Vayifga - he happened upon

Vayeitzei: Genesis 28:10 - 32:3. Yaacov runs away feeling very unsure about himself and his worthiness. Yitzchak’s (Isaac’s) words pierced his heart:

Moshe Kempinski

Judaism Prayer
צילום: PR

In the Torah portion of VaYeitzeh (Genesis 28:10–32:3) ,we see Yaacov fleeing from his home. He was escaping from a brother who was set to kill him. He was running from a father who may have lost some measure of faith and confidence in his son. He was leaving without knowing when he was to return. And he was leaving into a land of the unknown, and into a future filled with challenges and doubt.

It was this flight into exile and the accompanying sense of insecurity that would become the shared experience of his descendants as they themselves would stumble from exile to exile.

Yaacov runs away feeling very unsure about himself and his worthiness. Yitzchak’s (Isaac’s) words pierced his heart:

And Yitzchak said to Yaacov, "Please come closer, so that I may feel you, my son, whether you are really my son Esav( Esau)  or not." So Yaacov drew near to Yitzchak his father, and he felt him, and he said, "The voice is the voice of Yaacov, but the hands are the hands of Esav'." (Genesis 27:21-22).   

Yaacov was aware that what he did regarding the blessings was clearly within the desire of G-d. Yet Yaacov may have been deeply troubled by the gnawing question of how much of Esav’s character had seeped into his soul. Had “the hands of Esav” overtaken his spiritual “voice of Yaacov”.

It is then that we read the following “And he arrived at the place (VaYifga BaMakom) and lodged there because the sun had set, .."(Genesis 28:11)

Rashi provides two explanations for the word vayifga. The first is 'reached unto ' .Rashi points to the book of  Joshua ;"And their border went up to the sea, and Maralah, and reached unto (uPaga) Dabbesheth, and reached the river that is before Jokneam;" (Joshua19:11).

Then Rashi writes 'But our Sages explained it also  as an expression of prayer as it is written in Jeremiah:” And you, pray not on behalf of this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer, and do not entreat me (Tifga Bi) for I will not hear you." (Jeremiah 7:16),

Yet we see that the word VaYifga can also mean something else as well. The word Pagah also means “to attack”, “to fall upon” or “to wound”  as we see in the following;

“And king Solomon sent by the hand of Benaiahu the son of Jehoida, and he fell upon him (VaYifga bo) that he died.(Kings 1 :2;25)

We see this understanding again in the book of Exodus;

"And they said, "The G-d of the Hebrews has happened upon us. Now let us go on a three day journey in the desert and sacrifice to Hashem our G-d, lest He strike us ( pen YiFga-einu) with a plague or with the sword." ( Exodus 5:3)

Finally we see the word more tightly explained as "to happen upon”; 

"If you come upon ( Tifga)  your enemy's bull or his stray donkey, you shall surely return it to him.(Exodus 23:4).

So we see such variant understandings of this one word Pagah. It can mean "arrival " or its more concise definition of a random "happening upon". It can mean to "fall upon" or to "strike " or "to wound". Then it also means “to pray.

How do those variant understandings come together .When we understand how they ”blend “together we will receive , with Hashem’s help,    a deeper insight to the word Pagah.

Yaacov was escaping a danger filled past, escaping  into a land of the unknown, and into a future filled with challenges and doubt.

That experience is the essence of Yaacov's name and the nature of his journey.The understood meaning of Yaacov’s (Jacob)  name in the world is, he who supplants, undermines, and deceives . Yet that is an unusual understanding,  as that definition comes from the lips of Esau, a man who hated Yaacov.

Rather we should be focused on the understanding of his name given by G-d at the birth of Esau and Yaacov . “After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau's heel; so he was named Yaacov”(Genesis  25:26). Yaacov's life was to LeAkov- walking forward step by step. He enters into the unknown and with faith overcoming his fears as he moves slowly forward, step by step.

It is with that mix of fear and faith that he unexpectedly encounters Hashem. “And behold (VeHineh) , Hashem was standing over him, and He said, "I am Hashem, the G-d of Abraham your father, and the G-d of Isaac; the land upon which you are lying to you I will give it and to your seed.”( Genesis 28:13).The very word “And behold (VeHineh)” bespeaks an unexpected encounter.

That is a very different form of prayer than that of Abraham and Yitzchak. It is an encounter with G-d even though that encounter was not anticipated. It is an encounter that occurs even when the individual does not see himself worthy of such an encounter. “And Jacob awakened from his sleep, and he said, "Indeed, Hashem is in this place, and I did not know it."”(Genesis 28:16)  .

The resulting dialog and prayer is a plaintive even piercing prayer, because it comes with no preparation.

Yet nevertheless it is prayer at its most sublime.

 All those spiritual experience of happening upon, falling upon , piercing and prayer coming together in one word. Perhaps that is one of the deepest lessons that Yaacov has bequeathed to his children and to all those who continue to explore his journey.

Lerefuat Kol HaPtzuim ve Hacholim
Lerefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved and Yehudit bat Chaya Esther