Let us focus on the word “in the place” במקום , 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 the midrash1 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.
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.”
By Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh, Gal Einai at Inner.Org
About Gal Einai
In Hebrew, "Gal Einai" means: "open my eyes." This name was adopted from the verse: "Open my eyes that I may behold wonders from your Torah" (Psalms 119:18), which expresses our goal of increasing awareness of the Torah and its relevance to every area of life by revealing the hidden, inner dimension of Torah, a source of wonder, inspiration and insight for all.
Gal Einai's central goal is to encourage the study of the Torah, particularly from the perspective of its inner dimension, as revealed in the teachings of Kabbalah and Chassidut. The Torah is God's greatest gift to humanity, and is relevant to all people, both Jews and non-Jews. Studying the Torah, committing to it, and applying its teachings in your everyday life will change your life as an individual.
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In Kabbalah and Chassidut we learn that God is all and all is God. He is everywhere--in every facet of our lives. Our challenge is to discover God and to connect to Him in all that we do …. Harav Ginsburgh's teachings on Jewish mysticism touch every area of our lives, from the mundane to the sublime. In his innovative books and lectures, he elucidates even the most abstract concepts in Jewish mysticism, and relates them to contemporary issues in science, psychology, mathematics, marriage, economy, education, meditation, parenting, philosophy, medicine, politics and the arts. These teachings, geared toward people of all backgrounds, reach thousands throughout the world and show us how to incorporate Divine consciousness into every aspect of our lives.