The Shabbos Table – Vayeitzei: R’ Y. Sacks Shlita: Ma’ariv, the Tefilah of Yaakov Avinu
This D’var Torah should be a Zechus L’Ilui Nishmas my mother Chaya Rochel Bas Dovid Tzvi (Hareini Kaparas Mishkavah), my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my maternal grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, my maternal grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, my paternal grandfather Moshe Ben Yosef A”H, my paternal grandmother Channah Freidel Bas Avraham A”H, my uncle Reuven Nachum Ben Moshe & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein,
It should also be in Zechus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmother Shulamis Bas Etta
-MY BROTHER: MENACHEM MENDEL SHLOMO BEN CHAYA ROCHEL
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
_R’ Simcha Yitzchak Ben Mirela Yudka
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-Yonatan Menachem Mendel Ben Orly, Eli Aharon Michel Ben Chaya
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of HaRav HaGa’on V’Sar HaTorah Shmaryahu Yosef Chaim Ben HaRav Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky A”H, Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken by terrorists (Hashem Yikom Damam), COVID-19, and other tragedies.
-It should also be a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael during this dire time, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
The wounded should experience Refuah Shileimah, the captives should be returned safely, the fallen should experience Kevurah and Aliyah for their Neshamos and Nekamah for their Dam, their Krovim should experience Nechamah, the Chayalim should be Matzliach and Minatzei’ach, and Am Yisrael should experience Geulah.
Be”H, I will be translating / transcribing / paraphrasing Divrei Torah of my Rebbi, HaGaon R’ Yonason Avner Sacks Shlita. (Any inaccuracies, whether added, misrepresented, or due to omission and/or points lost in translation or context should be attributed to me alone. * = My addition.)
“Ma’ariv – The Tefilah of Yaakov Avinu”
Sichah – Vayeitzei: Yeshuah in the Midst of Darkness (2023)
“Tefilaso Shel Yaakov Avinu” (Yomim MiKedem – Parshas Vayeitzei, Page 38)
“Tefilas Arvis” (Yomim MiKedem – Parshas Vayeitzei, Page 42)
Two Sources Source for Tefilah
The Gemara in Brachos (26B) discusses two different sources for the Mitzvah of Tefilah. Rebbi Yehoshua Ben Levi holds that Tefilah is based on Korbanos–Shacharis in the morning corresponding to the Korban Tamid Shel Shachar, Minchah in the afternoon corresponding to the Tamid Shel Bein HaArbayim, and although there are no Korbanos offered at night, Ma’ariv corresponds to the burning of the Eimarim U’Pedarim (fats and limbs). Alternatively, Rebbi Yosei B’Rebbi Chanina holds that Tefilah is based on the Avos, the Tefilos of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov.
Tefilas Arvis Reshus
On the next Daf (Ibid. 27B), the Gemara discusses a Machlokes Rabban Gamliel and Rebbi Yehoshua, whether Tefilas Arvis (Ma’ariv) is Reshus (optional) or a Chovah (obligatory). Mei’Ikur HaDin, we Poskin like R’ Yehoshua, that Tefilas Arvis is indeed a Reshus. But, the Gemara does not explain why one should treat Ma’ariv any differently from Shacharis and Minchah. If they are a Chovah, why would Ma’ariv only be a Reshus?
Why is Ma’ariv a Reshus?
Rashi writes, fascinatingly not in Brachos, but in Shabbos (9B, S.V. “L’Ma’an D’Amar Tefilas Arvis Reshus”), that if Tefilah corresponds to the Korbanos, there is understandably a marked difference between Ma’ariv and the other Tefilos as there is a Korban Kavua for Shacharis as well as a Korban Kavua for Minchah, whereas at night, there is no Korban Kavua. It stands to reason then that according to the Ma’an D’Amar (one who says) that Tefilah corresponds to the Avos, Ma’ariv should be a Chovah as there is presumably no reason to distinguish between the Tefilah of Yaakov and the Tefilos of Avraham and Yitzchak.
