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Title: Evening Prayers

Major Focus: Prayer

Minor Focus: Jacob, his prayers

Abstract: Why do we say prayers in the evening -- because Jacob prayed to God before going to sleep.

Format: Rabbinic Argument

"Jacob left Bersheva and set out for Haran. He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place."

Genesis 28:10-11

    Why do we say prayers in the evening?

  1. Talmud: It should be obvious. We say prayers in the evening (Ma'ariv) because the patriarch Jacob reached a certain place while he was running away from his brother Esau, he lay down for the night, and God came to show him a very special dream about a ladder and angels. That was the very first evening prayer.
    1. Do you find it obvious that this is the reason for saying the evening prayers? Can you think of other reasons?
    2. Why should Jacob have said a prayer before going to sleep that first night, alone in the desert? What kind of a prayer was it? Do you say prayers before bedtime? If so, what kind?
    3. Can a dream also be a prayer? Can prayers have dream-like qualities?

  2. Rashi: I agree. Jacob originated the Ma'ariv prayer. He was running away from his brother. He had to get hold of himself and pray to God for protection. He was a long way from home, he had only the darkness of a long night in the wilderness ahead of him. He was not lost however, he knew how to find God.
    1. How would prayer help a person "get hold of themselves" in a dangerous situation? Can you think of examples of when you, or others you know, did pray in just such circumstances? Why?
    2. How would you have felt, all alone in the desert, with a long night ahead of you, fleeing from one who seeks to kill you?
    3. Why does Rashi say he wasn't lost? Did he have maps and compass with him? Does Rashi mean perhaps some other kind of lost?

  3. The Rabbi of Ger: No matter how dark the "night" may be, salvation will always come.
    1. How would you define "salvation"?
    2. How does salvation save us from the dark of night? Does salvation run on batteries or on current?

  4. Shem Mishmuel: When a person is depressed and sad after having once been full of life, enthusiasm, and happiness, they should refuse to let the darkness overpower them. Jacob's heart, mind, and soul were full of hope because he prayed.
    1. How is depression and sadness like being over-powered with darkness? Does that mean we feel depressed and sad only at night? Especially at night? Does it mean some other kind of darkness?
    2. How does hope and prayer overcome depression and sadness? Give examples.