I wish a warm welcome to all of the year 6 Mount Sinai students and parents who will be joining our Shabbat service this evening and attending a very special graduation dinner at our Shul. There will be a special ‘ruach’ in shul tonight so please join us for what will be a wonderful service!
Talking about prayer services, which prayer service do you find the most difficult to perform? The lengthy and early Shakharit prayer? Or perhaps the afternoon Minchah prayer that comes right in the middle of our day? But would you say the evening, Maariv prayer is difficult to recite? After all, we say it once the day has come to an end and once all of our daily commitments have been tended to.
Yet, I find, that Maariv is sometimes the hardest.
It happened this past Thursday after I attended a late night function. I arrived home close to midnight and quickly got ready for bed. I was so tired. As my head was hitting the pillow I could feel my eyes closing in sleep. And then I remembered! I hadn’t prayed Maariv!
My first reaction was: “Nooooooooooo.. don’t think about it! Maybe I did pray Maariv and I just couldn’t remember… I am sure G-d will forgive me if I just skip one Maariv service.. etc”. I then told myself to quickly fall asleep and in doing so, would be exempt from prayer (as I would be asleep!).
But no, I couldn’t. So with incredible inner strength, I jumped out of bed, got dressed again, left the room and davened Maariv.
After praying I climbed back into bed and thought back over the intense struggle that I had just experienced. The following thought dawned on me.
The Rabbis of the Talmud tell us that the three prayer services of Shakharit, Mincha and Maariv correspond to the prayers of the three Patriarchs.
Abraham arose early before taking his son Isaac to the binding. Why did he arise so early, they ask? To pray to G-d. It is from this incident that we deduce the early morning, Shakharit prayer.
Isaac was out meditating in the field one afternoon, when his bride Rivkah arrived, riding on a camel. What was sort of meditation was he performing? It was prayer! From this story we deduce the importance of praying to G-d every afternoon – the Mincha Prayer.
And when Jacob was fleeing his brother Esau on the way to his uncle Lavan’s house, he goes to sleep that night on a mountain and encounters G-d in a dream. It is from here we deduce the Maariv prayer.
Now lets consider the following. While all three encounter G-d, it is Jacob’s story, the story of this week’s Parasha “Vayetzei”, that involves immense struggle and challenge. He is the one who is forced to encounter G-d while fleeing for his life and in a place that is totally foreign to him. He is the one who is deceived time and again by his wicked uncle Laban and ends up slaving away for him for close to twenty years. He may very well have been thinking to himself: “I wish I could just roll over and sleep away all my troubles!”
Yet with incredible faith and inner strength, he faced every challenge that came his way and overcame them. It is for this reason that after fighting with the angel of Esau that his name is changed from “Jacob”, meaning “heal”, to “Israel”, “the one who struggled against G-d..(and overcame)”. To be a Jew is to acknowledge the struggle, yet with incredible inner strength, to pull oneself through it.
I feel asleep that night knowing that I had just had a “Jacob” moment, and I too, overcame it.
Rabbi Yossi and Chana Raizel Friedman