Toward Shabbat: Vayetze
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה הֹ’ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר בִּדְבָרוֹ מַעֲרִיב עֲרָבִים
Barukh atah Adonai, our God, sovereign of time and space, whose word brings the evening’s dusk.
It has been a darker week since daylight saving time ended last Sunday. Night now comes so early, and it lasts longer than day. And as it comes, it sets off our fears and vulnerabilities. Darkness is the domain of the mysterious and the unknown, and we fear the danger that may lurk beyond our sight and control. Who doesn’t fear in the dark?
Coincidentally, in this week’s parashah, Vayetze, night falls upon our patriarch Jacob as he leaves his parental home into exile after deceiving his blind father Isaac and obtaining the blessing that Isaac had intended for his brother Esau.
וַיִּפְגַּ֨ע בַּמָּק֜וֹם וַיָּ֤לֶן שָׁם֙ כִּי־בָ֣א הַשֶּׁ֔מֶשׁ וַיִּקַּח֙ מֵאַבְנֵ֣י הַמָּק֔וֹם וַיָּ֖שֶׂם מְרַֽאֲשֹׁתָ֑יו וַיִּשְׁכַּ֖ב בַּמָּק֥וֹם הַהֽוּא
He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night for the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place.” (Gen. 28:11)
As Jacob embarks on his journey, God made the sun set prematurely, explains Rashi. And in the dark, alone and afraid, Jacob prays and has an encounter with God.
Aviva Zornberg offers the following insight:
In encountering the darkness, he was the first person to achieve the previously impossible act of “praying in the dark.…” He intended to pray in daylight, in the mode of all human prayer till then, drawing strength from the light of the sun; but God put out the lights and Jacob discovers a new possibility…called the Evening Prayer. (Genesis: The Beginning of Desire, p. 186)
Jacob is said to have initiated the Evening Prayer (Arvit or Ma’ariv), just as Abraham had initiated the Morning Prayer (Shaharit) and Isaac the Afternoon Prayer (Minha).
Each of the three daily services has a different quality, texture, and intention. In the evening, when we do not see clearly and when our insecurities surface, we pray for guidance, for protection and safety.
But night is not all about insecurity and fear. When the sun set on Jacob at the beginning of his journey and night fell, he encountered God for the first time in great intimacy and it was also then that he began to encounter his true self. And that very night he started to build his faithfulness.
Night is indeed the time for faithfulness:
לְהַגִּ֣יד בַּבֹּ֣קֶר חַסְדֶּ֑ךָ וֶ֝אֱמ֥וּנָתְךָ֗ בַּלֵּילֽוֹת
To tell in the morning Your love,
Your faithfulness in the nights. (Ps. 92:3)
Over the next few months, the long, extended nights invite us to do the unique spiritual work that can best be done in the dark.
When we find respite from the frantic activity of the day, when we can withdraw from stimulations and distractions and become enveloped in quiet and aloneness, that’s when we can enter the soul, and search and encounter ourselves.
That’s when we can spend time in silent contemplation and reflection, even perhaps in the cultivation of personal prayer, and strive for intimacy with God.
That’s when we can build our faithfulness by pondering what God is asking of us and how we will live in response once morning light arrives and night gives way to a new day.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם יוֹצֵר אוֹר וּבוֹרֵא חֽשֶׁךְ עֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם וּבוֹרֵא אֶת־הַכֹּל
Barukh atah Adonai, our God, Sovereign of time and space, forming light and creating darkness, bringing harmony while creating all.