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And Ya'akov 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 abode of G-d and this is the gate of the heavens!" (Bereishis 28:16-17). Rashi explains, AND I DID NOT KNOW, for had I known it, I would not have slept in such a holy place as this.
This passage conveys to us a very powerful message. Our Patriarch Ya'akov just received the most important blessings of his life. Indeed, all of his progeny, the entire Klal Yisroel, nurtures, until this very day, from those very blessings. Contemplate for a moment on their content: "I am Hashem, G-d of Avraham your father and G-d of Yitzchak; the ground upon which you are lying, to you will I give it and to your descendants. Your offspring shall be as the dust of the earth, and you shall spread out powerfully westward, eastward, northward and southward; and all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you and by your offspring. And behold, I am with you; I will guard you wherever you go, and I will return you to this soil; for I will not forsake you until I will have done what I have spoken about you" (Ibid., 13-15).

Ya'akov's entire future lied in these words. He was promised the Land of Israel; dominion over his enemies; he was assured that he, and not his brother Esav, is the chosen one to sire the Treasured People; and, most important, Hashem promised never to forsake him, even in Exile, until he would return home to the Promised Land. This is the assurance that the Jewish People would never be rejected or replaced with another nation.

And yet, Ya'akov would have forfeited all of this, and would not have slept there, had he been aware of the holiness of the site!

One might argue that all of these blessings were "in Hashem's interests." For reasons unknown to us, it was Hashem's intention in the creation of this world that there be at least one nation, selected specifically to serve Him with dedication. Perhaps, "for the sake of Heaven," Ya'akov would have been correct in ignoring the sacredness of the site, even had he known, in order to achieve the goal which Hashem desired.

But this is simply one of the many shrewd seductions of the Yetzer Hara; to convince people that they should do what is wrong, for Hashem's sake. In the Talmud (Berachos 61a) it is taught that the Yetzer Hara lives at the entrance to both parts of the heart. Reb Chaim Volozhener explains (Nefesh Hachaim, Sha'ar 3, Perek 4) that although the right part of the heart is the dwelling place of the Yetzer Tov; while the left part is the place of the Yetzer Ra, nevertheless, in his shrewdness, he chooses to stay in the middle so that he can even appear to his victim as if he were really the Yetzer Tov, presenting a mitzvah rather than a sin. One must see through this deception, though, and uncover the real face of his petitioner; discovering the true nature of what is being proposed as something evil and not at all good.

There are many people who work for the benefit of Klal Yisroel, in various ways, who believe that they can violate the Torah, for the sake of the Torah. This is a grave mistake. Someone once told me about someone he knew whose fund-raising methods were halachically questionable. When he asked him about it, the fellow replied, "I'm not doing it for myself. I'm doing it for the yeshiva!" He retorted, "On the contrary, if you were doing it for yourself, I would understand your persuasion. But how can you possibly rationalize doing something for the Torah which the Torah specifically forbids?"

Reb Ya'akov Kaminetsky ztvk"l, the Man of Truth, would often admonish that one cannot "bribe" Hashem by offering Him a mitzvah in place of a transgression. We are commanded to do our best to establish Torah in the world, but only according to the guidelines of the Torah. Had Ya'akov Avinu known that he was standing at a holy site, he would not have slept there; irrespective of what he would have lost because of it.

That is the way of the true Servant of Hashem, and that is the way we are expected to follow in. May Hashem protect us from all of the Yetzer Hara's seductions, and may we always practice the Torah in truthfulness. Then we will be truly happy in this world and in the World-to-Come.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel