"Leaving" ... A Good Impression
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
Ya'akov left Be'er Sheva and went to Charan. He arrived (vayifgah) at the
place and stayed over night there, because the sun set ... (Bereishis
"And he arrived at the place: We learn that Ya'akov originated the custom
of Aravis (Evening Prayer) ..." (Rashi)
Basically, a Jewish male thirteen years and older has an obligation to pray
three times a day: morning, afternoon, and evening. According to the Talmud
(Brochos 26b), the Forefathers were responsible for originating all three
services: Avraham established Shacharis, Yitzchak established Minchah, and,
as Rashi points out on this posuk, Ya'akov originated the Evening Service.
Curiously, the first two prayer services are considered obligatory, while
the last one, Aravis, is called a "reshus," meaning, a non-obligatory
mitzvah (Brochos 27b). Tosfos even comments by saying, "Even though it is a
'reshus,' still, one should not miss it without good reason, because
Ya'akov established it."
The question is, why the difference? What was lacking from Ya'akov's
tefillah--if anything at all--that lessened the sense of obligation for all
the generations that followed to emulate it?
To begin with, there is a technical answer that has nothing to do with
Ya'akov or his dovening. The daily prayer service also corresponds to the
two daily Continual-Offerings (Korban Tamid) that were brought in Temple
times, one in the morning and one in the late afternoon. There was no such
sacrifice brought in the evening.
However, based upon the following, we do see a difference between the
circumstances that led to Avraham's and Yitzchak's tefillos, and that of
"It says in Perek Gid Hanashe (Chullin 91b) with respect to the posuk,
'Ya'akov went to Charan,' that he [Ya'akov] needed to return, saying, 'Is
it possible that I passed this place [and did not pray]?' From this it is
clear that he prayed Aravis while it was still daytime, because he still
intended to return after he finished praying. This is difficult for the
teaching in the first chapter that says that it isn't time for the
[Evening] Prayer until the stars come out ... (Tosfos, Brochos 26a, q.v.
Ya'akov Tikein Tefillos Aravis)
In other words:
Ya'akov, while in exile, did not establish the Evening Prayer until after
he arrived in Charan first, saw Rachel, and then arrived back at the place
(i.e., the Temple Mount back in Jerusalem) ... (Asarah Ma'ameros)
And then, after finishing his "Evening Prayer" while STILL day, Ya'akov had
planned to return to Charan. This is why G-d had to perform the miracle of
making the sun set earlier that day, to force Ya'akov to stay on the Temple
Mount over night, proving that Ya'akov dovened Aravis during the last part
of the day.
All things considered (and a few I didn't mention), Ya'akov's tefillah was
not quite the same as his father's and grandfather's, not because of
anything to do with Ya'akov himself, but more to do with the circumstances
that led to the establishment of his prayer service. Then again, maybe all
things considered, this is why Aravis is a mitzvah reshus (that today, for
all intents and purposes, is obligatory): to leave room for the person to
go out of his way, as Ya'akov did, to offer his heartfelt prayer to his
Ya'akov arrived at the place and stayed over night there, because the sun
set; and he took from the rocks of the place and placed them for his head
and he lay down in that place.(Bereishis 28:11)
"This [rock] fought with this [rock], each one saying, 'On me this
righteous person will put his head ...' and this one saying, 'On me this
righteous person will put his head ...' Immediately, The Holy One, Blessed
is He, made them into one rock, and this is why it later says, 'He too the
rock (singular) that was there for his head ...'." (Rashi)
This, of course, is a very well-known and well-accepted explanation of the
above posuk, and the one that follows (28:18). The only thing, says Tosfos,
is that it is not pshat:
"... According to the simple understanding, he took one [rock] from the
rocks of the place." (Tosfos, Chullin 91b, q.v. Kesiv Vayikach Es HaEven)
"So what?" one may ask. So this: Rashi usually only "surrenders" to drash
(exegetical explanation) when he lacks a simple explanation of a verse. So
why not here?
The Vilna Gaon explains, perhaps, what "forced" Rashi in the direction of
Midrash. According to the "Gra," it has to do with the literal explanation
of the words in the posuk itself, which, read as follows:
Vayikach mei-avnei hamakom--"Ya'akov took from the rocks the place," or, in
better English, "Ya'akov took the place FROM the rocks."
