Fleeing from Esav, Yaakov leaves Be'er Sheva and sets out for Charan, the home of his mother's family. After a 14-year stint in the Torah Academy of Shem and Ever, he resumes his journey and comes to Mount Moriah, the place where his father Yitzchak was brought as an offering, and the future site of the Beit Hamikdash. He sleeps there and dreams of angels going up and down a ladder between Heaven and earth. G-d promises him the Land of Israel, that he will found a great nation, and that he will enjoy Divine protection. Yaakov wakes and vows to build an altar there and tithe all that he will receive. Then he travels to Charan and meets his cousin Rachel at the well. He arranges with her father, Lavan, to work seven years for her hand in marriage, but Lavan fools Yaakov, substituting Rachels older sister, Leah. Yaakov commits himself to work another seven years in order to also marry Rachel. Leah bears four sons: Reuven, Shimon, Levi and Yehuda, the first Tribes of Israel. Rachel is barren, and in an attempt to give Yaakov children, she gives her handmaiden Bilhah to Yaakov as a wife. Bilhah bears Dan and Naftali. Leah also gives Yaakov her handmaiden Zilpah, who bears Gad and Asher. Leah then bears Yissachar, Zevulun, and a daughter, Dina. Hashem finally blesses Rachel with a son, Yosef. Yaakov decides to leave Lavan, but Lavan, aware of the wealth Yaakov has made for him, is reluctant to let him go, and concludes a contract of employment with him. Lavan tries to swindle Yaakov, but Yaakov becomes extremely wealthy. Six years later, Yaakov, aware that Lavan has become dangerously resentful of his wealth, flees with his family. Lavan pursues them but is warned by G-d not to harm them. Yaakov and Lavan agree to a covenant and Lavan returns home. Yaakov continues on his way to face his brother Esav.
In the Midst of the Darkness
“He (Yaakov) encountered the place” (28:11)
The spiritual masters explain that the word “vayifga” — “he encountered” — is an expression of prayer, and it is from this word that we derive that Yaakov instituted Ma’ariv, the Evening Prayer. The reason that the Torah did not plainly say “he prayed” is to teach that the earth contracted for Yaakov and made his journey shorter.
What does prayer have to do with the contraction of the earth?
In verse 15 Yaakov says, “Surely G-d is in this place, and I did not know!”, implying that indeed this place was very distant from being able to sense the Presence of G-d. So much so that Yaakov was surprised to be able to sense the Divine Presence there.
Inside Yaakov there was a tremendous desire to be close to G-d, and it was for this reason that the earth contracted, and Mount Moriah came to meet Yaakov.
There is a message here for us all:
However distant we may feel from G-d, and however dark our world may seem, if we make a sincere effort, G-d will move mountains to bring us close to Him.
That, in essence, is the concept of the Evening Prayer, Ma’ariv — to reveal the light in the midst of the darkness.
Sources: Sfat Emet in Talelei Orot