice is heard on the other side of the Universe. Who installed the spiritual narrow-cast that accomplishes such an incredible feat? Who was able to construct a system which elevates every prayer in every generation through all the worlds above this one until they find their home under G-ds throne of Glory?
Who engineered such an incredible communications system that even the Internet pales in comparison?
Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. The Avot Patriarchs. The spiritual fathers of the Jewish People established those incredible spiritual conduits to Heaven. However, each of the Avot established something unique in his prayer.
The Talmud (Berachot 26b) tells us that Avraham established Shacharit, the morning prayer. The morning is the time of Chesed, kindness. As it says in Tehillim, "to relate in the morning Your Kindness." The midah (defining characteristic) of Avraham is Chesed, as it says "Chesed LAvraham."
Yitzchak established Mincha, the afternoon prayer. The afternoon is the time when the world starts to descend into the darkness of night. It is a time of Din, of Judgment. The midah of Yitzchak is Din.
That Yaakov established the evening prayer, Maariv, we learn from this weeks Torah portion: "He encountered the place" The spiritual masters teach us that the Hebrew word which is translated here as "encountered" implies the supreme encounter with the Divine prayer. Yaakov prayed at night. Another understanding of the word "encounter" means that Yaakov wanted to move from that place but he "encountered" the Wall of the World. The whole world became like a giant stone wall in front of him.
During the history of the Jewish Peoples long night of exile, it seems sometimes like the whole world is like a stone wall in front of us, a stone wall that will not let us pass. For these times, Yaakov established a prayer for his children and their children and their children until the long night of exile finally ends.
That prayer is the prayer of the night.
The prayer that lifts us above the tragedies of pogrom and holocaust, the prayer of exile. The prayer of hope.