hazzan Diana Brewer was ordained through the aleph ordination program. she leads prayer services regularly at the jewish community of amherst, and is on the staff of the davvenen leadership training institute.

תפלות אבות תקנומ The Prayers of our Fathers (Part 3: Things that go BUMP in the night)

So, we've talked about morning prayer and afternoon prayer, but I promised this would be about prayer three times a day. That leaves us with evening time. This brings us to a formative encounter Jacob had with the Holy One of Blessing. The Babylonian Talmud tells us: יעקב תקנ תפלת ערבית. Jacob established the evening prayer. Here is our verse: ויפגה במקומ וילנ שם כי בא השמש ויקח מאבני המקום וישם מראשתיו  He bumped into the place and slept there, for the sun had gone down; he took one of the stones from the place and put it under his head. (Gen. 28:11). As with another recent post, this is not the translation you will usually see. 

In our class, we took particular interest in the verb va-yifgah (ויפדע), coming from a root which usually means to bump up against. What is going on here? Jacob is a complicated character, to be sure. At this point, he has left home at the counsel of his parents to go seek a wife, and also to get as far away as possible from his betrayed brother's murderous rage. He is running from his missteps. He is in exile from his home and family. Night is closing in, and he's bumped up against The Place. As a friend of mine is fond of reminding me, "A bad day doesn't have to be a long day." He lays his head down on a stone and puts the day to bed.

He has a dream.

This is not just any dream. In his dream, he sees angels ascending and descending a ladder that goes from the ground up into the heavens. None other than HaShem comes to him with a personal introduction and a promise of protection, a promise of a great many descendants, a promise of a land to call his own, a promise to bring him back to this land no matter where he should wander, a promise to never leave until these things have come to pass.

As is usually the case when we run from our life situations, Ya'akov has bumped right up against something. He is in exile, he is afraid, it is nightfall. Everything looks scarier at night. I imagine that things are even scarier at a time when the idea of light pollution is thousands of years from entering the vocabulary of the human condition. We need protection at night, and a sense of security. 

As Winnie the Pooh said, "Wherever you go, there you are." Our hero can no longer escape his reality. Perhaps his "pagah," his bump-up, was an accidental prayer that he didn't even know he'd uttered. The day I went to my first 12 Step meeting - a short while after leaving the meeting - I finally bumped up against the reality that I had a big problem, and that I would not be able to solve it alone. I had been trying and trying for years - running, denying, evading. Into my head came the words, "G8d, somebody tell me what to do!" I was not a praying person at that time. The word G8d was just an exclamation. I could just as well have said, "Aw, man..." But that's not what I said. I contemplated my options, slept on it, and the next day I made a phone call. At that time, I was given a promise that as long as I followed a few simple suggestions and tried to build a conscious contact with a Higher Power, I would never have to go back to the merry-go-round I had been on for so many years. I was told that no matter where I went, I would not be alone, that even amid the vicissitudes of life I wouldn't have to return to that place of hopelessness.

That isn't the end of the story. Of course, Jacob (and I) had many other things to bump up against as he wandered the path of life. I like to say, "Life is a life-long process." After that night, though, he (and I) never had to trod the path alone. I give thanks every night for another day of freedom from the obsession and compulsion of addiction, for having been returned from the exile of isolation that is a hallmark of addictive illness, and for the fact that I get a brand new day tomorrow, should I be fortunate enough to wake up and greet the day one more time. 

May you be blessed with peaceful nights. May you be blessed with the awareness of the Ever Present, guiding you through your travels.


Prayers of our Fathers: An Argument for Kavannah

תפלות אבות תקנום The Prayers of our Fathers (Part 2: Let it all hang out)