In this week’s parsha, Yaakov Avinu sleeps in the place where the Beis HaMikdash is destined to stand. Upon awakening, he says, “Surely Hashem was in this place, and I did not know.” The tzaddik Rebbe Reuven of Djarnowitz saw this verse as containing an important message for all Jews, in every generation.

One of the primary halachic authorities for Ashkenazic Jewry, the Rama, begins his famous work with the words, “’I have placed God before me, always’ – this is a primary principle of Torah.” He explains that when a Jew lives with “God-consciousness”, the awareness of Hashem’s imminence, his actions – seen as being in the presence of the King of kinds – are bound to be more refined. The Hebrew word for “sin”, “cheit” also means “to miss”. To sin is to veer off this enlightened path of faith, to lose touch with the perspective that sees the earth as shining with Hashem’s infinite glory. Failing, in a moment of weakness, to “place G-d before us” is akin to falling asleep in a spiritual sense. Later, when, in a moment of brokenness and shameful regret, we strive to return to His loving arms once more, we are awakened, and again step back onto the primary path of our life which is illuminated with Hashem’s presence.

The holy Zohar explains that the name “Yisrael” is used to refer to our nation when we are in an elevated state. When we fall from this level, we are referred to by the name, “Yaakov”.

The tzaddik sees our verse as hinting to the above ideas. “Vayikatz Yaakov mishnaso”: When a Jew who has fallen into sin, momentarily “missing” the target of his existence, wakes up from this lower state of “Yaakov”, “Vayomer achein yeish Hashem b’makom hazeh”: He returns to the realization that Hashem is present within each particle of physicality and every life-circumstance; even in the very yetzer hara that caused him to sin. “V’anochi lo yada’ati”: But alas, he fell into fleeting, meaningless, and spiritually destructive behavior because he lost touch with that knowledge, forgetting that each and every Jew lives even the most mundane elements of life in the presence of the King.

As the first halacha in Shulchan Aruch, the task of maintaining consciousness of Hashem’s presence is of paramount importance. In a certain sense, all of the millions of subsequent halachos which cover every waking moment and every area of life are for the purpose of aiding this endeavor by reminding us of the God in accordance with Whose Will we attempt to live. May we merit to attain this lofty level of “shivisi Hashem l’negdi samid” and hold tight to His love and belief in us so that we never fall asleep!

Maintaining G-d-consciousness protects against spiritual slumber. A Jew lives life in the throne room of the king.

Rav Reuven of Djarnowitz
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R’ Yaakov Klein is the founder of the Lost Princess Initiative, an author, musician, and lecturer devoted to sharing the inner light of Torah through his books, music, and lectures.

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