Parashat VaYeseh: The Lesson of Yaakob’s Prayer
The Torah in Parashat Vayeseh tells of Yaakob Abinu’s escape from his brother, Esav, who was plotting to kill him. The verse states, “Va’yifga Ba’makom,” which literally means that Yaakob “came upon a place.” Our Sages, however, explain this phrase differently. Yaakob’s travels took him passed the future site of the Bet Ha’mikdash, and he later realized that he had passed by the sacred site without stopping to pray. He immediately turned around and started making his way back toward Jerusalem, but G-d made a miracle and brought him immediately to the holy site, where he prayed. He thus instituted the nighttime Arbit prayer.
The Sifteh Hachamim commentary explains that according to this reading of the Pasuk, the phrase “Va’yifga Ba’makom” should be read as, “He prayed to Ha’Makom” – meaning, to G-d. We know that G-d has several names, including “Ha’Makom,” which we use most famously at the Seder on Pesah (“Baruch Ha’Makom Baruch Hu”). The Torah here tells that Yaakob prayed to “Ha’Makom” at the future site of the Bet Ha’mikdash.
The word “Ha’Makom” literally means, “the place.” Why would G-d be called by this name? What is meant by this reference to G-d as “Ha’Makom” – “the place”?
One explanation that has been given is that “Ha’Makom” refers to G-d’s putting everyone and everything in the precise place where they need to be. The Name “Ha’Makom” conveys the critical message of faith, that whatever situation we find ourselves in, G-d has put us there for a reason. If a person is not where he wants to be in life, if he finds himself in a difficult position, he must know that G-d put him there, and there must be a good reason why.
This is why the reference to Hashem as “Ha’Makom” is used specifically in this context, in the description of Yaakob’s prayer at the holy site of the Mikdash. The Torah tells that Yaakob slept there “Ki Ba Ha’shemesh” – “because the sun set” – and the Sages explain that G-d made the sun set earlier than it was supposed to. This early sunset is symbolic of Yaakob’s situation at that moment. Until that time, for 63 years, he lived a peaceful, tranquil life, spending his time studying Torah and growing in his connection to Hashem. And now, suddenly, literally overnight, his entire life was plunged into darkness and uncertainty. He had to escape from his homeland and go live with his wily, corrupt uncle, Laban. Indeed, the sun set suddenly and unexpectedly. The joy and serenity that characterized Yaakob’s life came to an abrupt end.
And thus he prayed to “Ha’Makom,” recognizing that his situation was brought about by G-d. Yaakob understood that we must serve Hashem on His terms, not ours. Religious observance must not be limited to when the weather is fair, conditions are favorable, and we have plenty of time on our hands. Our commitment to G-d remains even when the sun suddenly sets, when life takes sharp, unexpected and unwanted turns, and when hardships abound. Even then, we must devotedly pray to and serve Hashem, recognizing that He, “Ha’Makom,” places us in whatever position we are in for a reason.