The Power of Prayer

Parshat Toldot ended with Esav saying in his heart (Breisheet 27:41): “The days of mourning for my father are approaching, I will then kill my brother, Yaakov.” Rashi explains that Rivka  was informed of what Esav was planning through Ruach HaKodesh, Divine Inspiration. Rivka therefore told Yaakov to leave the Land of Israel and go to Charan until Esav calms down. Yitzchak blesses Yaakov and tells him to go to Padan Aram and get married there. Eventually Yaakov will have children, return to the Land of Israel and inherit it.

Parshat Vayetze begins with Yaakov’s journey out of the Land of Israel. In Breisheet 28:11 we read the words “vayifga bamakom”, “Yaakov reached the place”. Rashi teaches us that the word “vayifga” is a term for prayer. We learn from here (Tractate Brachot 21) that Yaakov prayed at “the place” and established aravit (maariv), the evening prayer.

Shem MiShmuel comments that although Yaakov was going through such a dark part of his life, he didn’t give up. Yaakov gathered up all of the energy that he had left and used it to pray.

According to the Gemara in Eruvin 65a, one who is coming from a journey should not pray for three days. It would be impossible for that person to have kavana (proper intent) since they have not settled from the weariness of the journey. The Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 98:2 states that this does not apply today since our level of kavana is different.

Yaakov was actually exempt from prayer. The prayer that Yaakov prayed was therefore voluntary. Torah Temima points out that since Yaakov’s prayer was voluntary, the maariv service was established as a voluntary service throughout the generations. Rambam states in Hilchot Tefillah, Laws of Prayer 1:6 that although aravit started out as a voluntary prayer, it has now been taken on as an obligatory prayer.

Why would Yaakov who was not just on a journey but rather fleeing for his life take it upon himself to pray a voluntary prayer at this time?

Sometimes spontaneous prayer, especially at the time of danger, can be the most meaningful prayer with the most kavana. Even during this most difficult time, Yaakov set aside time to pray that his journey should be safe.

At the end of Parshat Vayetze, when Yaakov is heading back to the Land of Israel, Breisheet 32:2 we read “Yaakov went on his way ‘vayifgeu bo malachei Elokim’, and the angels of God met him.” Just as Yaakov was protected on his journey leaving the land of Israel, so too was he protected when returning to the Land of Israel.

Considering how dangerous the roads in Israel have become, it would be wise for us to say Tefillat HaDerech, prayer for a Journey with intense kavana when setting out on a trip.