In Parshat Vayeitzei, we encounter the verse from where we derive that Ya’acov instituted the mitzvah to daven Ma’ariv each evening, as we read in Bereshit 28:11, “And he encountered the place and lodged there because the sun had set, and he took some of the stones of the place and placed them at his head, and he lay down in that place.”
The Torah’s use of the “the place” is a reference to Mt. Moriah, Temple Mount, referring back to Abraham seeing the same mountain from afar before the Akeidah. So why does the Torah not say Mt. Moriah explicitly? המקום is a more powerful word, connoting a place where Hashem is. While “קיים” means support, “מקום” means a place which gives us support, where Hashem will later build the Beit HaMikdash, and where Ya’acov receives support now through his dream of the angels. The word also symbolizes potential, the ability to build and make changes, the potential that Hashem will give to impact us.
The verse uses the word, “ויפגע”- “He encountered,” literally, “He hit” to connote this act of prayer. Why use “encounter/hit”? Rashi explains in Chullin 91b that the word connotes two parties moving towards each other from opposite directions. Mt. Moriah came up unexpectedly in Ya’acov’s path through a miraculous contraction of the Earth. This idiom is used because Ya’acov initially passed through Mt. Moriah and then regretted not having prayed there, so he turned around to walk back, and the ground miraculously contracted for him, leading to the “encounter” with Mt. Moriah.
Additionally, Hashem gave him a prophetic dream here, and so he was “hit” by the force of the revelation and life-changing prophecy. “מקום” is also one of the pronouns for Hashem, Who “hits” us by giving us support and showing us our potential. “מקום” is also used to refer to prayer to Hashem, We don’t want the world to be the same after our prayer as beforehand. Therefore, Ya’acov “encounters” Hashem, and Hashem “hits” him.
Sefer Zera Shimshon relates an idea from Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer that the entire world was opposing Ya’acov and moving towards him to stop him for moving forward. The reason is because the stone that Ya’acov had slept upon and then erected as a pillar as a tribute to Hashem, subsequently became embedded by Hashem in the foundations of the Earth, in the very center of the earth, for Hashem’s sanctuary to be built upon. Stones are not obstacles but are meant to symbolize potential. They are often constant and immobile, representing the battle between the physical and spiritual. For this reason, the world became a wall before Ya’acov, stopping him from continuing his journey, so that the foundations of the universe could be strengthened by his presence. The world needed him to remain there and use these foundation stones. If he had continued his journey, then the world would not be able to continue to exist.
Sometimes we are meant to move forward, and sometimes we are meant to stay right where we are because we are still needed there, or we have more that we need to accomplish in a particular place. Sometimes it might seem like the entire world is indeed opposing us, but that also might be Hashem “hitting” us and moving towards us to encounter Him and learn new revelations. Life has both periods and commas, and just because something isn’t happening right away doesn’t mean that it’s not going to happen eventually, we just need additional strengthening of our core foundation. Shabbat Shalom!
-Based on upon the teachings of Rabbi Beryl Gershenfeld