Vayishlach – Jacob’s Urgent Prayers
Included in the Torah’s narrative of the lives of our forefathers are their respective dialogues with God. The Talmud attributes the three daily prayers we recite to the three forefathers. Abraham, the Midrash teaches, instituted the morning prayer, Isaac established the afternoon prayer and Jacob founded the evening prayer. While these reflect the formal prayers we recite daily, the forefathers’ involvement in their establishment is derived from hints in the Torah rather than direct instruction. The Torah’s explicit narrative describes particular and spontaneous prayers in the lives of these ancestors.
Abraham’s prayer took the form of a negotiation with God, a fervent attempt to avert the destruction of Sodom and its sister cities. Isaac’s prayer is echoed by the prayers of thousands of couples throughout history who could not conceive offspring, a typical supplication to a God Who has the power to make miracles. Jacob’s prayers were more personal and immediate; Jacob prayed for survival. When Jacob set off on his flight to Haran, at the respective instructions of both his mother and father, he asked for protection and sustenance. Now, as Jacob is leaving Laban and anticipates meeting his brother he again asks for protection. “Save me please from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, lest he come and smite me, mothers with their children.” (Genesis 32:12)
A fundamental difference exists between our formal prayers and spontaneous petitions. Our formal prayers are deliberately structured and are recited from a permanent composition. We pray three times a day, and prayer is the first significant activity of our day. The average observant Jew, upon waking in the morning, hurries off to shul to recite the Shacharit prayers with a minyan. We return to the Synagogue in the evening to recite the Mincha and Maariv prayers. Our day is scheduled according to the prayer routine. In workplaces and offices where multiple Jews spend their days a Mincha service is often part of the afternoon routine, in a meeting room commandeered for