Nelly Shulman

Now I know it

Commenting upon the famous verse in Genesis 28:16, “God was in this place, and I did not know it”. Rashi writes, “for had I known it, I would not have slept in such a holy place as this”. Hindsight is a marvelous skill, but we rarely, if ever, possess it. Jacob is no exception, although Rashi’s statement seems too harsh. After all, Jacob has always had close relationships with God.

Sforno, writing at the height of Renaissance, rephrases Rashi’s words, adding a more humanistic dimension, “if I had realized the special distinction of this site I would have prepared myself mentally for receiving these Divine insights”. Here Jacob appears as a person able to reach the prophetic heights with a certain amount of self-preparation. Humanity develops even further when Or HaChaim states some two hundred years after Sforno, “Prophecy requires the recipient prepare himself mentally first”.

The truth is, no amount of spiritual exercise can prepare us for an encounter with a Divine Presence. It can happen at any time of night and day, via communication with people, via reading or listening to music, via looking at a painting, or a landscape around us. The important thing is to remember to acknowledge this experience. God was in this place, and now I know it.

About the Author
Nelly Shulman is a journalist and writer currently based in Berlin. She is an author of four popular historical novels in the Russian language. She is working on the fifth novel in this series and on her first English-language novel, a historical thriller set during the Siege of Leningrad. She a Hawthornden Fellow and an alumna of the Nachum Goldmann Fellowship.
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