January 5, 2017
Hashem spoke to Yisroel in visions of the night, and said: “Yaakov, Yaakov.” (46:2)
Meshech Chochmah explains that neither of the Patrirchs who preceded Yaakov was a recipient of a nocturnal vision. This is peculiar to Yaakov – and it occurs more than once.
Many years earlier, as Yaakov fled from Esav’s wrath and readied himself to face the uncertainties of living with Lavan, he experienced the prophetic dream of the angels ascending and descending the ladder than connected Heaven and earth. There as well the vision occurred at night.
These two episodes share a common element, which we can assume is the reason for this unusual way of communicating information to Yaakov.
In both cases, Yaakov was on the cusp of leaving the land of Israel, and exposing himself to the vicissitudes of galus. In both cases, Hashem wished to reassure Yaakov that He would be with him even in the dark night of exile.
The Sages state the upshot of this reassurance plainly and openly: “When the Jews were exiled to Bavel, the Shechinah went with them.
This motif in Yaakov’s life explains his particular contribution to our fixed prayer. Avrohom established shacharis; Yitzchok minchah. Yaakov – who gave his name to his people – ironically created the model for a davening that is halachically voluntary! Should not the name Yisrael be linked to a daily fixed prayer? Our people’s self-understanding is bound up with constant conversation with Hashem.
Perhaps. But a more vital understanding for that people is that Hashem will never abandon them. This is the unique contribution of Yaakov.
This contribution follows the pattern of the offering of the heavy limbs of animals slaughtered earlier in a given day. While generally the avodah of the beis hamikdosh grinds to a halt during the evening, the offering of the residual limbs is an exception. If the process of offering began by day with the animal’s slaughter and application of its blood on the mizbeach, the burning of the limbs (if not completed by day) may take place at night.
These halachos create an image, whose message is clear: when something is associated with Hashem during the daytime, i.e. connected to Him during times in which He illuminates our lives freely and easily, it remains attached to Him even when His countenance seems to turn away. When a curtain of darkness falls on an animal whose elevation towards Hashem began by day, the avodah of that animal may continue even at night.
Prophecy is subject to the same rule. A navi who once experienced nevuah while in the land of Israel (like Yechezkel) can continue to receive prophecy when he leaves the land.
These ideas yield a crucial bit of instruction to us. When a Jew holds firm to the mesorah – when he follows the ways and lessons of his forefathers who lived at a time of the open connection between Hashem and His people that existed when the beis hamikdosh stood in its place – then he can be treated as a continuation of an ancient and venerable people. The Shechinah continues to dwell among such people. If, however, he forgets the covenant of his ancestors and does not follow in their ways, but lives as if part of a separate people, then the Shechinah is not with him in galus! He is treated with scorn and derision, no longer as part of a proud, ancient group that once saw the glory of Hashem when it was open and manifest.