Parshat Vayeitzei: Hamakom


Let us continue to focus on the word “in the place” במקום , but this time we will begin with a theological perspective. One of the connotations of God is “the Place,” which can be rendered more understandably as “the Space.” In Hebrew the word is: המקום . In themidrash1 we find the following teaching on our parshah:

Why is God’s Name connoted and he is referred to as the Space? Because He is the space of the world, and the world is not His space.

Said Rabbi Yosi ben Chalafta: We do not know whether God is the space of the world or whether the world is His space. From the verse: “Behold, there is space with Me”2 we conclude that He is the space of the world, but His world is not His space!

Said Rabbi Yitzchak: From the verse, “The abode of eternal God”3 we can not know [based on this verse] whether God is the abode of the world or whether the world is His abode. But, from the verse “God, you have been our abode,”4 from this verse we know that God is the abode of the world and that the world is not His abode.

This can be likened to a warrior who was riding on his horse and his weapons were hanging from both sides [of the saddle]. The horse is secondary to the warrior, not the warrior to the horse. This is the subject of the verse: “When you ride on your horses, your chariots bring deliverance.”5

Thus, from the sages, our verse is the first source in the Torah that reveals that God is the space of the world, but the world is not the space of God. To be more exact, from our verse, the Rabbi Yosi ben Chalafta says that one might still think that the world does give space to God. What does this mean? Let us look at the classical philosophical interpretation of this question and the inner Kabbalistic and Chassidic interpretation.

Philosophy vs. Kabbalah

From a philosophical point of view, every theology needs to address the question of the relationship between God and creation. This question can be asked from a number of different perspectives. It can be asked from a causal perspective, for instance one might ask, is God the underlying force acting behind everything. It can be asked from a time perspective: Is God free of time limitations? In other words, does He create time, or is He bound by it. In the Midrash quoted the question of God’s relationship with the world is asked from the perspective of space, meaning the container, if you will, of reality. The philosophical question is then: “Is God contained within space, or is He not?” The philosophical-theological question has to be answered with either a yes or a no. If you answer in the affirmative, the world is the space within which God exists, then you would be defined a pantheist—most nature oriented beliefs (like Wicca or Shinto) are pantheistic and experience God as imminent. If you would answer in the negative, God is not limited only to the space of the world, they you would be defined as a transcendentalist—the so-called monotheistic religions like Christianity and Islam understand God to transcend reality—there can be no direct experience of God, for God is not actually present in our reality.

But, from the Kabbalistic perspective, which reveals the depth of Jewish theology,6 this is not a yes-no question. It is a relative question. God is both contained within the world and at the same time not limited by the space of the world. Because God is Infinite, He exhibits both aspects. The aspect of God that is contained within space, in the world, is called the light that fills all worlds (אור ממלא כל עלמין ). The aspect of God that is not limited by space is called the light that surrounds all worlds (אור סובב כל עלמין ). Thus, the Kabbalistic mind does not interpret this midrash as asking whether or not God is so and so (contained or not contained in space), but rather which verse refers to his filling light aspect (contained) and which verse refers to his surrounding light aspect (transcendent, not limited).7 The question that is of interest is which verses reveal the imminent nature of God’s Presence, and which verses refer to His transcendent Presence.

Did Jacob Find Himself or His Wife?

Let us now return to the arguments found in the quoted midrash. Rabbi Yosi ben Chalafta says that from the verse in our parshah, “He arrived in the place,” we might have thought that God is contained within the world. Translated into Kabbalistic/Chassidic terminology, we might have thought that this verse refers to God’s filling light, the light that fills all worlds. This would seem to be an appropriate interpretation because in the Arizal’s conceptual scheme, the light that fills all worlds, the imminent nature of God is revealed by the ray of infinite light that permeates the void, a state alluded to in the verse: “Then your light shall burst forth like the dawn….”8 The word for “burst forth” in this verse is יבקע , which permutes to spell “Jacob” יעקב , indicating that Jacob himself is the personification of this aspect of God. How fitting it would be that Jacob would arrive at, that is experience the light that fills all worlds, the imminent experience of God, which is the essence of his own soul.

Nonetheless, Rabbi Yosi ben Chalafta says this is not clear from this verse, and that when another verse is taken into account: “Behold, there is space with Me,” a verse spoken to Moshe Rabbeinu who is considered to be an embodiment of the inner aspect of Jacob,9 it is clear that this was not the light that fills all worlds that Jacob experienced, but rather the revelation of the light that surrounds all worlds, the transcendental nature of God. In Kabbalistic language, the first revelation of the light that surrounds all worlds is called the great circle, or the kingdom of the Infinite. This aspect of God is alluded to in the verse: “The woman of valor is the crown of her husband.” Like the crown that is round, the great circle precedes, as it were, all imminent revelations. Since the surrounding light is associated with a woman of valor and the imminent revelations with her husband, it is clear that the masculine and feminine aspects of reality correspond to the imminent and transcendent revelations of God, respectively. Relative to the soul, the body is feminine. Thus, in the future, the woman of valor, the body, will be the crown of the soul, her husband; the body, which does not have an imminent experience of God, will be able to reveal to the soul a transcendent experience. By Jacob, clearly the feminine with which he is to unite as the soul unites with the body, is Rachel. Indeed, as we have pointed out earlier, “He arrived in the place” ויפגע במקום is equal to the value of Rachel רחל (238) plus one-half the value of “Rachel” 119: ויפגע במקום = 357 = 238 ┴ 119. As explained previously, according to Rabbi Avraham Abulafia, the consummate wholeness and root of anything is revealed when it is illustrated in the format of a whole and a half.

