“He encountered the place and he spent the night there…” (28:11) The Talmud teaches that each of the Patriarchs was responsible for instituting one of the daily prayers. Avraham instituted Shachris, the morning prayer, Yitzchak instituted Mincha, the afternoon prayer, and Yaakov instituted Maariv, the evening prayer.1 According to the Talmud, while Shachris and Mincha are obligatory, Maariv is only an elective.2 (The Rambam explains that today Maariv is a fixture in our daily prayer schedule since we accepted it upon ourselves as such.3)
Chazal refer to Yaakov as the , the chosen amongst the Patriarchs. He is viewed as having perfected and incorporated all the strengths of his father and grandfather. It is therefore difficult to understand why the greatest of the Patriarchs should be responsible for instituting the least significant of the prayers, Maariv. Rashi, in his commentary on Tractate Berachos, compares saying the Shemoneh Esrai to a person knocking at the king’s door in order to request assistance.4 For a person to have the audacity to knock on the King’s door three times a day, he must have unique credentials. The credentials we come to Hashem with are the merits of our forefathers, the Patriarchs. This explains why we recite the section known as “Avos” – “Patriarchs” prior to the blessings which involve requesting assistance. Each Patriarch serves as our credentials for the particular prayer that he instituted. Therefore, in order to summon the King with the least significant prayer, we need the greatest of the Patriarchs to assist us.
1.Berachos 26b 2.Ibid 27b 3.Yad Hilchos Tefillah 1:6 4.4b