The Timeless Lesson of Yaaqov
VaYiSHLaCH - Transfiguration & Transformation (Genesis 32:23)
According to the Jewish Tradition, TORAH is quite literally a
Manual to the Universe, a guide that - when used properly - provides
wisdom, understanding and knowledge. Every story, every word, even
every individual letter of TORAH has intrinsic meaning and can be
employed to ascend to Paradise or in Hebrew PaRDeS. We generally
understand the meaning of this word as referring to the Gan Eden (Garden of
Eden). However, according to ancient texts the four Hebrew letters
of PaRDeS, Pe-Resh-Dalet-Samekh, are thought of as an acronym for
four words that represent the four levels of Torah interpretation.
Beyond that, there is yet one additional, rather elusive, fifth
level. The letters have the following meaning:
||refers to the plain, literal meaning
Here we examine the face value of the story. What? Where?
||means hint, allusion & insinuation
on this level we thinking about the WHY?
we learn to understand the reasons for actions/events
||is search or interpretation
(MiDRaSH) here we ask: WHAT does it mean to us right now
on this level we examine the numeric codes & equivalences
that form the basis of all previous levels
||meaning "hidden mysteries"
this hidden realm has no letter association because it
stands for the invisible source of our reality.
These four + one levels of PaRDeS-Paradise correspond to a
fundamental paradigm found throughout Torah. The 5 Books of Moses,
the Pentateuch or CHUMASH, are a literal embodiment of this concept
of four rungs on a spiritual ladder which lead to a fifth one. Each
rung represents a higher view and a deeper perspective of the
preceding one. Let's look at them one by one:
The first rung of this ladder involves the understanding of the
literal meaning of the story: Here we have Yaaqov who has
ambivalent feelings as he prepares for the dreaded reunion with his
brother Esav. He is left alone on the bank of the river after
having helped his family and belongings to safely traverse the
stream. As he sets out in the evening to cross the YBQ river
himself, he has a mystical encounter. A struggle with a mysterious
stranger ensues that leaves a permanent mark on YaAQoV, for, the
divine combatant injures Yaaqov's hip socket when he realizes that
he cannot defeat Yaaqov. The stranger asks Yaaqov to let him go but
Yaaqov demands to be blessed by him first. The stranger tells
Yaaqov: "No longer will you be YaAQoV but henceforth you shall be
known as YSRaEL because you have wrestled with G-d and men and
prevailed." Yaaqov recognizes that he has come face to face with
G-d and therefore names the place of the struggle PeNYEL. The sun
rises upon him and he limps as he crosses the YBQ.
The aftermath of the story gives rise to the third mitzvah
mentioned in the Torah. It commands that the Children of YSRaEL NOT
eat of the hindquarter of any animal from this day forward.
On the sencond level of PaRDeS_paradise (which is the Resh that
represents hints) we recognized that this quasi historical event is
of supreme significance to the Jewish People because it gives birth
to the new name by which Yaaqov and, henceforth, the Jewish Nation
is to be known, the name YSRaEL. Not surprisingly, the expression
B'NaY YSRaEL "Children of Israel" occurs here for the first time in
One of the most frequently used words in Torah is VaYOMeR which
means "and he said". It provides a biblical meter and rhythm to
many Torah stories. The biblical function of this word is unique in
as much as the last three letters express the past tense "he said"
AMaR, the Yod prefix results in the future tense "he will say"
YOMeR and the Vav that precedes the Yod, generally translated as
"and", hooks together and unites past and future into an expression
that is timeless VaYOMeR, i.e. applicable in all times "he said",
"he will say" and, most importantly, "he is saying right now, at
this very moment where past and future meet: NOW".
VaYOMeR is akin to a mathematical axiom. Its validity transcends
time and space. This word, occurs in the story 7 times. We already
are familiar with the holy meaning of the seven days of the
CREATION story as we commemorate by celebrating each Shabbat. In a
way then, the 7-fold occurrence of VaYOMeR alludes to a very
special sort of creation, namely the creation of YSRaEL.
According to our tradition, the stories of Torah are far more
than mere accounts of events in the distant past of our people. All
Torah stories are simultaneously a metaphor of timeless validity.
This brings us to the third level of PaRDeS, the level of DRuSH-interpretation.
Here, we must learn to import YaAQoV's mystical
encounter into our own Here and Now in order to become YSRaEL. We
must understand this archetypal, mystical experience that brings
about this transformation into YSRaEL.
In this process, we must come PaNIM EL PaNIM (face to face) with
the paradoxi of our human nature and struggle to bring them into a
harmonious balance. To do so, we must learn to harness and channel
the divine energy and life force that resides within each one of
us. Left unbridled this energy easily becomes destructive. If we
learn to harnessed it, this force will endow us and infuse us with
spiritual energy so that we may come out of this divine struggle
undefeated yet forever changed. Thus the purpose of this struggle
is to get us to the point where we can realize our divine nature,
and literally ignite the spark of holiness that resides within each
one of us.