Mathematical Ruminations

Let us take a short mathematical detour to see what happens when we add our verse to the verse brought by Rabbi Yosi ben Chalafta. Our verse is “He arrived in the place” ויפגע במקום and Rabbi Yosi brings the verse: “Behold, there is space with me” הנה מקום אתי . Together they equal 1014 = 26 · 39, or “Havayah” י־הוה times “Havayah is One” י־הוהאחד . But, 1014 is also equal to three times the value of “He lay down” וישכב (338). It is also equal to 6 times “He arrived” ויפגע (169). Yesterday we saw (see note 9) that when a word possesses 4 letters, its value when written in “front and back” format will be 5 times the value of the word itself. Let us now extend this rule and say that for any word of n letters with value m, its value when written front and back is m(n ┴ 1). Since ויפגע has 5 letters, 1014, which is 6 times the value of ויפגע is also equal to ויפגע written front and back: ויפגע יפגע פגע גע ע ו וי ויפ ויפג ויפגע !

Submission, separation, and sweetening in the midrash

Now, let us return to the midrash. We see that the midrash brings altogether three different examples of places where one might think that the reference being made is to God’s imminent Presence, but actually His transcendence is being referred to. The first is our verse, with the word “place” (which we translated also as “space”). The second is a verse referring to “abode.” And, the third is a parable that uses the image of a warrior riding a horse, a rider.

In the first two examples, the midrash formulates its conclusion in the same format: “He is the x of the world but the world is not His x.” In the first example the formula yields: the space of the world, מקומו של עולם . In the second it yields: the abode of the world, מעונו של עולם . If we were to apply this formula to the third example we would get: the rider of the world. But, in Hebrew the correct way to say “the rider of the world,” and which, as we shall see, also alludes to a particular verse (implicitly the source for the parable) is “world rider,” רוכב עולם .

If we add these three together we get:

מקומו של עולם מעונו של עולם רוכב עולם = 1690 = 10 · ויפגע !

We saw in the first teaching on Vayeitzei that 1690 also equals the values of ויפגע its first, and its second fillings together!10

Now, from the Chassidic perspective, the question to be asked on the midrash quoted is why are three examples necessary? The answer is that each illustrates a different facet of the same idea. In our case, we will now see that these three examples together complete the model of submission-separation-sweetening taught by our master the Ba’al Shem Tov.

In our service of God, awareness that God’s transcendent aspect gives space, or a place, to the world (“He is the space of the world”) creates submission. The sages teach us that, “Who is wise? He who knows his place!” Wisdom is the experience of nullification or selflessness. Thus knowing that the space that one occupies is entirely within the transcendence of the Almighty is a nullifying experience11 that leaves one in a state of submission before God.

Awareness of God’s transcendence as the abode of our reality can be understood in context of the seven firmaments. “Abode” is the name of the fifth firmament, which is explained to be God’s private dwelling, as it were. That all my reality is contained within God’s abode thus elicits a feeling of being special and motivates me to disassociate myself from all of my negative inclinations. As explained elsewhere, this is the essence of separation in the Ba’al Shem Tov’s model.

Finally, that God is riding the world, exemplifies that everything is serving God, even me! With this parable we come to realize that everything has the potential (even me!) to be part of God’s chariot, a platform upon which and through which God’s Infinite goodness and holiness can be revealed. This is the experience of sweetening, where even the bitter reality of creation which seems to be disconnected from God can be transformed into an object of sweetness that reveals God and is one with Him. The verse brought to support this last example is explained by the sages to refer to the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. In Chassidut, the horses are explained to symbolize the letters of the Ten Commandments whose purpose it is to reveal the very essence of the Almighty Himself in creation. As themidrash explains elsewhere, at Mt. Sinai, the border separating the revealed reality (the lower Worlds) from the essence of God (the higher Worlds) was nullified.

Based on the Daily Dvar Torah from Wednesday, 4 Kislev 5768 – November 14, 2007

1. We have brought the reading found in Yalkut Shimoni on the verse “He arrived….” See the alternate sages mentioned in Midrash Bereisheet Rabbah 68:9.

2. Exodus 33:21.

3. Deuteronomy 33:27.

4. Psalms 90:1.

5. Habakuk 3:8.

6. One of the greatest scholars of our generation has remarked on several occasions that Kabbalah is Judaism’s official theology.

7. Chassidut makes it clear that neither aspect of God is God Himself, both are just categories of the revelation of the Infinite Light of God which itself unites both aspects in a paradoxical consummate Oneness. See in length the discourse “Ha’omnam” in Sefer Hama’amarim 5643, pp. 94ff.

8. Isaiah 58:8.

9. In the language of the Zohar: “Moshe on the inside, Jacob on the outside,” or in the language of the sages: “One may not have mercy for someone who has no knowledge.”

10. Just מעונו של עולם רוכב עולם together equals 7 · “world” עולם , corresponding to the seven lifetimes (worlds) that a person experiences in his or her life, as enumerated in the beginning of Midrash Rabbah Kohelet.

11. As mentioned a number of times before, in Kabbalistic and Chassidic ontology, space and time correspond to the sefirot of understanding and wisdom, respectively. The joint experience of wisdom and understanding, as they are in the World of Emanation, resolves into selflessness and humility in the lower Worlds. Thus, more exactly, we would say that knowing that one’s place is entirely subsumed within the transcendent nature of God is a humbling experience.

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