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Torah Sparks

November 24, 2001/5762

Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Genesis 28:10 - 32:3 (Hertz, p. 106; Etz Hayim, p.166)
Triennial.-Year I: Genesis 28:10 - 30:13 (Hertz, p. 106; Etz Hayim, p. 166)
Haftarah - Hosea 12:13 - 14:10 (Hertz, p. 118; Etz Hayim, p. 188)

This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary

(28:10-22) Jacob sets out for Haran, fleeing Esau. He stops for the night, and dreams of a ladder between heaven and earth, with angels ascending and descending. God renews for him the covenant promise given to Abraham and Isaac. Jacob names the place Beth El - "House of God."

(29:1-30) Jacob arrives in Mesopotamia. He meets Rachel, his cousin, and Laban, her father. Jacob agrees to work for Laban for seven years in exchange for marrying Rachel, but Laban tricks him into marrying Leah, Rachel's older sister. Jacob is forced to work another seven years for Rachel.

(29:31-35) Leah gives birth to four sons - Reuben, Simon, Levi and Judah - but Rachel is barren.

(30:1-13) Rachel, jealous of Leah, gives Jacob her maid Bilhah, who bears him two sons, Dan and Naphtali. Rachel adopts the sons as her own. Leah, apparently no longer able to bear children, does similarly with her maid Zilpah, who also bears two sons, Gad and Asher.

(30:14-21) Leah and Rachel quarrel over some mandrake roots, believed to cure barrenness. Leah has two more sons, Issachar and Zebulun.

(30:22-24) Rachel finally has a son, Joseph.

(30:24-43) Jacob wants to return home to Canaan, but his father-in-law Laban dissuades him. Jacob stays and succeeds in greatly enriching himself.

(31:1-16) Jacob realizes that his increasing wealth is causing animosity among Laban's sons and decides to return to Canaan.

(31:17-21) Without telling Laban, Jacob gathers his herds and flocks and leaves. Rachel takes Laban's teraphim-household idols.

(31:22-32:3) God warns Laban not to harm Jacob. Laban pursues and overtakes Jacob. In an impassioned speech, Jacob rebukes Laban for his devious ways. Laban and Jacob make a covenant of peace.

This Shabbat's Theme: Prayer Inside and Outside of a "Sacred Space"

Jacob left Beersheba, and set out for Haran. He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. (Gen. 28:10-11)

  1. He came upon a certain place... The use of the designation "place" (Heb. makom) is suggestive because makom frequently has the connotation of a "sacred site" (JPS Torah Commentary, Nahum Sarna, p. 197). The combination of makom with the name of a city in Gen. 12:6, "the site of Shechem", (Heb. mekom Shechem) is unique. It is very likely that the term has the special meaning of "sacred site," like the Arabic maqam. Sacred sites were always desirable stopping places for travelers and nomads because of their proximity to springs and wells (ibid. p. 91). - Makom is mentioned three times in our text. This "place", ie. sacred site, is named by Jacob - Bet El - House of God. (Author)
  2. Rabbi Yosi son of Rabbi Hanina said, The Tefillot (Daily Amidah/Services) were instituted by the Patriarchs. Abraham instituted the morning Tefillah (Shaharit Service) as it says: "And Abraham got up early in the morning to the place where he had stood.." (Gen. 19:27). Isaac instituted the afternoon Tefillah (Minhah Service) as it says, "And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at eventide..." (Gen. 24:63) and 'meditation' means prayer (See Ps. 102:1). And Jacob ordained the evening Tefillah (Maariv Service) as it states (see above Gen.28:11), "He (Jacob) came upon - vayifga - a certain place, and tarried there all night because the sun had set". The Hebrew word - vayifga - "he came upon" has the root letters peh, gimmel and ayin which also means to "pray", as in Jeremiah 7:1 6. (Talm. Berachot 26b)
  3. The talmudic sages praised congregational synagogue worship in the most elaborate terms: "A person's prayer is heard only in the synagogue... If a person is accustomed to attend synagogue and fails to come one day, God makes inquiry about him... When a man leaves the synagogue, he should not depart with hasty steps; but when he goes to the synagogue, it is right to run (Talm. Berachot 6a-b). The verse: "I offer my prayer to You, O Lord, at an acceptable time..." (Ps. 69:14) is interpreted to mean at a time of public worship (Talm. Berachot 8b). (Philip Birnbaum, A Book of Jewish Concepts, p. 82)
  4. Congregational prayer is always heard by God. Even if sinners are present, God does not reject public worship. One should therefore assemble with the congregation; one should not pray in private when one can pray with the congregation. (Moses Maimonides [known as Rambam (1135 -1204) - Halachic codifier, philosopher, Mishnah commentator. Spain and Egypt], Mishneh Torah, Bk II, ch.8)
  5. Private prayer (three times daily but not necessarily in a "sacred space" or synagogue) was offered by Daniel, as it is written: Daniel...went to his house, in whose upper chamber he had windows made facing Jerusalem, and three times a day he knelt down, and prayed... (Dan. 6:11). Also, this is implied in Psalm 55:18: "As for me, (David?) I call to God; the Lord will deliver me. Evening, morning and noon, I complain and moan, and He hears my voice". If because of some emergency, one is unable to go to the synagogue or to any other place where a minyan congregates to pray, one should get ten adults together, and have a communal service at home. If this too, is impossible, one should at least, pray at the same time that the congregation prays, for that is the propitious moment. So too, for one who dwells in a place where there is no minyan... (Code of Jewish Law, Kitzur Shulhan Arukh, S. Ganzfried, Trans. H. Goldin, p.42)

“Sparks” for Discussion:

In today's world, many Jews who belong to synagogues are not always able to get there easily to pray three times a day. Also, it seems that a substantial number of Conservative synagogues do not actually have weekday Services and some may have only one daily Service.

Given this situation of no service with a minyan, perhaps we should encourage congregants, who might be inclined to do so, to recite all or any of the three daily services in their homes or offices or "wherever", rather than not at all?

It seems that the Minhah Service in particular lends itself best for accomplishing such an objective for us. Recalling that Isaac "meditated" in the field (creating his own "sacred space") for what traditionally became the basis for the Minhah Service, perhaps those who wish to pray daily, in the absence of a minyan, might want to start by creating a "sacred space and time" at home or in the office, etc. for reciting, on a daily basis, at least the brief (15 minutes) Minhah Service which consists solely of three prescribed prayers - Ashrei, Shemoneh Esrei, and Aleinu.

Should we Conservative Jews encourage such an approach to "meditate" once a day - to "daven" Minhah in private - no matter where we find ourselves at that time of day?

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