This week's show focuses on the evening prayer – ARVIT aka MAARIV. Literally, the verse is telling us that Yaakov "encountered the place" and slept there, because night had fallen. In addition to the plain meaning, the Gemara quotes a second verse from Yirmiyahu (7:16), to present the idea that "encounter" also means "to pray". Ironically, the pasuk in Yirmiyahu is negative: "Therefore do not pray for this people, nor lift up cry nor prayer for them, nor MAKE INTERCESSION to me (TIFGA BI); for I will not hear." Be that as it may, the connection is thus made: Evening time, Yaakov, encounter=pray, MAARIV.
Without going into details, Maariv originally had a "less than required" status. This has changed – Maariv in our time is as required as Shacharit and Mincha. The majority of opinions is that women are exempt from davening Maariv, but they have permission to do so, if they choose (A woman who decides to daven Maariv should say that she is not accepting it as a daily commitment, that she is doing it B'li Neder. If this becomes a practical issue, check things out with your Rav).
There are so many details being glossed over in this lead tidbit; all we promised was a fresh look, and here it is. Although we line up the davenings of the day as Shacharit, Mincha, and Maariv – corresponding to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, and although most Siddurim put the davenings in that order as well, the fact is that Maariv is the first davening of a person's new day. Together with the recitation of the Sh'ma of the night, these two mitzvot are (or at least, can be) our first mitzvot of the new day.
There are plenty of reasons that people have – some better than others – for not davening Maariv right at the end of sunset, when the stars start to come out. But it is praiseworthy and spiritually uplifting to try to daven Maariv at the first opportunity – Z'RI- ZIM MAKDIMIM L'MITZVOT, enthusiastic Jews do their mitzvot right away.
Let us honor Yaakov Avinu, who taught us to pray at night – literal night and figurative as well, by taking Maariv more seriously. Start your day right, with acceptance of the Yoke of Heaven and strengthening of our relationship with G-d, via Kavana-filled prayer.