Yaakov awoke from his sleep and said, Surely Hashem is in this place and I did not know!
For what purpose did Yaakov mention this seemingly
insignificant fact? Rashi explains that Yaakovs intent was: Had I
known, I would not have slept in a holy place such as this. This is very difficult to understand. The Gemara tells us (Chullin 91b) that Hashem
caused the sun to set early in order to cause Yaakov to sleep in this particular spot (Chullin 91b). The Talmud further teaches that the stones Yaakov had placed surrounding his head miraculously joined, forming one large stone. As the verse narrates, it was during this sleep that Yaakov merited receiving a prophecy from Hashem, as well as a promise of protection during his numerous travels. From all of these miraculous occurrences it should have been clear to Yaakov that it was the will of Hashem that he should sleep in this spot. Why, then, would Yaakov say that had he known of Hashems
presence he would have done otherwise?
The proper way to understand Yaakovs words is
as follows. Yaakov thought that one is only considered to be serving Hashem when involved in spiritual pursuits such as tefillah and Torah study.
Involvement in physical matters such as eating and sleeping, however, could not be considered serving Hashem, since they are not themselves mitzvos.
By performing miracles and causing Yaakov to
sleep (a purely physical activity) on the future site of the Beis
Hamikdash, Hashem sought to teach Yaakov that this is not the case. Hashem gave His Torah to human beings knowing that they are creations whose physical needs must be satisfied to facilitate their continuing ability to fulfill His commandments. It is His Divine will that these physical activities should be sanctified through their use as tools assisting people in their service of Hashem. In this way, these activities can be raised to the level where they themselves become the fulfillment of Hashems will.
It was this that Yaakov alluded to when he exclaimed
and I did not know. Yaakov exclaimed that prior to being
taught this lesson, he did not know that a physical act such as sleeping could be sanctified to such a degree. Rashi (quoted above) explains that commensurate with Yaakovs prior understanding, had he known of the
holiness of the site he would not have thought it proper to sleep there.
Taking note of this lesson, Yaakov said that the
stone upon which he rested his head while sleeping should be a Beis
Elokim. It was Yaakovs wish that the stone should serve as a reminder
to the fact that a Beis Elokim is not only a place where one is involved in Torah and mitzvos. Even the seemingly mundane act of sleeping must be done with the proper intentions so that a sleeping place, too, can reach the
level of Beis Elokim.