I Did Not Know
By Rabbi Label Lam
And Yaakov awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely HASHEM is present in this
place and I did not know!” And he became frightened and said, “How awesome
is this place! This is none other than the house of G-d and this is the gate
of the Heavens.” (Breishis 28:16-17)
After experiencing in a dream state the prophetic vision of a ladder
stretching from Earth to the Heavens and receiving a shower of protective
blessings Yaakov wakes up to the reality of the Holiness of “The Place” and
declares, “I did not know!” What did he not know? What does he mean to say?
Simply we can appreciate that Yaakov was expressing his regret at the
inappropriateness of his having slept there. What accounts for the fright
that follows his declaration, “I did not know!”?
Now thirty something years ago I was a freshman in college returning for
Thanksgiving break with an eagerness to reconnect with old high school
buddies. I was immediately confronted with the terrible and shocking news
that one of my closest friends and another friend and my friend’s father
were all killed in a car accident driving home. My mind was vaulted to
another stage of existence- questioning and wondering about the meaning of
it all. So when I returned to University and everyone was busy with the
debauchery associated with pledging for fraternities I was still too shocked
to be tempted. I espied a sign for study abroad with the word “ISRAEL”
prominently on display. Even though it meant missing the baseball season I
found myself that spring going for a semester in Israel.
There were some amazing and magical qualities to being in Israel but we had
basically transferred the entire university culture to the kibbutz in north
picking grapefruits planting sunflowers and taking classes at Haifa
University. After six months, I left Israel no more attached to the land or
my people than I was before. I hitchhiked across Europe that summer and did
my four years at University with a sinking feeling that idealism was nowhere
on display in this world. Within a year or slightly more and because of a
couple of seemingly random encounters, life firmly nudged into Yeshiva Ohr
Somayach in Monsey where I saw in action what I had always been looking for.
By the time I was washed up upon the shores of the Yeshiva I was an
exhausted and grateful swimmer. I couldn’t believe it. This is what I had
believed must exist someplace and I had never experienced it before. The
Shabbos, the Rebbeim, the friends, the families were all amazing and beyond.
This was it!
One morning at the tail end of breakfast on of the fellows in the Yeshiva
asked me casually if I had ever been in Israel. (Most of the fellows at that
time were returnees from Ohr Somayach Jerusalem landing back in America but
I was a walk on from the streets of New York.) I told him I had been there
as a freshman in college but I was not impacted. He persisted, “Didn’t you
go to Jerusalem while you were there?” I told him, “Of course I went to
Jerusalem!” He pressed on, “Didn’t you go to the Western Wall while you were
there!?” I answered him, “Of course! You think I’m gonna go to Jerusalem and
not go “The Wall”?”
He didn’t let up for some reason, “Did you put a prayer in The Wall?”
Thinking back five years I suddenly recalled, “Yes! Yes I did!” I could
remember vividly approaching that place. It was a Friday Night. Someone
asked if I wanted to join them for Shabbos. I pushed him away arrogantly
thinking to myself, “Religion is for weak people!” but then I moved up to
the wall and scribbled on a paper carefully and thoughtfully, “G-d, please
take care of my brother (who had passes away when I was six and he was four)
and my friend (the one that perished in the car accident) and if you’re
there G-d, SHOW ME!” I planted it sincerely and delicately and swept it away
from my conscience mind. Five years later I revisited that place in my
memory and realized from the order of my prayer that I had always believed
and even though I was asleep to the experience, I was shown. I woke up with
a profound awareness that I have been at the same place Yaakov laid his head
to rest and I too had been asleep to the awesome grandeur of “The Place”
I did not know!
DvarTorah, Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Label Lam and Torah.org.