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“When Faced with Darkness, Choose Light”

“When Faced with Darkness, Choose Light”

Another verse in this week’s parsha says, “Vayifga (and he encountered) the place and spent the night there because the sun had set” (Parshas Vayeitzei, 28:11). Rashi on the spot makes a comment based upon a Gemara in Meseches Brachos (chap. 4, “Tefillas Hashachar”, pg. 26b) which tells us that Ya’akov instituted Tefillas Arvis (Ma’ariv, the evening service) at that place. This idea is extrapolated from the word Vayifga. This word is also related to prayer, as it says, “Al Tifga Bi” (do not pray to Me; Yirmiya, 7:16). Therefore, when it says, “Vayifga Bamakom,” it does not only mean, “And he encountered the place,” but it also means, “And he prayed in the place.”

We find an interesting thing about Ma’ariv. According to the way the Gemara concludes, davening Ma’ariv is only a reshus (optional). However, the other two prayers, Shacharis and Mincha are chova (obligatory). Let us explore these sources right now.

In Meseches Brachos (chap. 4, “Tefillas Hashachar”, pg. 26b) there is a machlokes (debate) concerning the source of davening altogether. According to Rebbi Yosi b’Rebbi Chanina, the three daily prayers were instituted by the three Avos (Patriarchs).

There are a variety of verses which support this opinion. For example, Avraham instituted Shacharis as it says, “And Avraham rose early in the morning to the place where he had stood (Amad) before Hashem” (Parshas Vayeira, 19:27). The word “Amad” often refers to prayer as it says, “Vaya’amod Pinchas (and Pinchas stood) and prayed” (Tehillim, 106:30).

Yitzchak instituted Mincha as it says, And Yitzchak went out Lasuach (to speak) in the field” (Parshas Chayei Sarah, 24:63). The word Lasuach or Sicha often refers to prayer as it says, “A prayer of the afflicted man when he wraps himself and pours forth Sicho (his supplication) before Hashem (Tehillim, 102:1).

Ya’akov instituted Ma’ariv as we mentioned above.

However, according to Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi, the three daily prayers were instituted by the Anshei Knesses Hagedola (Men of the Great Assembly) to correspond to the three daily offerings in the Beis Hamikdash (Temple).

The Gemara in Brachos (one page later, on pg. 27b) goes on to mention another machlokes regarding the mandate to daven Ma’ariv. According to Rabban Gamliel, davening Ma’ariv is a chova (obligation). However, according to Rebbi Yehoshua, davening Ma’ariv is only a reshus (optional). Rava (ibid) paskins like Rebbi Yehoshua that davening Ma’ariv is optional.

Therefore, the Rambam (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, 1138 Cordova Spain-1204 Fustat Egypt; Hilchos Tefillah 9:9) paskins that davening Ma’ariv is only a reshus. However, it is important to mention Rav Yitzchak Alfasi (1013 Algeria-1103 Spain) who says that although we paskin that Ma’ariv is only a reshus, nevertheless, davening Ma’ariv has been adopted, by men, as a regular practice. Therefore, the minhag (custom) is that we daven Ma’ariv, and the minhag is binding.

From this Gemara it turns out that davening Shacharis and Mincha is a chova, whereas davening Ma’ariv [before the minhag was established] is a reshus. One difficulty with this is that Ya’akov Avinu was considered to be the greatest of the Avos. Although we could never judge and make such a claim, Chaza”l (Chachameini Zichronam Livracha, our Sages of blessed memory) did. In Bereishis Rabba Parshas Vayishlach (76:1), Reb Pinchas in the name of Reb Reuvein said that Ya’akov was the choicest of the Avos, as it says, “For God Bachar (chose; selected) Ya’akov for His own” (Tehillim, 135:4).

Therefore, the question is, how could it be that the prayer which the greatest Patriarch, Ya’akov, instituted (Ma’ariv) is only optional, whereas the prayers which Avraham and Yitzchak instituted (Shacharis and Mincha) are mandatory, given that they (Avraham and Yitzchak) were not as great as Ya’akov was? If Shacharis and Mincha are mandatory, then Ma’ariv should certainly be mandatory. Why isn’t it?

There are several answers to this question. Let us explore some of those answers right now.


The Ein Ya’akov (written by Rabbi Ya’akov Ibn Chaviv, 1460 Spain-1516 Greece) is a compilation of the Aggadic sections from the Talmud. In today’s set of Ein Ya’akov, there are other commentaries printed there who expound on those Aggadic passages. One of those commentaries is the Rif, written by Rav Yehoshua Pinto (1565-1648, Syria), not to be confused with the other Rif, Rav Yitzchak Alfasi.

The Rif in the Ein Ya’akov (Berachos, 27b) answers our question as follows. He says that the opinion who maintains that it was the Avos who instituted the three daily prayers (Rebbi Yosi b’Rebbi Chanina), does indeed hold like the opinion who says that davening Ma’ariv is obligatory (Rabban Gamliel). This is because Ya’akov was the greatest of the Avos. Therefore, Ya’akov’s tefillah could not be less than the tefillos of the other Avos.

The Rif in Ein Ya’akov goes on to say that the opinion who maintains that it was the Anshei Knesses Hagedola who instituted the three daily prayers to correspond to the three daily offerings in the Beis Hamikdash (Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi), holds like the opinion who maintains that davening Ma’ariv is optional (Rebbi Yehoshua).

