Parashas Vayeitzei

This week’s parashah begins as follows (Bereishis 28:10-11): “And Yaakov departed from Beersheva and went toward Charan. And he encountered the place and spent the night there, for the sun had set; he took from the stones of the place and put them under his head, and he lay down in that place.” The place where Yaakov spent the night was the future site of the Beis HaMikdash, and the Midrash in Bereishis Rabbah 68:9 interprets the Torah’s statement that Yaakov “encountered the place” as meaning that he prayed there. The Midrash goes on to teach that Avraham instituted the morning prayer, Yitzchak the afternoon prayer, and Yaakov the evening prayer. In discussing this Midrash, the Maggid presents a lengthy essay on prayer. We presented previously one segment of this essay. We now present another.
In the Gemara, our Sages state (Sanhedrin 44b): “A person should always pray before trouble comes.” The Sages are teaching us that every person is obligated to pray to Hashem when he is tranquil, with a plea that He shield him from all misfortune. In this vein, David HaMelech declares (Tehillim 69:14): “I offer my prayer to You, Hashem, in a time of favor.” David is saying that he does not wait until a time of wrath to pray to Hashem to save him, but rather he hurries to offer his prayer while Hashem still regards him with favor. In a similar vein, Yeshayah exhorts (verse 55:6): “Seek Hashem when He can be found; call upon Him when he is near.” We should pray to Hashem while we enjoy His closeness, and not wait for a time when He distances Himself from us.
Daniel set an example for us in the area of prayer.  The Midrash expounds (Shemos Rabbah 15:6):
Daniel pursued and prayed (שֹׁחֵר וּמִתְפַלֵל) to the All-Present One, as it is written (Daniel 6:11): “He had windows open in his upper story, facing Yerushalayim, and three times a day he fell to his knees and prayed and gave thanks before his God”—evening, morning, and afternoon. Why did he pursue and pray to Hashem? So that He would show compassion for His people. Regarding him, Shlomo said (Mishlei 11:27): “He who pursues good (שֹׁחֵר טוֹב) seeks favor.” And Hashem was present (נִמְצָא) for them when they faced a time of trouble, as it is written (ibid. 8:17): “I love those who love Me, and those who pursue Me shall find Me (וּמְשַׁחֲרַי יִמְצָאֻנְנִי).
The Gemara in Berachos 31a also discusses the verse describing Daniel’s practice of praying at three set times during the day. The Gemara initially suggests that perhaps Daniel began this practice only after the Jewish People went into exile in Babylonia. But afterward the Gemara concludes that he had begun the practice beforehand, drawing this conclusion from the end of the verse: “exactly as he used to do before then.” These teachings about Daniel’s prayers shed light on the three prayer services that our forefathers instituted. We may ask what the reason is for set prayer services, given that a person can always pray to Hashem for help whenever he is in distress. Our Sages are telling us that the purpose of set prayer services is to lead us, as they taught, to pray before trouble comes. The Gemara shows how Daniel’s prayer regimen illustrates this principle: The regimen was not prompted by the exile, but rather was established beforehand. The Midrash is along the same lines. The Midrash describes Daniel’s praying with the phrase שֹׁחֵר וּמִתְפַלֵל. The wordשֹׁחֵר , related to the word שַׁחַר (morning), points to how Daniel prayed early, before misfortune struck. The Midrash asks why Daniel acted this way, and it then answers: So that Hashem would show compassion for His people. Daniel was seeking, through his constant regular praying, to lead Hashem to constantly take a favorable attitude toward His people, and to spare them from misfortune to the maximum extent possible. Thus, the Midrash links Daniel’s praying to Shlomo’s statement that “he who pursues good seeks favor.” The Midrash draws a further link to the declaration by Hashem that Shlomo recorded: “I love those who love Me, and those who pursue Me shall find Me.” Here, Hashem is saying that those who pursue Hashem and approach Him in prayer before misfortune comes will find Him in their times of distress.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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