As the Gra points out, this explanation is not possible. Therefore he
points out that the Hebrew letter "mem" before the word "avnei" (rocks)
really belongs on the word "makom" (place), so that the posuk can be
properly rendered, "he took of the rocks FROM the place."
Once we make that change, says the Gra, the word "mei-avnei" becomes
"avnei" only, which is plural for "rock." But later the Torah refers to
only ONE rock? Hence, says the Gra, one has no choice but to resolve this
pshat-discrepancy along the lines of Rashi's explanation, in essence,
proving that Rashi has been consistent with his approach even here.
What this alludes to is the idea that the times have changed over the
millennia: pshat in the days of the Forefathers was vastly different than
it has been in later generations. Avraham fought against mighty armies
using sand and stones that became weapons as they flew through the air.
Rivkah did not draw water from the well; the water drew itself by rising to
the occasion, and her bucket. Ya'akov traveled great distances in short
periods of time, and dreamed of a ladder that reached into Heaven. This is
not just Midrash--this is pshat.
If a person doesn't believe in G-d, then they usually believe in nature as
the source of direction for all that has occurred and will ever occur.
Without evidence to the contrary, hard, cold, empirical, scientifically
verifiable evidence, they assume that life is today as it always was, and
what has been reported as miraculous falls into the realm of myth. They
have no choice--they don't believe in G-d, the soul, or miracles.
However, Torah-believing Jews know that nature is what G-d wills it to be
at any given moment in time. In the Garden of Eden, it was virtually
non-existent, and either increases or decreases in time, according to the
needs of free-will and history. The rule of creation is, the more overt the
Divine Providence (i.e., obvious miracles, be they "positive" or "negative"
miracles), the less free-will man is left with to use. And, this is the
most important point of all: the less free-will one has to employ, the less
one's earning power is for increasing his portion in the World-to-Come.
In the time of the Forefathers, pshat and drush (and even "sod," i.e.,
Kabbalah) merged into one reality, because, at that time, the needs of
free-will were different than they are today. Any analysis of the past
based upon what we understand from the present must take this into account,
if it is going to be an accurate analysis. But then again, only those who
believe this is true will be able to make use of this idea, and appreciate
the giants of the past, and the rich past upon which our present has been
Ya'akov made a vow saying, "If G-d will be with me, and take care of me on
the path I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothes to wear, and then
bring me back in peace to my father's house, then G-d will be my G-d. This
stone that I have placed as a monument shall be G-d's temple, and from
everything He gives me I will give one-tenth to Him."(Bereishis 28:20-22)
From EVERYTHING? Did Ya'akov really plan to give one-tenth of ALL that G-d
gave him back to G-d? Even from his twelve sons? If so, then Ya'akov didn't
fulfill his bargain, because only Levi, that is, only one-twelfth of his
children, was set aside for G-d (Levi was devoted to the Temple service).
A certain Kusi asked Rebi Meir this very question, wanting to show that
Ya'akov did not indeed keep his word. Rebi Meir answered with the
"Actually," began Rebi Meir, "there were really fourteen sons, since
Menashe and Ephraim (from Yosef) had status as tribes ..."
"That makes the problem greater!" said the Kusi.
"But," continued Rebi Meir, "were not the twelve tribes born from four
mothers (Rachel, Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah)?" Rebi Meir asked.
"Yes," the Kusi answered.
"Each mother, then, had one firstborn son who was already holy to G-d
(according to the laws of the firstborn), leaving ten sons. From those ten
sons, Ya'akov set aside Levi for service to G-d."
Admiringly, the Kusi exclaimed, "Blessed are you and blessed be the people
among whom you live!" (Bereishis Rabbah 70:7)
The simpler answer to the Kusi would have been, "Ya'akov did not intend to
include his children in the vow." How do we know that? To begin with, from
the context of the vow, we see that Ya'akov was talking only about
materialistic items. Secondly, "ma'aser" (the halachic term for taking
one-tenth of anything), usually only applies to animals, produce, and
money; it doesn't apply to children! So what was the message that Ya'akov
was really sending to this Kusi?
To answer this, we need to better understand the nature of the Kusi's
question, or rather, his statement.
