Yaakov awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely Hashem is present
in this place, and I did not know!”
“Surely” seems like the wrong word. Yaakov wakes up after a phenomenal
prophetic dream, and expresses his wonder about this special, holy place.
What he should have said is “Wow!” In biblical Hebrew, we can get pretty
close to that. The word “behold!” conveys the same sense of surprise mixed
with awe. (This word is no stranger to our parshah. In the verses that
precede ours, the word hinei is used multiple times.)
Surely/ achein means something very different. It implies that several
alternatives can be considered, with the speaker concluding that one of them
alone can be shown – indeed, surely – to be the correct choice. But why
would Yaakov use “surely” instead of “behold” in our pasuk?
Yaakov may have been less of a dreamer than we suppose. He realized that not
all dreams are cut from the same cloth. Some are nothing more than ordinary
brain maintenance. As the gemara tells us, people think about certain things
by day, and then dream about them at night. Only some dreams communicate
messages from the upper worlds. Even those often contain “static”-
extraneous elements that have no real meaning, or even false
Yaakov very much wanted to believe in the dream he remembered so vividly,
and in the implications of all of its details. How was he going to assure
himself that the dream in its entirely conveyed accurate impressions from
beyond? The upshot of his nocturnal vision was that “Hashem was standing
over him.”3 How could he be sure?
Yaakov arose from his dream and felt the kedushah of the place. He was
gripped with awe and reverence, and realized that it was nothing less than
Hashem’s presence there that was working on his neshamah. Hashem was indeed
standing over him; Yaakov had walked into His close proximity! He had been
the source of the dream, nothing less.
Furthermore, Yaakov reasoned, his perception of the place’s kedushah was
abundantly clear at that moment. Why had he sensed none of it when he
arrived, the afternoon before? He had davened that evening, using his
trademark tefilah of maariv. How had he managed to spend time in focused
prayer to Hashem, and not felt what he now sensed in the morning? Yaakov
understood that Hashem had purposely withheld his comprehension of the
kedushah of the place, just so he would be able to have that dream. Had he
realized the kedushah of the place, it would have kept him up all night.
Certainly he would not have treated the place cavalierly, and bedded down
for the evening. Yaakov realized that he had been, as it were, set up to
remain unaware of the kedushah, and therefore able to lay himself down to sleep.
In that sleep, he had his dream. In the morning, seized by the kedushah of
the place, Yaakov was able thereby to demonstrate to himself that his dream
was a genuine prophetic one. Surely, said Yaakov, surely the Shechinah is
in this place, and it was the source of my dream.
Whatever You shall give me, I will certainly tithe it to
Emphasis belongs on the word “me.” Yaakov proclaims that he is prepared to
give up a tenth even of what was unmistakably given “me,” meaning for his
individual needs. He would not restrict his giving to what others call
“discretionary cash,” funds that remain after basic needs are filled. Yaakov
pledges that he will subject to his program of charitable giving even what
seems necessary for basic subsistence. In effect, he says, “I will tighten
my own belt. I will take, if need be, from what would be going into my own
mouth, and give it to Your poor.”
Perhaps this is what Yeshaya meant when he wrote,5 “Surely you
should break your bread for the hungry.” Even what is clearly your bread –
what you have designated for your own meals - you should share.
Furthermore, you should do so even if it is for the hungry, i.e. by breaking
bread and offering some to the poor, it will result in your remaining
hungry! By this you will accomplish tzedakah in the fullest sense – giving
to others when you have not filled your own needs.
Chazal tell us6 that Hashem has particular regard for the
minchah offering of a poor person, who sacrifices more than others in
bringing his humble offering. Although not as expensive or elegant as the
offerings of others, G-d cherishes it as if the person offered his own self
for HKBH, since he must part with funds that are important to him in his
struggle to make ends meet. Surely the same applies to any person who makes
do with less in order to help feed the poor.
1. Based on Be’er Mayim Chaim, Bereishis 28:16
2. See Ramchal, Derech Hashem, 3:1:6 (end)
3. Bereishis 28:13
4. Based on Be’er Mayim Chaim, Bereishis 28:22
5. Yeshaya 58:7
6. Menachos 104B