WaYaeTsae – Encounters with HaMaqom

As a means of engaging with experience and processing what is encountered, Yaaqov represents a person’s grabbing at what comes around and investigating. The root \aQaBh (עקב) essentially means “to twist around.” Across the Semitic languages, this root is used to mean “to constrain, to follow, to come after, to trace, to approach closely, to investigate, to criticize, and to grab the heel (supplant).” In his engaging experience, Yaaqov was going out, away from B’aer Sheva\, an elucidation (bi’aer) of many things bubbling up in experience,1 and was going toward Charan, what was (instead) prodding-inciting in experience (ChaRaH – חרה). And he came upon a maqom (מקום), a place. Although the root from which this word is derived is usually translated as “to stand, arise and establish,” it literally means to be fixed in place. Allegorically, the word maqom (מקום) represents a situation that arises and is firmly confronting. In this way, it is related to the word Y’QuM (יקום) which means both existence and being and QaM (קם) one standing up to-adversary.

When he lay down in the place, Yaaqov used stones from the place as pillows. After dreaming about messengers of G-d ascending and descending on a ladder reaching toward heaven and being spoken to by haShem, Yaaqov declared, “There is HaShem in this place and I did not know.” Although the story presents “this place” as a particular location, it represents all situations and all places. Yaaqov’s acknowledgment is that HaShem, G-d’s bringing forth of existence (YHWH), and Elohim, G-d’s Guidance found in experience,2 are in every place, every situation. What enabled Yaaqov to acknowledge G-d’s presence in the world was his ability to investigate experience. The word for pillows (m’Ra/aShot – מראשות) comes from the word Ro/Sh (head – ראש) which evolved from the root Ra/aH (ראה), to see. Hence the word for head, literally means the place of seeing. In Arabic, the word HhaLoM (to dream – חלם) also means to muse, reflect, and meditate. The word stone (/eBheN – אבן), from the root BuN (בון – to be or project between), literally means “what sticks out prominently.” So Yaaqov, in his grabbing at what comes around and investigating, through his seeing and musing over what sticks out prominently, was able to see the machinations of HaShem and Elohim in the place, in existence.

Yaaqov stated: אין זה כי אם בית אלהים וזה שער השמים “There is not of this other than the house of Elohim and this is the gate of the heavens.” The word ZeH (this – זה), comes from the verb ZaHaH (זהה) and literally means “what is visually radiant or apparent.” So the first phrase allegorically means, “There is not of what is visually apparent, except a coming in of G-d’s guidance.” Here Yaaqov is acknowledging that all that is visually apparent, in all situations, is of G-d’s guidance. The next phrase uses an Arabic false cognate of the word Sha\aR (gate – שער) which means “to take notice of something (in being stirred by it).”3 The word for sky and heaven, (ShaMayim – שמים) is related to the verb meaning “to put place, and arrange (SyM – שים) and literally means “two arrangements (day and night).” Allegorically, it represents many things put forth in experience. So in the second part og the sentence, Yaaqov is saying, “And what is visually apparent is as a result of a person’s taking notice of what is stirring of the many things put forth in experience.” In other words, all things that are visually apparent in experience are part of G-d’s guidance; and G-d’s guidance is obtained by taking notice of thos things that are stirring. Yaaqov calls this place Baet El (בית אל), the house of G-d. Because the word baet (בית) comes from the verb ba/ (to come in – בא), it allegorically means “a coming in of G-d’s advancing existence forward.”4 However, to an untrained eye, to an eye that is not Yaaqov’s, one that does not grab at what comes around and investigates, the place was called Luz (לוז), that which was captivating and cramming in.

Having acknowledged that G-d’s guidance is interwoven into every situation and experience, Yaaqov must now determine how to mentally process all that he encounters in experience. After moving on, he sees a well in a field with droves of sheep around it. The Hebrew word for sheep-flock, (Tson – צאן) literally means “what holds back.” It is also cognate with an Arabic word meaning to consider, or to hold back in contemplation.5 Since the verbal form of the word for well (B’aer) similarly means to elucidate, the allegory is explaining the process of investigation: First, through elucidation, evidence is revealed, and then, that evidence channels the act of consideration. Here is the line: וגללו את האבן מעל פי הבאר והשקו את הצאן “And they will roll (reveal)6 the stone (what sticks out prominently = evidence), from upon the mouth (coming in)7 of the well (elucidation). And then they will channel (irrigate) the flocks (consideration).” Since the root GaDaL (גדל)8 means both large and to interweave intricacies, the statement: “And the stone was large…” acknowledges that “what sticks out prominently in experience” is not one thing, but rather an interwoven tapestry of complexity. It is this complexity of what is encountered in experience that must be considered if, like Yaaqov, we are to equate G-d’s bringing forth of existence (YHWH) with G-d’s Guidance found in experience (Elohim).