This is because the first two daily offerings in the Beis Hamikdash were the Tamid (continual) offerings brought in the morning and in the afternoon. Since those two sacrifices were obligatory, the tefillos instituted to substitute their absence are also obligatory. However, the third daily offering in the Temple was the burning of the animal limbs on the Altar during the night. Since that service was not mandatory, the tefillah instituted in its absence (Ma’ariv) also remains optional.


The P’nei Yehoshua (Rabbi Yehoshua Falk, 1680-1756, Cracow Poland; Meseches Berachos, pg. 26b) answers our question differently. He says that even according to the opinion who maintains that the Avos instituted the prayers (Rebbi Yosi b’Rebbi Chanina), Ma’ariv still remains optional. This is because when Ya’akov began to pray, he was not trying to institute a new prayer. Rather, he was davening his father’s tefilla, Mincha.

But what happened was that Hashem caused the sun to set abruptly in order that Ya’akov would be forced to spend the night on what would later be known as The Temple Mount (Chullin, chap. 7, “Gid Hanasheh”, pg. 91b). Ya’akov may have begun with the intention of davening Mincha, but by default, he wound up davening Ma’ariv because it became dark suddenly. Since Ya’akov never intended on establishing a new tefillah, Ma’ariv remained optional.


When Ya’akov davened, he was in a makom sakana (dangerous place). Proof of this is that Ya’akov placed stones around his head to protect him from wild beasts (Rashi, Parshas Vayeitzei, 28:11, citing Bereishis Rabba, Parshas Vayeitzei, 68:11, Reb Levi and Reb Elazar, in the name of Reb Yosi bar Zimra).

When a person is found in a makom sakana, he is exempt from davening. Instead of davening the regular Shmoneh Esrie, one recites a tefillah ketzara (abridged prayer; Meseches Berachos, chap. 4, “Tefillas Hashachar”, pg. 29b).

It turns out that at the very moment that Ya’akov instituted Tefillas Ma’ariv, he was essentially patur (exempt) from davening. Since the creation of Ma’ariv was established under circumstances that rendered Ma’ariv optional, Ma’ariv remained optional for all generations to come (Torah Lada’as, Rabbi Matisyahu Blum, vol. 1, Parshas Vayeitzei, pg. 99).


In his sefer Torah Temima, Rabbi Baruch Halevi Epstien (1860-1941, Nevardok, Belarus) addresses our question based on a Gemara in Meseches Eiruvin (chap. 6, “Hadar”, pg. 65a) where Rebbi Elazar says that a person who arrives at his destination after traveling a long distance, is exempt from davening for three days because he cannot concentrate properly until then. This is most certainly the law for a person while he is still traveling.

Therefore, since Ya’akov was traveling a long distance when he instituted Ma’ariv, he was halachically exempt from davening altogether. Therefore, Ya’akov’s tefillah was essentially a reshus. Therefore, since tefillas Ma’ariv was created as a reshus, it remains a reshus until today.


In his sefer Ta’am Vada’as, Rav Moshe Shternbuch quotes a Zohar which says that the dark forces of destruction have power at nighttime. This is why Ya’akov attempted to daven his father’s tefillah, Mincha, as we mentioned above from the P’nei Yehoshua. It is because Ya’akov wanted to daven during the daytime when the forces of evil are not in power. In this way, Ya’akov felt that his prayers would reach the Kisei Hakavod (Throne of Glory) and be accepted by God.

Ya’akov tried to avoid davening at night because he was concerned that the powers of evil, which have authority at night, would prevent his prayers from ascending to the Kisei Hakavod. Ya’akov was worried that his prayers would not be accepted by God at night.

However, Hashem caused the sun to set suddenly, as we mentioned above from the Gemara in Chullin (pg. 91b). In this way, Hashem forced Ya’akov to daven at night. Perhaps we could suggest that Hashem was sending a powerful message to Ya’akov. That message was that tefillos have the power to connect to God even at night. This means to say that our prayers are so powerful that they can break through any barriers. Our davening is so strong that it can rip through any type of iron curtain.

The message that the Torah is conveying to us is that we can connect with Hashem even in the darkness of the night. On a deeper level this means to say that we can connect to Hashem even from the darkest moments in our lives. Even when we feel that we have drifted far away from Hashem to the lowest of places, we can still call out to Him from those places because He is there with us in the darkness. He is waiting to hear from us.

Hashem will give us the strength to get through those tough situations of life. He will energize us to grow, not only in spite of the challenges, but as a result of them. Hashem is teaching us that no matter what we have done, no matter what we have not done, and no matter where we are, we are always close to Hashem and we can call out to Him and connect with Him.

One practical application of this teaching would be to improve a little bit more in davening Ma’ariv. Let us realize that when we daven Ma’ariv, it is dark outside. Let us be reminded that the darkness outside represents darkness within our lives. Let us be encouraged with the knowledge that although we may find ourselves in dark places, Hashem is there and we can connect with Him. Let us never forget that we can have a connection with God no matter how far we may have drifted, and no matter how low we may have fallen.

So, may we all be blessed to avoid challenges in life, but, when they do present themselves to us, may we all be blessed with the awareness and with the strength to call out to Hashem and connect with Him. May we grow even more from those difficult situations, and as a result, may we merit to witness the day when Hashem will reveal the light which will dispel the darkness when we will enjoy basking in His Presence forever.

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