According to our sages, not a single letter in Torah is accidental
or coincidental. Each letter fulfills a divine function and
mission. If you looked at the letters of the name of the river that
is being crossed, the YaBoQ, and compare these to the letters in
Yaaqov's name, YaAQoV, you may have noticed that they are the same
with the exception that Yaaqov's name contains one extra letter,
the Ayin. Thus we might think of the act of crossing the YBQ as the
watershed experience that strips Yaaqov of those three letters and
thus exposes the remaining Ayin.
In assessing the significance of the AYiN, YaAQoV's extra letter,
we climb to the fourth level of PaRDeS_paradise, the Samekh that
stands for SOD-secret, the realm of Torah secrets that is the
foundation of all other meanings. On this level, we take into
account that each letter has simultaneously a numeric dimension, an
inner geometry if you will. In assessing any gematria implications,
it is important to recognize that the association of numeric value
and letter shape is not a system which someone "invented" after the
fact as it were. In the Hebrew Language (as well as a number of
other languages), each letter has always satisfied this paradoxical
dual function of quality and quantity.
Yaaqov's "extra" letter, the Ayin, quite literally summarized
Yaakov's essence. The role of the Ayin (value of 70) is that of
exposing a SOD_70_secret. (i.e. the sum of the letter values of the
word SOD "secret" equals 70 and the letter Ayin by itself has the
numeric value of 70) Thus, words which feature the Ayin hint of a
hidden realm. So what then might be Yaaqov's hidden realm? There
are actually several. Let's explore one of them.
Before we do so, we must understand the inherent meaning of one
numeric value which echos and reverberates throughout Torah. G-d's
holy name, YHVH, has the numeric sum value of Yod_10 + Hey_5 +
Vav_6 + another Hey_5 equal 26, or as we say: "the gematria of 26".
Thus 26 always represents G-d's presence. And indeed, Torah
contains infinite correlations to this holy number.
Now that we understand the significance of 26, we are ready to
calculate the gematria of YaAQoV. The sum of these four letters
equals 182. Initially, that may not mean much. However, once we
recognize that 182 equals exactly 26 x 7, a totally new dimension
unfolds: 182 = "G-d" (26) x "holy time" (7). In gematria terms,
G-d's presence (26) resides in YaAQoV (182) in a 7-fold form.
Outwardly, YaAQoV's nature (7x26) manifests itself in the 7-fold
struggle as symbolized by the 7 occurrences of the word VaYOMeR.
But also, later in this portion Yaaqov prostrates himself in front
of his brother Esau 7 times.
In connection with the factor of seven, we must understand that
seven not only connotes holiness by association with the creation
story but beyond that the gematria value 612 of SHeVA PaAMIM (seven
times) presents an unmistakable message. In fact, it would be fair
to surmise that whenever something is mentioned in Torah as
occurring seven times, this frequency represents an affirmation and
reminder of the covenantal nature of the act performed because the
gematria of covenant_BRIT is 612.
26 as a factor reverberates in a number of words and names:
YiTZKHaQ_208 (= 8 x 26)
YaAQoV_182 (= 7 x 26)
YOSeF_156 (= 6 x 26)
SINaI_130 (= 5 x 26) also: SuLaM_ladder_130
all of which create a gematria vector pointing and leading to
TZION _156 (= 6 x 26)
and beyond that to ...
QaHaL YiSRaEL 676 (= 26 x 26)
and beyond ...
1820 (= 70 x 26) the number of occurrances of YHVH in Torah
Torah: the Ayin_70 of Hashem_26
There are 26 generations leading from Adam up to Moshe and the
revelation at Sinai. 26 represents such a powerful refrain in Torah
that our scribes always write in any Sefer Torah The Ten
Commandments to occupy exactly 26 lines. This is also why the
composers of the Amidah placed 182 (7x26) letters in the opening
Avot prayer and invoked The Tetragrammaton 26 times during the
weekday Amidah. The purpose was to get us in tune with this
powerful vibration. Yaaqov crossed the YBQ "with his staff"
VeMaQLYi_182. The Avot prayer becomes our "staff" as we come face
to face with 26 and davven the Amidah.
In returning to YaAQoV at the YBQ, we now see how the first word of
this passage, VaYaQaM_156 (=6x26)[baleila hu] ("and he arose" on
that night), puts us on notice that Yaaqov is getting ready to
align himself with Hashem_26.
The name of the river, YBQ, has the value of 112 and represents the
essence of mystical substance. This is so for many reasons. To
begin with, the number 112 has always had great significance in the
tradition of Kabbalah. According to ancient texts, in order to
reach the highest realms of mystical awareness, the acolyte had to
recite a certain mantra-like phrase precisely 112 times. 112
happens to be the gematria sum of the two names of G-d most
frequently found in Torah. YHVH has the value of 26. ELoHIM has the
gematria value of 86. Together they add up to 112 YBQ. These two
names of G-d represent paradoxical aspects of G-d:
YHVH "the principle" is the rule/ruler - the (giver of) law and
ELoHIM "the being" is our father and redeemer.