At the well, Yaaqov refers to those that he encounters as brothers (/aChiM – אחים). Derived from the root HhaWaH (חוה – to instruct), the non-etymological yet allegorical meaning for /aChiM is “those things that instruct.” So like the stone, the brothers represent aspects of experience that provide instruction. In order to know how this instruction is attained, Yaaqov asks: ‘Where are you from?’ Their answer, Charan from the root ChaRaH (חרה – to prod, incite), indicates that such instruction is acquired through the being prodded by specific things encountered in experience. Yaaqov is concerned by this answer, so he asks, ‘Do you know Lavan, the son of Nachor….Is there peace for him?” Because Lavan means “the act of layering, stratifying, and prioritizing of things,”9 Yaaqov wants to know if the instructions obtained can be stratified and prioritized, as a result of one’s being prodded by experience (Nachor being the passive, related to Charan). Most importantly, he wants to know if a person in this situation can be at peace. Soon after, in being concerned with the abundance of information that must be processed, he says “Gather what is acquired (QaNaH קנה to acquire > מקנה MiQNaH, cattle), channel the consideration (צאן – flocks), and go, and lead on!” But those who point things out and instruct, those referred to as brothers, refuse. Because in making any investigation, one should not engage in consideration until all of the facts have been accumulated. Therefore, they respond, “We are unable until all of the droves (repositories of data encountered)10 shall be gathered together and then we shall roll (reveal) the stone (what sticks out prominently).”

Before anything encountered in experience can be processed and stratified, it must be obtained. It is at this point in the story where Yaaqov meets Lavan’s flocks, Rachel, Lavan and later Leah. As Lavan’s children, Leah and Rachel represent auxiliary behaviors to Lavan’s ability to stratify what prods in experience. Although in Hebrew Rachel (רחל) means ewe, from the Arabic it also means “one’s exploring while wandering about.” Leah (לאה), on the other hand, comes from a verb meaning “to labor exhaustively.” Both Rachel and Leah serve as the means by which Yaaqov, one’s grabbing at what comes around and investigating, obtains from experience. Rachel (one’s exploring while wandering about) is the more casual of the two, whereas Leah represents the more labor intensive and exhausting way. For the sake of his investigating things, Yaaqov prefers Rachel. The text emphasizes this in stating that Leah’s eyes, or allegorically her eyeings or observations of experience, were weak and fleeting (RaKoT – רכות). Although the word RaKh (רך) generally means soft, weak, and frail; since it evolved from the root RuWHh (רוח), it has a sense of being like a puff of wind (RuaHh – רוח), which is not only soft but also fleeting. On his wedding night, Yaaqov discovers that although one may prefer to do things the easy way (represented by Rachel), when confusion sets in (ערב – evening),11 inevitably exhaustive laboring ensues and so finds Leah instead.

Along with the children of their handmaids, each child represents a different way of taking in and becoming acquainted with what is encountered in experience. Because Leah means one’s laboring exhaustively, she was the more effective and therefore the first to bear children (results). Initially, she looks out onto experience and says “because HaShem looked upon my affliction.” When a person who labors exhaustively looks out onto experience, they can quickly become afflicted and overwhelmed as a consequence of their exhaustive labor. Therefore, the allegorical meaning of R’uvaen is “one’s seeing an overwhelming amount of experience.” This is one of the reason’s why Yaaqov’s blessing to him at the end of Genesis was “…you are my strength and the first of my capacity, excessive of elevation and excessive of strength. Unstable like water…” Similarly, the name Levi (LaeWy – לוי) comes from the verb that literally means to wrap around and join (לוה). Its allegorical meaning is “one’s utilizing mental persistence to wrap around many things.” The verb YaDaH literally means to acknowledge, although it can have neutral, positive (praise) and negative (blame) connotations. Y’hudah (יהודה) allegorically means “one’s being startled in acknowledging what is startling (פעם) of G-d’s bringing forth of existence.” These three are behaviors associated with a person’s laboring to exhaustion (Leah). On the other hand, Rachel, one’s exploring while wandering about, due to the lack of effort and engagement inherent in her name, was initially unable to bear children. Therefore, she gives Yaaqov her maid servant, Bilhah (בלהה), whose name means “becoming mixed in-engaged.” This engaging of experience causes her to bear “one’s being beset upon and entangled with many subduing aspects of G-d’s Guidance found in experience” (Naphtali). After many children, representing many methods of encountering experience, Yaaqov’s more casual and preferred method of gleaning from experience, Rachel, bears Yoseph, “his repeatedly gathering in another thing that is jabbing of G-d’s bringing forth of existence, in exploring while roaming about, being clear minded, attentive and receptive to G-d’s guidance found in experience.”12

