And the youths grew up, and Esau became a man who knows hunting, a man of the field and Jacob [became] an earnest man, dwelling in tents.
In a previous article, we saw that the final part of this verse relates Jacob, who is described as “dwelling in tents,” with the World of Emanation. We also mentioned that the World of Emanation has no master, because at that level of consciousness, there is no consciousness of self.
Nonetheless, in Kabbalah Jacob is referred to as the master of Emanation, even though he himself cannot be conscious of this. This is hinted to in a beautiful way in the words “dwelling in tents,” (יֹשֵׁב אָהַלִים ). One of the methodologies for interpreting the Torah is called “subtract, add, and interpret” (גוֹרְעִין וּמוֹסִיפִין וְדוֹרְשִׁין ).
Applying this method, we see that if we subtract the first letter of "tents" (אָהַלִים ), the א(alef), and add it as the first letter of "dwelling" (יֹשֵׁב ), we get the word “man” (אִישׁ ) which as explained yesterday means “master of.” We then interpret that the remaining letters ב הליםspell the word בְּלִימָה (pronounced: blimah), a special word in the Bible,1 which is usually translated as “without anything,” particularly in reference to the sefirot of the World of Emanation2 as they are described in Sefer Yetzirah: “Ten sefirot blimah, ten and not nine, and not eleven.”3 Thus the newly found phrase based on this methodology is: “an endless man” אִישׁ בְּלִימָה . We will return to explain this phrase shortly.
There is beautiful numerical support to this interpretation: If we add the numerical values of “Emanation” אַצִילוּת and “blimah” בְּלִימָה we get 624, which means that the average value of each word is 312, the numerical value of “dwells” יֹשֵׁב , implying that indeed “dwelling in tents” relates to the word of Emanation in which the ten sefirot are endless.
Thus, Jacob is also the master of Emanation, but since he has no sense of being there and is completely null and void before the Almighty, this mastery is concealed and cannot be openly stated. In a similar vein we find that the inner aspect of Jacob’s soul is Moshe Rabbeinu. TheZohar states: “Moshe on the inside, Jacob on the outside,” referring specifically to thesefirah of knowledge (represented by Moshe), which lies on the middle axis of the sefirotjust above the sefirah of beauty (represented by Jacob) and thus acts as its soul. Moshe Rabbeinu is described in the Torah as “the man of God”4 (אִישׁ הַאֶ־לֹהִים ) where God here is referred to by the Name, Elokim (אֶ־לֹהִים ), which permutes to spell “tents” (אָהַלִים ), meaning as explained yesterday. Thus Moshe, who is considered to be Jacob’s soul is indeed the master of Elokim, the master of Emanation.
What does it mean that Jacob was a “man of blimah?” Where if anywhere is Jacob described as having a relationship to this word? To answer this question we need to know that the Arizal identifies Rabbi Akiva as our patriarch Jacob’s most important incarnation. The most important linguistic hint to this connection is that the letters of Rabbi Akiva (רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא ) permute to spell the idiom “the Mighty One of Jacob” 5 (אֲבִיר יַעֲקֹב ) that appears in the verse:6
And his bow remained firm and his arms were agile; From the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob, from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel.
What is the connection between Rabbi Akiva and Jacob and how does it relate to our verse? In the Talmud, we find that Issi ben Yehuda, one of the sages of the Mishnaic period commended each of the sages for his character. Rabbi Akiva he described as a “closed treasure,” an otzar balum, in Hebrew. The word "closed" (balum) comes from the same root as belimah. Rashi, based on the commentary on the tractate of Avot known as AvotDerabbi Nathan, explains what a "closed treasure" is:
Rabbi Akiva was likened to a poor man who takes a box and goes out to gather food in the fields. If he finds barley, he places it in the box. If he finds wheat, he places it in the box. If he finds beans he puts them in the box…. When he arrives back at his house he separates the grains from one another.
So did Rabbi Akiva. When he learned from his teachers, he heard the interpretation of a verse, then a halachah [law], after that a midrash [homiletic], and finally a story. He committed himself to memorize them all so that he could recall them easily. He did not say, first I will learn all the verses, then all the midrash. But, when he became a great sage he organized the entire Torah by subject. He organized all of the midrashim [homiletics] separately into the Sifrei and the Sifra and committed them to himself and to his students; all of the halachot [laws] separately.
And it seems to me [says Rashi] that a closed cache has many partitions, like in a large cupboard. Wheat is put here, barley is put here, beans here. It has the same meaning as the Talmud’s statement in Bechorot (40b)… and in (old) French: cloison.
At first Rabbi Akiva put all of his learning into one vessel. He did not compartmentalize his mind to separate the Torah into different subjects. Everything contained in one vessel is the essential characteristic of the World of Akudim, the first World emanated by Adam Kadmon. In the World of Akudim all the lights of all the sefirot were contained in one, single vessel; that is one reason why it is called Akudim, because this word means “bound together” in Hebrew. Though this is a chaotic state, it is stable chaos.7 Jacob’s (and hence Rabbi Akiva’s) source is in the World of Akudim, which transcends the World of Chaos, Esau’s source. This is alluded to in the midrash that states that though Esau was born before Jacob, Jacob was conceived first.8
But later, Rabbi Akiva organized what he had learned by topic. This is like the lights in the World of Emanation, where each light is contained within a separate vessel. Only then can each light be appreciated and only then can the teachings of the Torah be given over clearly to students. That Rabbi Akiva first reviewed it for himself and then taught his students corresponds to the inner (his review) and outer (teaching his students) aspects of the World of Emanation.
From all of this we learn that the World of Emanation, Jacob’s house (which in Rashi’s commentary appears as the house that the poor man returns to), is a world of compartments. The first verse of parshat Vayeishev is: “And Jacob dwelt in the Land of the dwellings of his father.” But, the word “dwellings” (מְגוּרֵי ) used here is cognate with the word for “compartments” (מְגֵירוֹת ). The Magid of Mezritch taught that this word “dwellings” means either a cache or fear and that the two explanations compliment one another, as it says: “The fear of God is His cache,” meaning that only with fear of God can one actually become a vessel for Godliness.
Expounding on the Magid’s teaching, we may say that Jacob, thanks to his embodying his father Isaac’s mind and emotions—especially Isaac’s fear of God—was able to grasp the full spectrum of the sefirot and analyze the world correctly based on their principles. That is why Jacob gave birth to 12 children, each reflecting another of the sefirot.9 Jacob’s specialty was his ability to “dwell in tents” a metaphor for inserting (“dwelling”) the light of each sefirah into its appropriately distinct vessel (“tent”), the hallmark of the World of Emanation.
(Based on the Daily Dvar Torah from Monday, 27th Cheshvan, 5768 – November 8, 2007)
1. It appears only once in the verse: “[God] suspends the earth without anything” (Job 26:7).
2. See in length in Tanya, epistle 20.
3. Sefer Yetzirah 1:3.
4. Deuteronomy 33:1.
5. See Yam Shel Shlomo to Gittin, chapter 4, shmot gitin (§31) on the name Akiva.
6. Genesis 49:24.
7. The next World that was emanated by Adam Kadmon was the World of Nekudim (literally, “spots”), where each light of each sefirah had a separate vessel. However, this World experienced what is known as the shattering of the vessels and is therefore also known as the World of Chaos.
8. See Rashi, beginning of our parshah.
9. The complete model of the sefirot contains 11 sefirot with the sefirah of crown subdivided into 3 “heads,” thus giving a total of 13 sefirot.