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"Indeed God is in This Place"

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

Sicha for Shabbat from the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion



"Indeed God Is In This Place"

Adapted by Matan Glidai

Translated by Kaeren Fish

"And Yaakov awoke from his sleep and he said: Indeed, God is in this place and I did not know it" (28:16). The Rashbam explains, "'It is not as I believed when I lay down here – that it is a profane place; rather, it is a holy place.' Wherever the Torah says the word 'akhen' (indeed), it means, 'it is such, and not as I believed at first.'" Rashi, commenting on the same verse, writes: "'And I did not know it' – had I known, I would not have slept in such a holy place."

These explanations would seem to contradict the midrash quoted by Rashi on the next verse. The midrash asks why the Torah first tells us, "And he went to Charan," and only afterwards, "and he tarried at the place" (i.e. Beit-El, which was on the way to Charan). Surely the sequence of events was actually the reverse. The midrash explains, "He first went to Charan ... but when he arrived there, he said, 'Perhaps I have passed by a place where my fathers prayed, and I myself did not pray there?' So he turned back [to go to Mt. Moriah] and returned as far as Beit El, and the way contracted for him [bringing Mt. Moriah to him]." This midrash would seem to suggest that Yaakov had indeed recognized the sanctity of the place before he lay down to sleep there; after all, he had returned with the specific intention of praying there.

In order to explain this contradiction, we need to distinguish between two different levels of "knowledge." A doctor knows what his patient is feeling, and the patient himself knows what he feels, but clearly the two levels of knowing are not identical. A social worker can only guess at what the impoverished client feels. Concerning faith in God, the Torah teaches us, "And you shall know this day and set it upon your heart that the Lord is God..." (Devarim 4:39). The Rambam, at the very start of his Laws of the Foundations of Torah, writes, "The most basic of all foundations and the pillar of all wisdom is to know that there is a First Existent..." – meaning that this knowledge must pervade every corner of one's heart. This must be a clear and firm knowledge, but beyond mere intellectual assent, this entails an experience of the truth, and inner certainty that fills one's consciousness.

In the same way, we may understand Yaakov's words when he awakens from his sleep. Although he knew previously that it was a special and holy place, this knowledge was of a superficial nature. It pained Yaakov that his heart had not been sufficiently open to elevate itself, to sense and celebrate the opportunity that had presented itself. He felt that an opportunity to further his gift of prophecy had somehow been missed.

We may apply the same idea to ourselves. It is true that the level of sanctity in Eretz Yisrael is not the same as the level of sanctity of the Beit Ha-mikdash, but certainly there is some degree of holiness in every part of Eretz Yisrael. Are we not guilty of "missing" it, failing to notice it, to experience it, to celebrate and be awed by it? Are we, too, not in the position of suddenly realizing that "Indeed, God is in this place and I did not know it"?

(Originally delivered at seuda shelishit, Shabbat Parashat Vayetze 5753 [1992].)



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