Parashas Vayeitzei

In the beginning of this week’s parashah, the Torah relates that before going to Lavan’s house, Yaakov spent a night at the place that would later become the site of the Beis HaMikdash. The Torah states (Bereishis 28:11): “And he encountered the place and spent the night there, for the sun had set.” The Midrash expounds (Bereishis Rabbah 68:9):
What does “and he encountered the place” (וַיִּפְגַּע בַּמָּקוֹם) mean? It means that he prayed at that place – at the place of the Beis HaMikdash. Said R. Yehoshua ben Levi: “The forefathers instituted three prayer services. Avraham instituted the morning service. Thus it is written (Bereishis 19:27): ‘And Avraham arose early toward the place where he had stood before the presence of Hashem.’ And standing (עֲמִידָה) means none other than praying, as it is written (Tehillim 106:30): ‘And Pinchas stood and prayed.’ Yitzchak instituted the afternoon service. Thus it is written (Bereishis 24:63): ‘And Yitzchak went out to speak out his thoughts (לָשׂוּחַ) in the field towards evening.’ And שִׂיחַ means none other than prayer, as it is written (Tehillim 142:3): ‘I shall pour forth before Him my supplication (שִׂיחִי).’ Yaakov instituted the evening prayer. Thus it is written: ‘And he encountered the place (וַיִּפְגַּע בַּמָּקוֹם).’ And פְּגִיעָה means none other than prayer. As it is written (Yirmiyah 7:16): ‘And, as for you, do not pray on behalf of this people – do not offer on their behalf a cry and a prayer – and do not entreat Me (וְאַל תִּפְגַּע בִּי) – for I will not hearken to you.’ And elsewhere (ibid. 27:18): ‘And if they are [truly] prophets, and Hashem’s word is [truly] with them, let them now entreat Hashem, Master of Legions (יִפְגְּעוּ נָא בה' צְבָאוֹת) [that the vessels that remain in the Temple of Hashem and the palace of the king of Yehudah and in Yerushalayim not be brought to Babylonia].’”
The Maggid presents a lengthy discussion of this Midrash. I present here a segment analyzing the term פְּגִיעָה as a term of prayer.
He begins with a classic question. Hashem promises us that if call out to Him, He will come to our aid. Thus, for example, it is written (Tehillim 50:15): “Call out to Me in the day of distress; I will release you and you will honor Me.” And similarly (ibid. 91:15): “He will call out to Me and I will answer Him; I am with him in distress – I will release him and I will bring him honor.” Yet, day after day, without stop, we entreat Hashem to reveal His glory within the world, gather our exiles, and rebuild the Beis HaMikdash, and Hashem does not grant these requests. Moreover, Hashem speaks to us as if we are not praying to Him at all (Yeshayah 50:2): “Why is it that I have come and there is no one present? That I have called out and there is no one who answers? Is My hand too limited to bring redemption? Do I lack the power to save?” The situation is paradoxical. How can explain this paradox?
The key to the answer, the Maggid says, lies in the following declaration by Hashem to the Jews who were exiled from Yerushalayim to Babylonia (Yirmiyah 29:12): “You will call out to Me; you will go and you will pray to Me, and I will hearken to you.” This declaration is curious in two respects. First, why does Hashem say “you will pray to Me” after He already said “you will call out to Me”? Second, why does Hashem include the seemingly pointless phrase “you will go”? We can explain what Hashem is saying through a parable. A lad misbehaved atrociously toward his father, and the father was led to throw him out of the house. After being thrown out, the lad went wandering from place to place. The father was swept with compassion for his son and he wished to take him back into his house. He hoped earnestly that the lad would abandon from his evil ways and make an overture to reconcile with him, either by coming in person or by sending a messenger to convey his regret over his past deeds. The lad, however, was stubborn and refused to do so. Once, a merchant from the city where the son lived made a business trip to the city where the father lived. The father was one of the people with whom the merchant had dealings, and, amidst their business discussions, they spoke about the lad. The merchant asked: “When will you take your son back into your house?” The father replied: “When he comes to ask me to take him back, or sends a messenger with this request.” The merchant said: “If the matter depends on making a request, then I will make the request on his behalf. After all, I am as good as any messenger.” The father responded: “Your suggestion is foolish. The whole reason why I want him to ask me to take him back is to hear him say, as he makes his request, how very sorry he is about he acted toward me. I’d be happy to see him come in person to express his regret. Or, if he would send a special messenger to me to convey his regret, this would also satisfy me. But a request from you on his behalf would not do the job. You came here not because my son sent you, but rather to carry out your own business dealings. You happened to have a meeting with me, and the thought popped into your head, by the by, to ask me to take my son back. How could a request from you possibly lead me to reconcile with my son?”
The parallel is as follows. If we would stir ourselves to go to the house of prayer with the specific intent of asking Hashem to show His glory, gather our exiles, restore Yerushalayim, and rebuild the Beis HaMikdash, and put the main focus of our prayers on these hopes, Hashem would surely answer us speedily. But our hearts, through our many sins, are detached from these hopes. Regarding this state of affairs, it is written (Yeshayah 64:6): “There is no one who calls out in Your Name, who stirs himself to take firm hold of You.” No one sets his sights firmly on Hashem’s honor and stirs himself on his own initiative to call out wholeheartedly to Hashem with a plea for Him to show His glory. Rather, we use the standard prayer that the Men of the Great Assembly composed for us to plead to Hashem to forgive our sins, heal our ills, provide our sustenance, and so on, and then – while we are already offering the standard prayer – we also recite, by the by, the sections presenting requests for the restoration of Yerushalayim, the Beis HaMikdash, and the kingdom of the House of David.
Yaakov’s prayer was also of an incidental nature. The Midrash relates that as Yaakov traveled to Charan, he passed by the holy site where his ancestors had prayed and where the Beis HaMikdash would eventually be built. He did not take note of the location he had reached, but after he had proceeded a good distance away from the site of the Mikdash, he realized what he had done and exclaimed, as the Gemara relates (Sanhedrin 95b; Chullin 91b): “Is it possible that I passed by the place where my fathers prayed and I did not pray there?” He then turned back to pray at the holy site. This is why Yaakov’s prayer is called a פְּגִיעָה, an encounter: The prayer was prompted entirely by Yaakov’s having encountered the site of the Mikdash: Had he not initially passed by the site on his way, he would not have felt a need to go pray there.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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