On one single occasion, Torah reveals to Moshe Hashem's three word
name which represents the fusion of these two aspects of G-d, EH*H
ASHeR EH*H. Kabbalists generally refer to this unspeakable union of
YHVH and ELoHIM as the "Eternal (endless) One" EYN SOF also the
"Infinite Light" EYN SOF OR. But here, on the banks of the YBQ,
Yaaqov and all Jews, past-present-future, must come face to face
with the physical and metaphysical manifestation of HQB"H_112 (The
Holy One Blessed be He) which is YBQ_112, the holy fusion of YHVH
and ELoHIM. In all of Torah, the name YBQ is mentioned exactly four
times. The mystic implication of a four fold occurance is that the
principle (in this case the divine fusion of YHVH-ELoHIM) extends
throughout the four dimensions of PaRDeS_paradise. PaRDeS is also
a metaphor for the four universes described in Kabbalah as:
The frequency of 112 finds many echos in Torah. Unbeknownst to him,
Yaaqov is getting "prepared" for his encounter at the YBQ_112 by the
curious account of his stay at HaGiLAD_112 where Laban catches up
with the fleeing Yaakov. Furthermore, the name HaGiLAD makes a
seven fold appearence in the story (Parsha:Vayetze).
Perhaps the most direct expression of Hashem's "aspect of being" is
expressed in ANI YHVH (I am YHVH). This expression occurs in all of
Torah exactly 112 times. If ANI YHVH represents Hashem's essence of
"being", then VaYeTZaV_112 (and he commanded) surely expresses the
principle and law. The hassidic tenet of Devekut_cleaving (to
Hashem "being" and mitzvot/principle) finds its first illustration
in Genesis 2:24 VeDaVaQ_112 ("and shall cleave" ...to his wife)
NOTE: A basic theme in Kabbalistic thinking is to draw an
analogy between the male_female sexual relationship and the
relationship of adam_earthling and Hashem.
Interestingly, the numeric expression of this struggle is found in
the phrase "and he struggled" VaYeAVeQ which has the gematria of
119 (or 112+7). This word then reflects Yaaqov's 7-fold nature
interacting and struggling with the river YBQ (112). Interestingly,
in Hebrew, seven is written with the letter Zayin which also means
"weapon". This numeric interaction of 112+7 also manifests itself
in the fact that the entire story of this encounter contains
exactly 119 words.
It is certainly noteworthy that the famous
account of Yaaqov's dream of the ladder also contains exactly 119
words. Another numeric hint of Yaaqov's nature (7) interacting with
YHVH-ELoHIM (112) Finally, one might well argue that the recitation
of the 119th Psalm in all of its primordial alef-beit power
constitutes a tangible example of the archetypal struggle YaYeAVeQ.
The ancient sages had ascribed Psalm 119 the power of elevating its
reader to the highest states of consciousness.
We are now ready to ascend to the fifth realm, the hidden
secrets, the nameless universe. The highest message in this sublime
passage is that YBQ-112 not only represents the awesome fusion of
YHVH & ELoHIM but it also represents the 613 commandments of Torah.
How can this be?
Let us take the sequence of prime numbers 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17,
etc and assign each one their (ordinal) position (i.e. 11 is the
5th prime number). We discover that the 100th prime number is 541.
541 "happens" to be the gematria value of YSRaEL. Continuing along,
we then discover not only that the number 613 is, indeed, a prime
number but also that it is exactly the 112th prime number. Here
then we are facing a hidden reality that brings us right back
to earth to fulfill the 613 Mitzvot of Torah with a renewed
insight, intelligence and inspiration.
Kabbalists throughout the ages have believed that the effect of
numeric relationships (i.e. equivalences, sequences, factors,
addants etc) applies regardless as to whether or not we are aware
of it. By analogy, water quenches our thirst without our knowledge
of the chemical properties of H2O (water) that make this substance
such an essential part of Life on Earth.
Conversely, physicists tell us of the paradoxical fact that the
reality of subatomic processes is directly influenced by the
observer through the mere act of observing the process. Becoming
aware of (observing) the chemical characteristics of water surely
will help us understand a great deal more about the laws of nature
and their inner workings. Similarly, the awareness of the numeric
relationships created by the holy language of Torah will shed light
on the spiritual dimensions of the universe as much as on the inner
workings of the human soul.
May the act of noticing the complex web
of Torah frequencies sow the seeds of awe, mindfulness and
We have barely scatched the surface of numeric implications
presented in this sublime passage all of which aim to tell us that
we must be ever-willing and ever-ready to relive this mystical
encounter with YHVH-ELoHIM and thereby to be permanently touched
We proclaim our willingness to follow Yaaqov's lead each morning
when we invoke G-d's presence with the 26-letter phrase:
MaH ToVU OHaLECHa YaAQoV, MiSHKeNoTeYCHa YiSRaEL
"How lovely are Your tents, O Yaaqov, Your
Crossing the YBQ, then is the story of our eternal quest for
enlightened being and for enlightened doing. Such is the timeless
lesson of Yaaqov who led the way to become YSRaEL.
dwelling places, Israel!"
Copyright © - C. Moshe Harlan 1997