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And I, I had no idea where I was


This week’s parsha (Vayetze) has one of the most famous lines in Torah, spoken by Jacob as he escapes his brother Esau’s wrath &  heads towards his fate: a life with the daughters of Lavan and all the intricacies and complications thereof (you try marrying 2 sisters and you’ll know what I mean).

He awakes from an amazing dream, dreamt while using a rock as a pillow. Angels are climbing up and down the ladder to Heaven and he (Jacob) is promised descendants spread out as the dust of the earth. Upon awaking, he says “Surely the Lord is present in this place, and I, I did not know it! How awesome is this place! This is none other than the abode of God, and that is the gateway to heaven.”

I, I did not know where I was. How many times have I had that feeling? I’m here, but I’m not even sure where here is. And I certainly don’t know where here is leading me. I imagine that’s what it must have felt like to Jacob, a guy on the run.

My grandsons go to a Hebrew day school and although I’m less than happy with some of what they’re learning (like only boys can wear a kippah) (and that’s the least of it), I do love this song they sing: HaShem is here, HaShem is there, HaShem is truly everywhere… up, up, down, down, right, left, and all around. This is a poem about that very thing, about the possibility of finding God (or your heart’s desire, or your destiny, etc.) at any moment and in any place.

This is one of Bruce’s favorite poems and one of my earliest. I wrote it after reading Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. It’s the first poem that came to me half-written while I was lying in bed (aptly enough) and I have loved it ever since. It was also one of the first times I felt like I could actually call myself a poet & it was my first published piece, made public by Gumball Poetry, now defunct.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Carolyn Geduld permalink
    12/01/2009 8:11 pm

    Thank you so much for your astounding poem, Sue.

    About your Jacob quote–it is about place, but for me the mysterious double “I” seems to be about a kind of self that is in a kind of place. Or is it just emphasis, as if Jacob is saying maybe everyone else knew but I’m the one I am talking about and I did not know.

    I prefer the former–that both I and place are extraordinary, somehow.

    Any thoughts?


    • sue swartz permalink*
      12/02/2009 11:30 am

      Thanks for the compliment. I’m blushing. I’m with you in saying that we are always in a particular place, whose significance (or impossibility) we may not realize until we’ve left it. I know that I’m usually moving too fast to appreciate precisely where I am, what place I’m in, usually metaphorically, sometimes literally. It’s like walking into the kitchen & forgetting that you came in there for a pencil or the salt. There was something about the white box (in the poem) that made me stop in my tracks & wonder what it is about our desire to get closer to the Divine, sometimes through extreme measures. It’s such a deep yearning and often unspoken.

      BTW, I love your reading of the double “I” – Jacob finally gets the “I” he has become, the “I” that others perhaps already sensed or saw. Certainly God knew that Jacob was the linchpin to the story.

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