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Home » Vayetze

Vaytze : The Night is for Jacob

Submitted by on November 19, 2004 – 5:16 amNo Comment | 2,733 views

Our patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov established a rite of prayer that is followed to this very day. Avraham coined the morning service, Yitzchak the afternoon service and Yaakov the evening service. (1)

In prayer we draw divine energy into our environment and ourselves. Every day progresses through three stages, morning, afternoon and evening, it is therefore necessary to pray three times daily. Each prayer is designed a little differently from the others in order to draw on the specific energy required during that stage. The energy of each prayer is in turn linked with the Patriarch who coined it. (2)

Three Stages

The first stage of the day occurs as dawn breaks. This moment is filled with promise, the excitement of potential is in the air. The divine energy that is required at this time is that of optimism. Avraham a man of positive spirit and infinite optimism, accordingly coined the Shacharit prayer.

As the day advances the morning’s enthusiasm wanes and we engage in the difficult yet rewarding task of achievement. We face our challenges and plow through them vigorously, intent on achieving our goals by the end of the day. The energy that is required at this time is that of resolve. Yitzchak, a man of dedicated commitment and somber resolve, accordingly coined the Mincha prayer.

As the day winds down we wrap up our activities and wearily sit back to reflect. Though the day has been successful we realize that there is yet so much to achieve. We wanted to complete the task but darkness has encroached.

The night grows melancholy. We sense the mortality of the human condition as we realize that daylight and warmth don’t last forever. The morning’s enthusiasm and the afternoon’s momentum have waned, the night now envelops us in a dark and brooding despair. Can we overcome the chill of the night and draw into it the warmth of G-d?

The answer is a resounding yes and our Patriarch Yaakov coined the prayer for it.  the night belongs to jacob - innerstreamWhy Yaakov? Because he personified the steadfast commitment of divine truth that never wanes despite the conditions. His life was a string of dark moments, difficult trials and overwhelming challenges but through it all he never despaired. When he dipped into his valleys he had eyes only for the distant peaks, when the horizon looked bleak he was filled with forward momentum.

Heavy Footed but Light Hearted

Let us examine what the Torah says of Yaakov. He was forced to leave the bosom of his family, the guidance of his teachers, the support of his colleagues and friends. He wandered to a strange land and entered a foreign culture. He plunged into his night with what should have been a heavy heart. (3)

The Torah says “Vayetze Yaakov,” and Yaakov departed. (4) In his mind he felt that this was going to be a total and complete departure. He left thinking that he would never return. Convinced that he would need to make a new life for himself in a strange a foreign land, he set out for an exile that would last his entire life (5)

As the sun set on his first day of travel the Torah tells us “ Vayifga Bamakom”, he encountered the space, where the temple was later built. What did he do at that space? He coined the evening service.

Consider his situation. Banished from home, estranged from family, alone in the dark and he is not afraid. On the contrary he is inspired. What is the source of this amazing strength of character?

The answer lies in the choice of terminology the Torah employs; “Vayifga Bamakom Ki Ba Hashemesh.” These words are ordinarily translated as “he encountered the space as the sun set.” However, a literal translation of the words yields a different meaning, “he encountered the inside of the space because the sun set.” When he saw that night fell as soon as he arrived to the temple mount he came to understand the inner rhythm, the heart and soul, of this holy place. (6)

Light within the Dark

Our sages teach that the temple mount is suffused with metaphysical light that far transcends, and in fact acts as the source of, conventional light. As Yaakov approached and experienced the metaphysical light the sun immediately set because conventional light is overshadowed when it encounters the temple’s light.*(7)

The ordinary person would have only experienced the fading of conventional light but Yaakov was alert to the “inside,” the inner meaning, of this space. He understood that the essence of this dark was shrouded in a rarefied light so G-dly as to lie beyond the perception of the human eye. (8)

Night did fall but Yaakov was not gripped by chilling melancholy but by inspiration and joy. He saw this as the perfect time to coin a prayer of gratitude to G-d. Gratitude for having given him, and through him to us, a gift called night. (9)

He pierced through the veil of darkness and discovered the gem that lies beneath. He revealed that night is not the end of today but the beginning of tomorrow. Indeed, the rest and relaxation of the night refreshes us and enables us to face the light of morning.

With this prayer Yaakov enabled us to draw divine energy into the weary and demoralizing night. With this prayer we prevent the night from shattering yesterday’s glorious dream. With this prayer we greet tomorrow’s dawn because it gives us the courage to face tonight’s dark.


  1. Berachos 26b
  2. For more detail see Derech Hashem Pirkei Tefilah (R. Moshe Chaim Luzzatto of Padua Italy 1707 – 1746)
  3. Genesis 27
  4. Genesis 28
  5. See the commentary of Kli Yakar Keli Yakar  (R. Ephraim Shlomo of Luntshitz, 1550-1619) on Genesis 28, 10
  6. Sfas emes See Sfas Emes 1882 (R. Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter of Gur 1847–1905)
  7. The windows in the temple were narrow on the inside and wide on the outside because they were not intended to illuminate the temple with the light from the outside but to illuminate the world with the light of the temple. See Bamidbar Rabbah 15, 2
  8. We thank G-d every morning for forming light and creating darkness. Should we not first thank G-d for the darkness and then for the light that redeems us from the dark? The dark we are thankful for is of the kind that conceals an even greater light. Only since that light is beyond human perception we are incapable of seeing it and it appears to us simply as dark. For more detail on the supernal nature of darkness see Toras Chayim p. 60 (R. Duber of Lubavitch 1788 – 1828)
  9. He prayed at that moment as he had never prayed before in his life. The Torah describes that he collected the stones from the earth about him. Kabblaah teaches that stones are like letters. Just as stones build walls and homes so do letters build words and sentences. Indeed, G-d used letters and words to create the world. Chassidus explains that Yaakov utilized the letter through which G-d created that particular moment in time and space and rearranged them to form the words of his prayer. In other words he utilized the very dark that would have frightened off the ordinary person to coin a prayer of inspiration strength and hope. For more detail see Torah Ohr Parshat Vayetze (Rabbi Schneeur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chassidus Chabad 1745 – 1813) and Sfas Emes Parshat Vayetze (R. Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter of Gur 1847–1905)
  10. See Sfas Emes 1882 (R. Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter of Gur 1847–1905) that the three temples also closely resemble the three stages of our day.
  11. The first temple, like the morning, was filled with promise and infinite potential; it was permeated by the love of G-d for the Jewish people.
    The second temple was permeated by a sense of duty. Like the afternoon, it was a trying time for the Jewish nation filled with challenges and difficulties. Through it all we faced our challenges and did our best to triumph.
    This third temple, which we pray will soon be built, will remain eternal. It will never be followed by another exile, it’s light will not be countered by dark.  Where does it receive this strength? From Yaakov, the patriarch of truth. Just as truth can never be compromised so did Yaakov’s commitment never waver. The dark could not unsettle him, as the exile cannot unseat the third temple.Yaakov’s travels brought him to the temple mount and we too expect our wanderings to carry us there. When we arrive we will discover that the essence of the exile is, like the night,  a light of unprecedented proportions.

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