Parshat Vayeitzei: A Place of Prayer

We have already seen that the sages understand that the word “He arrived,” ויפגע , means “prayed.” When Jacob arrived at Mt. Moriah, the place where Isaac was bound to be offered as a sacrifice, he prayed and in doing so established and instituted the evening prayer, called aravit, for all generations to come. We also saw the Talmud passage where it is explained that Abraham instituted the morning prayer called shacharit; Isaac instituted the mid-day prayer, called minchah.

Now, let us see what the Midrash teaches us regarding the three daily prayers:

“He arrived at the place.” He prayed. The patriarchs instituted the [daily] prayers. Said Rabbi Shmu’el bar Nachmani: they [the daily prayers] correspond to the three times during which the day shifts. At night fall a person should say: “May it be Your will, Havayah my God that You shall take me out of darkness and into light.” At daybreak a person should say: “I give thanks before You, Havayah, my God, for taking me out of darkness and into light.” At mid-day a person should say: “May it be Your will, Havayah my God, and the God of my forefathers, that as You blessed me with seeing the sun rise, so shall You bless me with seeing it set.”

The order of the prayers described by Rabbi Shmu’el bar Nachmani is aravitshacharit, and minchah. Meaning, that he follows the order of the verse in Psalms: “Evening, and morning, and midday, I will speak and be excited and He will hear my voice.”1 These are the three times in which the day shifts. Following this scheme for the prayers, the order of the patriarchs is Jacob, Abraham, and Isaac. The order in which Jacob precedes Abraham and Isaac is based on the verse: “Jacob who redeemed Abraham,” in order to give birth to Isaac. This means that Abraham who was all loving-kindness could not give birth to his complete opposite, Isaac, who was all might. So actually, in order to become fertile, Abraham had to receive a measure of might. Where did he get it? This verse indicates that Jacob, who symbolizes the sefirah of beauty, a composite of both loving-kindness and might, was the source. Jacob redeemed, that is freed Abraham so that he could have Isaac. As has been explained previously, in order to be the composite of two opposite sefirot like loving-kindness and might, beauty has to originate in a source that is higher than both.

It is important to note that Rabbi Shmu’el bar Nachmani does not dispute that it was the patriarchs who instituted the daily prayers. Rather his statement defines more clearly when these times were—at times that marks changes in the daylight.” Indeed, in our own parshah, the shift in the day is explicit. The verse says: “He arrived at the place, he slept there for the sun had set….”2 So the preferred time for the evening prayer, according to Rabbi Shmu’el, is immediately with the setting of the sun.

Let us look at the verse from Psalms quoted above: “Evening, and morning, and midday, I will speak and be excited and He will hear my voice.” Targum Yonatan translates this verse as: “In the evening, in the morning, and at midday, I will pray, I will feel [lit., gather myself] and He will hear my voice.”
There are three verbs in this verse: speak, excite, and hear. They correspond to the three patriarchs and the three daily prayers, as follows:

part of verse



“I will speak” Isaac minchah
“and be excited” Abraham shacharit
“He will hear” Jacob arvit

Let us now see how.

The Hebrew verb for speak is אשיחה , which is the same verb that we saw regarding Isaac’s prayer “Isaac went out to speak in the field.”3 We already saw the passage in the Talmud that proves from our verse in Psalms that speaking intimates prayer. Indeed, the Targum Yonatan used the Aramaic word for “prayer,” which is צלי (tzali), which in Hebrew is related to the word for shadow, צל , alluding to the time after midday when objects begin to cast a longer and longer shadow.

The first emotion of the heart, its basic form of excitement, is love, the inner experience of loving-kindness. Just as Abraham is the first of the patriarchs, so the sefirah of loving-kindness is the first sefirah of the emotional realm. Thus, excitement is the verb describing the functioning of the heart and corresponds to Abraham. God notes that the reason that he changed Abraham's name from Abram was because he is destined to be the father of a multitude of nations, אב המון גוים . The word “multitude“ המון is related to the word for “excitement“ הומה . In fact, the Aramaic translation is even more explicit on this point because the word “feel” (ארגיש ) in Aramaic literally translates as “I will gather.”4 Thus, a multitude of nations is a gathering of nations. In Chassidut, the multitude of nations of which Abraham is the father is explained to symbolize the powers of the animal soul, whose focus is the sound and fury of physical life. But, the physical world awakens with the dawn. By waking up even earlier (as in the verse: “And Abraham woke early in the morning”), that is, by contemplating and meditating on God, Who is always the first (and the last), preceding everything else, Abraham is able to rectify the din of the animal soul and focus its strength on serving the Almighty. King David said: “I will wake the dawn,” which the sages interpret as meaning: “I wake the dawn; the dawn does not wake me.” The Chassidic interpretation of this verse is thus that a person should have the ability to see God as primary, as first, and as independent of everything that comes to pass. In that case, he wakes the dawn, which symbolizes physical reality and subjects it to the yoke of Heaven making its trials and tribulations manageable.

“He will hear my voice,” is related to Jacob about whom Isaac said “the voice is the voice of Jacob.” Hearing alludes to the Shema: “Hear O’ Israel.”5 The special affinity between the voice and the evening, which in Hebrew also means “pleasant” (ערב ), is revealed in the verse: “For your voice is pleasant.”