So, let's say it is true with regard to Ya'akov's children, that he did not
give one-tenth of his children to G-d. What point could there possibly have
been in raising the issue then in Rebi Meir's time, thousands of years in
the future? Was the Kusi merely trying to collect an "old debt," on behalf
No, the Kusi did not care one iota about Ya'akov's ma'aser. What the Kusi
cared about was proving that the Torah cannot be taken literally, thereby
proving that we are at liberty to interpret the Torah as we see fit,
according to the needs of our time. He was hoping that Rebi Meir would
interpret Ya'akov's words by saying that they did not apply to his
children, thereby rendering a novel interpretation of the words.
However, Rebi Meir, an expert at dealing with such people, knew where the
Kusi was coming from, and answered him accordingly. Rather than fall into
the Kusi's "trap," Rebi Meir answered brilliantly, by showing how the words
could be taken literally while answering the Kusi's question. Even the Kusi
was impressed (though not necessarily convinced), and marveled at the
rabbi's sharp mind.
By why here? Why would the Kusi use this particular source to make an
attack on traditional Judaism? The answer to this question comes from
recalling from whence Ya'akov came, and to where he was heading.
Ya'akov at this point had just come from outsmarting his brother Eisav
(after "stealing" the blessings), and deceiving his father, Yitzchak. He
was about to live with Lavan, whom, the Talmud says, he called "his brother
in trickery." The Torah calls Ya'akov a "pure" individual, and he is known
historically as an "Ish-Emes," a "Man of Truth." Between the lines, the
Kusi was questioning the very integrity of all those who have ever followed
in Ya'akov Avinu's footsteps, as if to say, "If the 'root' was bad, how
good can the 'tree' that grew from it be?"
Rebi Meir answered back, "There is nothing wrong with the 'root,' and, the
proof of this is your own analogy: the tree itself. Rather than look for
excuses for Ya'akov's actions, as others might have done, I will show you
how all that Ya'akov did fits into the framework of Jewish law, even though
technically, he wasn't obligated to make sure that it did."
Come--Let us sing to G-d; let us blow the shofar to the Rock of our
salvation. (Tehillim 95:1)
For those who did not recognize these words rendered into English, this is
the first posuk of Kabbalos Shabbos, and the last posuk of the Psalm of the
Day for Wednesday. As the Shulchan Aruch (248:1) teaches, one's
preparations for the upcoming Shabbos should begin at least three days in
advance of Shabbos, from Wednesday onward.
The tehillah was not composed by Dovid HaMelech, but is the sixth of eleven
psalms written by Moshe Rabbeinu himself--eleven corresponding the eleven
negative forces in creation that Moshe was counteracting (see
"Perceptions," Parashas Devarim, 5760).
Apparently, according to the Radak (Tehillim, 91:1), Moshe composed this
tehillah in honor of the tribe of Yissachar, who were constantly immersed
in the joyous song of Torah. What is the joyous song of Torah? It is
shirah, the song of the soul, for, just as the angels are constantly
singing praises of G-d and His world, so, too, do our souls sing praises of
G-d as well, all the time.
What? You say you can't hear your soul singing?
That's not because it is not. It is because, during the course of daily
life, which is filled with materialistic interests, noises, and
distractions, the song of our souls gets drowned out, muffled, until it
becomes completely inaudible. Torah, when learned with soul, "neutralizes"
the body and amplifies the soul. It was Ya'akov's Torah that prepared him
for life with Lavan, and gave him the spiritual strength to withstand
Lavan's very secular way of life.
And, likewise, the holiness of Shabbos has the power to overtake the
mundane world of weekday life, and place our souls on "center stage."
However, as the Talmud warns, "You only eat on Shabbos what has been
prepared before Shabbos!" (Avodah Zarah 3a). How difficult it is to put the
spiritual brakes on moments before Shabbos arrives! Can one honestly expect
to simply turn 180 degrees and become Shabbosdik with the momentary
disappearance of the sun? If one follows that way of thinking, he may only
become enveloped by the holiness of Shabbos just minutes before Shabbos
leaves Motzei Shabbos!
Therefore, the rabbis put at least this first posuk in the Wednesday
morning Psalm of the Day, like an early warning signal. As one reads these
words (with intention), he or she should say, "It's Wednesday already--time
to start getting into a Shabbos frame of mind. This way, when Shabbos comes
around Friday night, I will already be there waiting for her, ready with
the song of my soul, to sing praises of G-d, Shabbos, and Torah."
And on that note, have a great Shabbos,