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“And he [Yakov] lit on the place…” [1

The text says that he literally “met” [יפגע] the place, based on the root [פגע], which means “to meet.” 

From that, the midrash implies the question, “What did Yakov ‘meet’?”

In answer, it takes the word Ha-Makom — the “place” — as referring to God. It takes “Ha-Makom” as a Divine Name, and invokes a teaching that occurs elsewhere in Talmud and Midrash as well:

“Rabbi Huna said in Rabbi Ammi’s name: ‘Why do we give a changed name to The Blessed Holy One, and call Him The Place? Because He is the Place of the world’.”  [2]

The footnote to this in the Soncino edition of Midrash Rabbah says: “The World is contained in Him, not He in the world.” [3] 

The Midrash therefore takes this pasuk (verse of Torah) to say: “Yakov met God” or “Yakov met the Shechinah,” [4] by recognizing that “the world,” and therefore he, Yakov, himself, are already “in God.”

If God isn’t “contained” in the world, does it mean that God isn’t present in the world? 

Obviously not.

To explain this, the rabbis coined the term “Shechinah” — the Divine Presence. It is our experience of God’s Presence in the world, without implying that God is in any way limited to the world.

And by “world,” we can properly understand not merely our Earth, but the entire Creation. 

In saying blessings, the Hebrew says “…Melech ha-Olam” — “King of the World.” But it is always translated as “King of the Universe.” If, as some scientists theorize, there are multiple universes and multiple dimensions, God would still be “King” in them all. They all exist in Him and His Presence pervades them, but He is beyond even the most extreme limits we can imagine. 

“Imagine” is an important word here.

The rabbis aren’t asking us to understand this academically or intellectually, although that might be a first step in considering what’s being said.

Rather, they want us to open our imagination to the possibility that there’s something beyond all space and all time which we nevertheless “meet” within ourselves and in the things and events that surround us. 

This “meeting” occurs in prayer or meditation:

“Now, ‘pegah/פגע’ refers to ‘prayer’, as it says ‘

”…don’t pray [titpalel/תתפלל] for this people,
don’t lift up…prayer [t’filah/תפילה] for them.
Don’t entreat [tifga/תפגע] Me,
for I won’t hear you.” [5]

The rabbis here use the parallelism of Hebrew poetry to show that “tifga” — the word for “prayer” here is based on the same root as “pega” — the word that forms the root of both “lit”  or “alight” (stop on the place) and “meet.” The rabbis show that is synonymous with “tefilah” or its verb-form “titpalel” — to pray — by citing an example where the same idea is repeated with some variation in vocabulary or terminology (parallelism). This kind of argument or “proof” is valid in Jewish tradition and others, because it demonstrates the basis in TaNaCh for a certain teaching. It’s not accepted as a method as much in modern “Western” scholarship. The Rambam uses it extensively in the “Guide for the Perplexed.”

Thus, “Yakov alighted on the place” comes to mean “Yakov met God, in Whom the world and everything in it exists.”

What is the rabbis’ purpose in this reinterpretation?

The ordinary flow of human thoughts obscures the quietness, simplicity and purity of the Divine Presence in our minds. Meditation or prayer means taking time to allow our attention to turn from ordinary thoughts and sense-experiences (seeing, hearing, etc.), to their infinite, eternal Divine Source. When we do, we can “meet” God. 

Mrs. Tehilla Lichtenstein said as much, based on her own experience:

“…God cannot be perceived through the mind [intellect] alone. If you would know God, do not seek merely to prove His existence, but turn to Him with your heart; affirm your union with Him, affirm His responsiveness to prayer, pray to Him; if you actually turn to God and speak to Him in your heart, you will be astonished to find how close He is to you, you will feel His nearness, you will have found God.” [6]

Yet, “imagination” itself is still a “thought.”

But used properly, it can be the first step in going beyond thought.

Then, we meet the One Who is Always Wherever We Are.

________________________________________________________

[1] Bereishith/Gen. 28:11

[2] Bereishith Rabbah 68:9

[3] Soncino edition, p. 621, footnote 1

[4] ibid. p. 620, footnote 6

[5] Yirmiyahu/Jer. 7:16

[6] Lichtenstein, Tehilla and Doris Freedman, ed.; Applied Judaism, c. 1989; “Can We Prove That G-d Exists”; © 1989, p. 96;
originally part of “How Shall We Find G-d;” Jewish Science Interpreter, June, 1940; p. 4

Rabbi Eli Mallon

photo by Carl Merkin (cmerkin@verizon.net

Rabbi Eli Mallon, M.Ed., LMSW

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