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Food for the Soul

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When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. Genesis 28:11

The Torah portion for this week, Vayeitzei, which means "and he left," is from Genesis 28:10-32:3, and the Haftorah is from Hosea 11:7-12:14.

How many meals do you eat a day? Most nutritionists recommend eating three square meals a day - breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In Judaism, the Jewish sages recommend three prayer sessions every day shacharit (morning prayer), mincha (afternoon prayer), and ma'ariv (evening prayer). Like food is to the body, prayer is to the soul.

The sages teach that each of these prayers was instituted by one of the three patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They further explain that each prayer speaks to a different time in our day and in our lives, and each reflects a characteristic of the patriarch who initiated it.

For example, the morning prayer, instituted by Abraham, can be traced to Genesis 19:27: "Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the LORD." Morning prayer represents the times in our lives that are sunny and bright. We are thankful for what we have and hopeful for what the future will bring. We are used to turning to God in prayer when things seem bleak, but Abraham teaches us to pray to God when life is going well.

The afternoon prayer has its source in the life of Isaac: "He went out to the field one evening to meditate . . ." (Genesis 24:63). The afternoon is a busy time when we commonly are "in the field" - out in the world, doing our various jobs. However, Isaac, the patriarch who represents inner strength, teaches us that we must be strong and disconnect from the world for a few moments of conversation with God while we are "in the field." We can never be too busy to pray, only too busy not to pray. A few words to God go a long way when we are in the thick of things.

Finally, in this week's Torah reading, Jacob introduces us to evening prayer: "When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set" (Genesis 28:11). The sages teach that this verse's hidden meaning is that Jacob prayed at that "certain place," which he later discovered was the holy site of Mount Moriah, "because the sun had set." It was night, a time of darkness and uncertainty. Jacob, the patriarch who experienced the most hardship and uncertainty in his life, models for us prayer during the darkest times of our lives.

Together, the three patriarchs teach us that for every time and every occasion, there is a prayer. Whether you pray three times a day or not, the idea is to pray to God throughout the day, in all types of situations. God is always listening and ready to answer our prayers - morning, noon, and night.

Food for the Soul,

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