Parshat Vayeitzei is a massive compilation of stories regarding Yaacov Avinu. Each one exposes us, through Yaacov Avinu, to a myriad of experiences relating to the many aspects of life. The Torah tells of challenges and blessings, and we encounter both difficulties and uplifting moments. Any one of the topics in the parsha relate to each of us. Even in our modern day existence the issues are familiar and human: the rivalry of a brother; running towards a new beginning; searching for a spouse; the moment of meeting ones` future partner.
The story line and its ingredients are worthy of a bestseller – “you’ve read the book now see the movie…”; the plot, the characters, the dynamics, the setting – are all included. It reminds us of how Am Yisrael have coped over the ages: arriving penniless but fighting for financial independence; coping with disappointment, yet showing determination to continue. Indeed, as the Ramban notes often throughout Sefer Breishit, ma`aeh avot siman labanim; the actions of our forefathers signal what the children are destined to go through.
Even the marital problems run deep; the distress of the two wives (just that thought is stressful enough … ) : Anxiety, desperation and tension build up, as one sister is blessed with children, yet longs to be loved by her husband; the other who dreams of children and feels worthless.
Towards the end of the Parsha, Yaacov, blessed with a large family and great wealth realizes his dream of returning home with Hashems` support. He makes peace with Lavan, separating from him after making a pact. How difficult it was for Lavan to allow Yaacov to leave after becoming so successful; wealth and status creating inevitable complications. How courageous of Yaacov to pull himself away to Eretz Yisrael from this comfortable setup in order to remain loyal to his spiritual journey.
The parsha is rich with the trials and tribulations that are life; through them, Yaacov grows and is strengthened. Perhaps it also provides us with clues to guide us through our challenges; to create our own dreams, and bring them to fruition. I would like to focus on one specific aspect of Yaacovs` personality, which really reflects his entire life.
Chazal tell us (Brachot 26b) that Yaacov established tefillat arvit. Our parsha states that vayifga bamakom – he “somethinged” to a certain place. In some editions the word “vayifga” is translated as “he lighted” (upon the place). However, this strange verb is interpreted by Chazal to refer to tefilla, and as the sun was setting, this must have been arvit.
Why was it necessary for Yaacov to establish a third tefilla? After all, Avraham had already established shacharit; Yitzchak – mincha. Are two tefillot not enough?
There is, however, a tremendous difference between the tefillot of the avot. Avraham went from strength to strength; Hashem blessed him “bakol”,with everything. Yitzchak is more neutral, yet all recognized that “Hashem imach”, Hashem is with him. But Yaacov? He flees from his brother, not knowing where circumstances would take him. How he must have wondered what his future would hold. He must have held a lot of tension within himself that first night. And yet – he prays! “Ve`emunatcha baleilot” – we have emunah, faith, even in the darkest times.
This is reflected as well in Birkot Kriyat Shma. In Shacharit,we speak of Hashem renewing everyday the actions of creation. Everyone accepts upon themselves the yoke of Heaven. All is good, a new day, a new opportunity, a new beginning. How inspiring and encouraging that is. But at Arvit, day is rolled away to make room for night; light, for dark. It is this message that Yaacov wishes to teach us. How do we respond when things are rough?
Firstly – through tefilla! Faith, even when prospects are bleak. But not just tefilla! Notice the seven verbs that introduce Yaacovs` journey: Vayetzei, Vayifga, Vayalen, Vayikach, Vayasem, Vayishkav and Vyachalom all are found in the first four pesukim.
He left, he arrived at, he lay down, he took, he put, he slept, he dreamed. What intensity of movement, intention, initiative! Despite the uncertainty of Yaacovs` situation, he presses forward with purpose and direction – and Hashem speaks to Yaacov in a dream.
This seems to be the theme of the parsha. Despite the difficulties, and against all odds, Yaacov prevails, through a combination of Emunah – faith, and Maasim – action and initiative.
Yaacov awakens abruptly from the vision. He becomes aware that he is in Hashems` presence, and that there is kedushah in the place. Rashi states that Yaacov would not have slept there had he realized the holiness of the makom. Sometimes we go through the routines of our lives, busy with the genuine pressures of life, and we might fail to recognize opportunities that Hashem has created for us. We need to awaken abruptly, to reexamine our reality, and to appreciate that Hashem is right there with us, ready and waiting to give us support, for us to fulfill our potential to turn our dreams into reality.