And Yaakov awakened from his sleep, and he said, "Indeed, HASHEM is in
this place, and I did not know." And he was frightened, and he said, "How
awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of G-d, and this is
the gate of heaven." (Breishis 28:16-17)
Yaakov found himself incidentally at the holiest site in the universe, the
place where the Temple resided for almost a 1000 years and the where Avraham
had been ready to yield his beloved son. He detected the holiness of that
place and he declared aloud, “How awesome is the place!” Many a good
searching Jew has found himself there over the years and it has become a
spring board for great things. Indeed something is going on there at “the
gate to heaven”, the portal to all prayers. How can we all relate even today
to the holiness of this place with our western slanted intellects?
I was thrown into the deep end of the swimming pool of public speaking a
bunch of years back. If I had any fears they were either confirmed or
dispelled by the following incident. I was involved with a tour consisting
of a few dozen-college students who were visiting Israel for the first time.
It was Friday night at the Kossel, the Western Wall, and the head of our
contingency led us in a twenty-minute dance around the plaza where many had
gathered to pray. By the time we had finished, our numbers had swelled to
hundreds, as we swallowed up groups with energy and spirit. The one, who had
so enthusiastically orchestrated the dancing, now pulled everyone close
around him for a quiet word before the evening Shabbos prayer. When he had
their attention, he stepped out and pushed me in suddenly and said, “Label,
say something!” I was totally unprepared. The awe of that Wall and the place
was plenty to strike me silent. I looked up at the faces of the now hundreds
of people. I felt like that ubiquitous deer on the highway, Bambi, frozen
and staring into the headlights.
With help from heaven I was able to open my mouth. I uttered Yaakov’s very
words, "How awesome is this place!”Then I asked, "What are we all doing
here? Are we here to talk to the wall?" I saw some heads beginning to nod.
"This is the last unsullied, non-commercial, holy place in the world.
There exists within each of us also a pure and unexploited point of
holiness, as well. Here on the Holy Shabbos, that remnant of holiness within
us has been drawn magnetically to this hold-out of holiness. I realized
quickly that the word "holy" was a hollow word for most and maybe even me.
What was I saying? I needed to define and add a colorful picture to the
term- "holy". With even more continued help from heaven, it occurred to me
that just days earlier I was been walking through the streets of New York
City. I too was searching for holiness. I asked, "What holiness is to be
found there? What do people treat as holy? Where do we find in a world of
cynicism and shattered idols that there is a place where everyone
universally behaves with authentic reverence? In only one place- At the ATM
Everyone, even in bustling NYC, enters quietly and respectfully. Each
inserts their piece of plastic. The machine engages us so politely and
clearly. Then we enter our PIN# and wait for the good news. Chamber music
might be appropriate as the confessional screen lights up and tells us the
brutal truth. We have made withdrawals, too many. We have made deposits. We
are flirting dangerously with the over draft. A record is there of all our
transactions if we wish. The final request and closing and we each back up
three steps as if from a silent prayer, "Oseh Shalom Bimromav..." putting
the receipt or money privately and deeply into our pocket. We have been
touched. The same is when we approach the Wall in prayer. Although we all
hold the same Prayer Book and say the same words, as the plastic card, we
each have a personal identification number. We are weighing in collectively
and individually and making ourselves aware of our spiritual bank accounts.
We have made withdrawals. We have made deposits...etc."
It has occurred to me that the money industry has usurped the best words for
what we seek in personal relationships, Mutual, Fidelity, Trust, Bond,
Interest, Provident, Security, Exchange, and even more. It's not a new
phenomenon. King Solomon told us more than two thousand years ago, if you
want to achieve authentic awe, feel it for real you must "seek it like
silver". Then you will know what’s "Holy"!?