The Gemora in Berachos teaches us that Avraham instituted the Shacharis prayer, Yitzchak introduced Mincha, and Yaakov taught us Tefilas Maariv.
When exactly did Yaakov establish the Maariv prayer? Rashi teaches us that it was when he left the Academy of Shem v’Eiver and arrived at the site of the Akedah – where he would see the famous vision of the ladder and the angels. The posuk there says, “Vayifgah bamakom,” which literally means, “He met up with that place.” But Rashi, elaborating on the term vayifgah, teaches us that pegia (from the root of the word), also means to entreat. This teaches us that it was at this precise time that Yaakov established the Maariv prayer.
I thought it would be interesting to analyze if the Maariv prayer alludes in any way to the events that surrounded that night when Yaakov saw the vision of the ladder. Upon consideration, I was very pleasantly surprised for there is not just one allusion, but multiple referrals to that remarkable night in Yaakov’s life.
The verse reads, “Vayifgah bamakom vayalen sham ki va hashemesh – That Yaakov met up with the place and lodged there – for the sun had set.” Rashi elaborates that the sun set early – before its time – in order to indicate that Yaakov should stop there for the night. How beautiful, therefore, is the realization that the opening words of Maariv are, “Asher bidvoro maariv aravim – That, through Hashem’s words, He causes the sun to set,” for on that particular evening Hashem commanded that the sun should set earlier than usual.
Let’s look at the next words. “B’chachma posei’ach shaarim – With wisdom He opens up the gates.” How interesting – that this can be taken as an allusion to the fact that Yaakov had said – when he woke from the dream of the ladder, “Zeh shaar hashomayim – This is the gate of Heaven,” for indeed he was witness to the opening of the Gate.
In the next blessing of Maariv, we state, “Ki heim chaiyeinu v’orech yomeinu – It (Torah) is our life and the length of our days,” which is an apt description of Yaakov – who was the embodiment of Torah study. As we are taught, “V’Yaakov ish tam, yosheiv ohalim – Yaakov was the perfect man, who sat in the tents of Torah.” The blessing continues, “U’vahem neh’ge yomam v’laila – And on them we meditate day and night.” Once again, this is a bulls-eye for, as the verse says, “Vayishkav bamakom hahu – And he slept in that place.” And, as Rashi reveals, finally that night did he sleep, but for the fourteen years he spent in the Yeshiva Shem v’Eiver, he didn’t sleep – for he was learning Torah. Indeed, he was learning day and night!
The next blessing of Maariv is really uncanny for it ends off, “Ki fada Hashem es Yaakov, ug’alo miyad chazak mimenu – That Hashem redeemed Yaakov and saved him from one who was stronger than him.” Now, the incident that preceded Yaakov’s entry into Shem v’Eiver was his being ambushed by Eliphaz. Under the command of Eisav, he had come to murder Yaakov. Being stronger, Eliphaz would have succeeded, but Yaakov convinced him that, “Oni choshuv k’meis – an impoverished person is considered like one who is dead,” and therefore persuaded him to take all of his possessions instead and spare his life.
Look how amazingly perfect this fits into the blessing we just mentioned, for the phrase, “Ki fada Hashem es Yaakov,” uses the word ‘pidyon’ which refers to monetary redemption – which is exactly what Yaakov did. He redeemed his life by giving Eliphaz all of his wealth and was therefore saved from one who was stronger than him.
It is the next blessing that really takes the cake! As we explained, Yaakov would sleep for the first time in fourteen years on the night that he instituted Maariv. Now we know, if we haven’t slept for a couple of days, our sleep cycle is out of whack. We might be over-tired and have trouble sleeping but imagine Yaakov who hadn’t slept in fourteen years. Picture what that must have done to the rhythm of his body. How beautiful therefore that he instituted the blessing, “Haskiveinu Hashem Elokeinu l’shalom,” stating that we should sleep peacefully.
We also know that Yaakov was scared of wild beasts – sleeping all alone and unprotected, so he surrounded his head with rocks for self-protection and he prayed for Divine surveillance. And we know that Hashem made a miracle and the rocks merged into one – forming a covering over him to guard him. Perfectly, this is followed by the phrase, “Uf’ros aleinu sukkas shlomecha – And spread over us a booth of peace.” He then asks Hashem, as he is going to get married, to council him on which twin to marry (Rochel or Leah). So he beseeches, “V’sakneinu b’eitzah tova milfonecha – And direct our improvement through Your good council.”
And the word ‘tov’ refers to a wife, as it says, “Lo tov heyos haAdam l’vado. E’eseh lo eizer k’negdo – It is no good for a man to be alone. I will make him a helpmate.” Perhaps this is another reason why, when telling us that Yaakov established Maariv, it uses the term ‘v’yifgah’ since pegiah also means a meeting – for Yaakov was praying for a successful meeting with his bashert.
Even the name Maariv fits beautifully with this episode for it happened immediately after Yaakov left the Yeshiva of Eiver, since the word Maariv contains the word m’eiver, from Eiver.
In the merit of Yaakov Avinu and the awesome prayer of Maariv, may Hashem bless us all with good health, knowing that we are health, happiness and everything wonderful.
Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’s articles.
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