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24555 W. 12 MILE ROAD
Just west of Telegraph Road • Southfield
November 22 • 2012
Parshat Vayetzei: Genesis 28:10-32:3;
s our Torah portion Vayetzei
opens, Jacob is setting out
for Haran, apparently fleeing
from his brother Esau after stealing his
birthright and his blessing. Scared out
of his mind, Jacob turns to prayer.
In Genesis 28:11, we learn that
"Jacob came upon an unnamed
place and stopped there for the night
because the sun had set; and he took
one of the stones of that place and put
it under his head, and lay down in that
place to sleep:'
The first two words of
this verse — "Jacob came
upon an unnamed place"—
are understood by Rashi
to imply that Jacob settled
down for the night and
began to offer the evening
prayer service. Jacob's
prayer here was one of peti-
tion — asking God that he
be protected from his angry
brother Esau — especially
with his anxiety rising and
nightfall coming quickly.
In this understanding of the text,
Jacob becomes the first biblical figure
able to find God in the depth of dark-
ness. Jacob reaches out to God in a
moment of intense fear and insecurity,
suggesting that even at our lowest
point, at a time of great distress and
when everything seems to be dark
around us, we, too, would do well to
gather our inner strength and express
ourselves sincerely and authentically
through personal prayer.
In fact, the root of the Hebrew word
for prayer, tefillah, means "to judge, to
praise, to think, to mediate or to beg:'
The definition teaches us that prayer
also involves thanksgiving, praise,
confession and pleading. Maimonides
taught that prayer is truly the service
of the heart.
Returning to our Torah text for a
moment, we also see following his
heartfelt prayer to God that Jacob
falls asleep and has a dream of angels
going up and down a ladder. Upon
awakening, Jacob realizes that he has
stumbled across a holy place that is
filled with God's presence and names
the location Beth El, meaning "House
In essence, the ladder that Jacob saw
in his dream with the angels going "up
and down" is still another symbol of
tefillah. It is a ladder that was planted
in the Earth yet reached the heavens,
showing how our prayers are like lad-
ders connecting Earth and heaven,
human beings with God.
In the same way, if the words of our
prayers are sincere and meaningful,
our prayers can become like angels
that ascend to the heavens and bring
our message to the Almighty
While prayer is the natural
expression of the innermost
feelings and deepest thoughts
of our mind and soul, for
most, it does not come natu-
rally. Prayer actually requires
practice in order for our
words to have meaning.
The truth is that prayer
can offer each of us a pro-
found opportunity to have
an experience that nourishes
the spirit. The act of prayer
can also significantly change
our mindset. Furthermore, offering a
blessing at the appropriate time raises
the experience to a higher and more
spiritual level — for both the experi-
ence and the individual are enriched
by a prayerful act.
And on this Thanksgiving week-
end Shabbat, we can all be humbled
by offering prayers of gratitude and
appreciation for all that is good and
well in our lives. I pray, let us thank
the Almighty and one another for the
precious gifts of family, friendship and
Joseph H. Krakoff is a rabbi at
Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield.
1.Why were the angels going "up
and down" the ladder? Wouldn't
it have made more sense for
angels to go "down and up?"
2. What prayer do you relate
to the most? What is the most
powerful prayer to you?
3. What would you like to give
thanks for on this Shabbat of