It is stunning to align these Sugyos. After all, the source for Tefilah is a Machlokes Amora’im and the Machlokes regarding the status of Ma’ariv is *ostensibly a *separate Machlokes Tana’aim, and if one looks in the She’iltos (She’ilta 8), R’ Achai Ga’on writes (1) that Tefilas Arvis Reshus, and that (2) the source for Tefilah is Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. That means that somehow, we have to be able to understand the Shitah of R’ Yehoshua (Tefilas Arvis Reshus) with the Shitah that Tefilah corresponds to the Avos. That begs the question: Why should we discriminate against the Tefilah of Yaakov Avinu?
The “Intrinsically Incidental” Tefilah of Yaakov Avinu
Netziv comments (Ha’Eimek She’eilah, She’ilta 8) based on the Sugya in Chulin (91B) that maybe it is evident from the Pasuk that the Tefilah of Yaakov Avinu was not a Chovah, as the Pasuk in our Parsha states “Vayifga BaMakom”-“And he encountered the place” (28:11). The Gemara explains that when Yaakov reached the city of Charan, he expressed remorse; “Is it possible that I passed through the area where my forefathers Davened, and I did not?” The Netziv writes that this tradition appears ascribe this Tefilah of Yaakov to circumstance, that it was subject to time and place, an indicator that it was not a Minhag Kavua for each and every day. The very source for the Tefilah of Ma’ariv was incidental.
I would suggest that perhaps one could argue a different possibility.
The Life & Tefilah of Yaakov Avinu – Tefilah Amid Darkness
There is something incredible about the life of Yaakov Avinu, and about the Tefilah of Yaakov Avinu. The Meshech Chochmah (Bereishis 46:2) writes that typically speaking, Nevuah is B’Yom, whereas Yaakov repeatedly experienced Nevuah, “B’Ma’aros HaLailah” (lit., “In visions of the night”). In the clarity of day, a person can experience Hashgachas Hashem, Hashra’as HaShechinah. But, Yaakov Avinu taught us that even in the midst of Choshech, one can experience absolute Yeshuah (salvation). This was the life and legacy of Yaakov Avinu; one Tzarah after another, one experience of Galus after another, and yet Yaakov embraces and displays incredible Emunah and Bitachon, and experiences Nevuah in the Choshech of Lailah.
And how did Yaakov Avinu respond to that Nevuah? An amazing reciprocal response; HaKadosh Baruch Hu reaches out to Yaakov Avinu B’Ma’aros HaLailah, and Yaakov Avinu is Kovei’a Tefilas Arvis L’Doros! HaKadosh Baruch Hu reaches out to Yaakov Avinu, and Yaakov Avinu teaches us that in the Choshech of Lailah, B’Eis Tzarah, you reach back out to Hashem with the Koach of Tefilah. That is something that transforms who we are and provides the greatest sense of Nechamah; recognizing that “Imo Anochi B’Tzarah” (“I am with him in distress” – Tehilim 91:15), that “Shechinta B’Galusa,” that yes, we are experiencing an Eis Tzarah and we are experiencing dire Galus, but HaKadosh Baruch Hu is with us.
But, there is a caveat.
Not Our Destiny
The fact that it is true that HaKadosh Baruch Hu reaches out to Yaakov Avinu and Kneses Yisrael in the Choshech of Galus is remarkable, and the fact that we can reach out to HaKadosh Baruch Hu in the Choshech of Lailah through Tefilah is transformative.
But, as remarkable and as transformative as this reality is, as necessary as Tefilas Arvis is, one thing that it is not: The destiny of Kneses Yisrael. This is not who we are. Our destiny is not to reach out to HaKadosh Baruch Hu in Choshech of Galus; we’re not “Galus Yidden.” That is not something to which we aspire. That is sometimes our Goral (lot) and plight; as R’ Soloveitchik would often tell us: “Our Goral, yes, but it is not our Yi’ud (destiny).” Our destiny is to be able to reach out to Hashem in the light of day, the time of Yeshuah, not the Choshech of Lailah.
That is why the Tefilah of Yaakov Avinu, Tefilas Arvis, always was, always is, will always remain a Tefilas Reshus. It is not a Tefilah Kavua. (*And perhaps, as per the Netziv above, this Tefilah is incidental, dependent on temporary, unideal conditions.) Our Tefilah Kavua and our Avodah Kavua is B’Emtza HaYom, when we experience Geulah.
*We should be Zocheh to not only reach out to Hashem in the Choshech of Galus, but in the light of Geulah with the coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah BiYomeinu! Have a wonderful Shabbos!