Continuing with Jacob’s correspondence to “He will hear my voice,” on the verse: “She will cry at night.”6 The words in Hebrew are בכו תבכה בלילה . The initials of the first two wordsבכו תבכה spell בת , “daughter.” The numerical value of the rest of the letters, כו בכה בלילה , is 130 = 5 · 26, or the word עין , which means either an “eye” or a “wellspring.” Thus, this verse is the secret of the בת עין , which literally means “the daughter of the eye,” but in Hebrew is an idiom for the eye’s pupil. The tears that come out at night are the secret of the third phrase of the verse: יסבבנהו יבוננהו יצרנהו כאישון עינו , “He [God] will encompass him [the Jewish people], build him, and guard him like the pupil of His eye,”7 which describes a three-fold process of meditation and cleansing of the blood from the influence of the animal soul.8 On the words “She will cry at night” Rashi comments: “A person who cries at night, He who hears his voice, cries with him.” The crying at night is a reference to what in Kabbalah is called raising feminine waters, while the words “He who hears his voice, cries with him” is a reference to the masculine waters, that is the affluence brought down from God in response. All this is the secret of aravit, the evening prayer, the prayer of Jacob. Specifically, in Jacob’s life, it was his wife Rachel who symbolized the feminine waters rising, as Rachel רחל is equal to 2 times “tear,” דמעה . Indeed, the gematria of Israel, ישראל , is exactly equal to the gematria of “evening,” רמשא , in Aramaic.

Thus, we have found that the order of the prayers in the verse “I will speak and be excited and He will hear my voice,” (minchah מנחה , shacharit שחרית , aravit ערבית ) is exactly opposite the order in the verse: “Evening, morning, and midday….” In Kabbalah, such a reversal is likened to an engraved stamp, or seal חותם המתהפך .9 Writing out the initials of the three prayers in the order they are found in the verse “I will speak…” we get: מ ש ע . These three letters, rearranged spell the first word of the Shema שמע . Each of the six possible permutations of these letters forms an acronym for a well-known verse or idiom in Torah. Beautifully, the acronym formed by the משע permutation is מקומו של עולם , “Space of the world,” God’s connotation that we discussed in length yesterday. As explained, this is the connotation that is first found in reference to our parshah: “’And he arrived at the place’—God is the space of the world, but the world is not His space.”

In the chapter 77 of Psalms, there are two verses that have similar idioms to the verse: “I will speak….” Let us look at them:

The first verse translated as literally as possible10 in order to retain the similarity in verbs is: “When I remember God and I will be excited, I will speak, and my spirit will be completely bundled.” Applying our earlier meditation on the correspondence of the verbs to the patriarchs, we find that in this verse the order of the patriarchs is Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; “I will be excited” alludes to Abraham, “I will speak” to Isaac, and “My spirit will be bundled” alludes to Jacob.” The order of the daily prayers in this verse is therefore shacharitשחרית , minchah מנחה , aravit ערבית , the initials of which spell “Shema,” שמע .

The second verse that is similar, again translated as literally as possible, is: “I will remember my song at night; I will speak with my heart and my spirit searches.” What is the order here? The first part of this verse refers to the second half of the night, after midnight, the time in which the sages relate that David’s harp, struck by the wind in his bedroom chamber, would begin to play music by itself, memories of the songs that the king had played on it earlier that day. This is the proper time to begin preparations for shacharit, the morning prayer, as explained in the Zohar. Music that plays by itself is the result of deep meditation on the greatness of God, which is the spiritual work of Abraham.11 Speaking with the heart is of course a reference to Isaac’s prayer, minchah. Finally, “my spirit searches” is a reference to Jacob. On deeper contemplation, one can see that this verse is describing not just the order of the daily prayers, but the relationship between them, how together they carry the singular thread of the soul through the day. The song remembered at midnight, is as noted, a memory of the song of the soul sung in the evening prayer, aravit. Speaking with the heart in the afternoon, in minchah, is formed from the excitement that the heart experienced as a result of the morning prayer, shacharit (the first rectified excitation of the heart alludes to Abraham’s love for God). And finally, the searching of the spirit at night is a residue of twilight, the hour of minchah according to Rabbeinu Tam, and the perfect time for searching, which is why this is the time of day that we search for leaven dough, chametz, before Passover.

Now let us perform a somewhat difficult exercise. Let us find the value of each of these verses:

“Evening, morning, and midday…” ערב ובקר וצהרים אשיחה ואהמה וישמע קולי = 1884

“When I remember God…” אזכרה אלהים ואהמיה אשיחה ותתעטף רוחי סלה = 1994

“I will remember my song at night…” אזכרה נגינתי בלילה עם לבבי אשיחה ויחפש רוחי = 1939

Now note that 1939 = ½ (1884 ┴ 1994). This means that the average of the first two verses is exactly the value of the third verse!

Based on the Daily Dvar Torah from Thursday, 5 Kislev 5768 – November 15, 2007

1. Psalms 55:18.

2. Genesis 28:11.

3. Ibid.

4. See also Psalms 2:1. Many times this verse is translated incorrectly using Modern Hebrew (see for instance the Jerusalem Bible). The exact meaning is “Why have the nations gathered…,” which is strengthened by the context of verse 2, where it is clear that their gathering is to do battle with the Mashiach.

5. In this case, since the verb is “hear,” which corresponds to the sefirah of understanding, the reference is to the partzuf of Yisra’el Saba, the sefirah of wisdom in the World of Creation.

6. Lamentations 1:2.

7. Deuteronomy 32:10.

8. Each stage of the three-fold process described in the verse corresponds to one of the three patriarchs.

9. When a stamp is pushed into wax for instance, whatever was on the bottom of the stamp comes out on the top of the reverse image in the wax, and vice versa.

10. From the context of chapter 77, it is clear that this is not a verse describing a person who is full of strong spirit and happiness. In a less literal, more figurative translation it is rendered: “I remember God and moan; I meditate, and my spirit faints completely.” See also Metzudat DavidRadak, and Malbim on this verse.

11. גדולה , “greatness,” is a synonym in Kabbalah for the sefirah of loving-kindness.

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