With the birth of each child, Yaaqov attained another method of gleaning from experience. Now Yaaqov is ready to begin stratifying and prioritizing that instruction through the process represented by Lavan. Yaaqov requested to shepherd the flocks of Lavan, “to lead the act of consideration associated with stratifying what prods in experience.” After Lavan removes the animals that would have been Yaaqov’s compensation, Yaaqov utilizes magical genetic manipulation to his advantage. He takes up rods (maQaL – מקל) of fresh poplar, and of almond, and of a plane-tree. The rods represent things that can be easily (lightly) taken up from experience to be stratified (לבנה – Libhneh – poplar). Although in Hebrew LaHh (לח) means fresh, in Arabic the root also means “what emerges into view.” As alluded to before, the Hebrew word for almond (LuZ – לוז) means what is captivating and crams in, from Amharic. Finally, the word \aRMon (ערמון) meaning plane tree utilizes a root that means both heaped up and laid bare. So for the purpose of stratifying experience, Yaaqov took up things emerging into view, things that were captivating and cramming in, and things heaped up and laid bare. Into them he peeled (PaTsaL – פצל) peelings of white, the Arabic cognate of which means “to categorize, present in logical order, and set forth in detail.” Yaaqov then placed these into the watering troughs before the flocks (acts of consideration), so that they might go into heat (HhaMaM – חמם) upon seeing them. Coincidentally and for very convoluted reasons, there is also a related word HhaMaH (חמה) which means to see and make observations. In performing this trickery, both magical and linguistic, Yaaqov was able investigate and stratify all of what was encountered available to him in experience.

The problem with a person’s stratifying the things that are prodding in experience is that it can become both obsessive and excessive. As a method of engaging with and processing what is encountered in experience, Lavan (stratifying) is intended to be a means to an end. But if that process is constantly delivering up a new priority, it becomes ineffective. This is the meaning of the statement: “And Yaaqov was seeing the face (presentations) of Lavan and here, there did not exist of it the being with him…” Yaaqov further says to Rachel and Leah: “And your father toyed with me and exchanged my reward (what digs at-prods me)13 ten times.” This alludes to how a process of repetitive prioritization of things encountered in experience leads to nothing actually being prioritized thus precluding a person’s ability to engage in consideration of experience. As the text states: “And Lavan went to shear his flocks.” Allegorically this means; “And the stratifying of what was prodding in experience went to cut short his consideration.” Furthermore, being an auxiliary behavior of Lavan, Rachel was also the culprit. As stated: “And Rachel was stealing the Teraphim that were to her father.” These were idols intended to bring prosperity from the root TaRaPh (תרף) which in Arabic means “to live in opulence and luxury.” However in Amharic and Sabaic, it means “left over, residual, excessive and superfluous.” Rachel, his exploring experience while wandering about, also led to a loss of focus and an exploration of superfluous things. It was therefore necessary for Yaaqov to limit the actions represented by Lavan. Therefore, he stole “the heart of Lavan, the Aramean.” The word for heart (LaeBh – לב) also signifies a person’s drive, will and determination. So Yaaqov stole away the determination of his stratifying of what was prodding in experience, on account of the fact that it was elevated, heightened and excessive (Aramean, ארמי , from רם).

A chase ensues, It repersents a contest between a person’s ability to grab at what comes around and investigate (Yaaqov), in opposition to a person’s repetitive attempts to stratify and prioritize experience as new things that are prodding are encountered (Lavan). In contemporary terms, it is the battle between trying to focus of one thing and multitask at the same time. Here the story comes full circle with Yaaqov’s picking up a stone and setting it as a pillar (MaTsaebhah – מצבה). From the root NiTsaBh (נצב), which in Hebrew means “to set straight-upright and to stand defiantly,” the Arabic cognate also means “to exert oneself.” The stone, representing what is encountered in experience that sticks out prominently, signifies the thing with which one must exert oneself. It signifies Yaaqov’s taking the time to investigate one particular thing from experience and no longer be distracted by Lavan’s constant attempts to stratify and prioritize another thing.

With much to be dealt with in experience, a limit and boundary must be set. Again Yaaqov refers to a group of men with him as brothers. These “brothers,” representing those pointing things out and instructing about experience, glean more stones (things sticking out prominently) such that a heap is built up. Yaaqov calls this heap, GaL\aeD (גלעד) “a revealing of what is evident.” Whereas in Aramaic, Lavan (his stratifying what is prodding in experience) calls it, “what tugs and drags, as a result of its being acknowledged.” The purpose of the boundary is to ensure that in stratifying what is encountered in experience, Lavan does not present anything beyond what is already revealed and currently being dealt with. This is the meaning of the statement: “If I were to pass beyond this heap (what is revealed) toward you.” Whereas in making an investigation of something specific, Yaaqov must not abandon the particular thing with which he is exerting himself. This is indicated by the statement: “And if you were to pass over this heap and this pillar toward me, for evil (regarded as a poor performance).”

When we move through and encounter many different aspects of experience, we are surely of two minds, trying to maintain two perspectives. On the one hand, we attempt to give our full attention to what is stirred up in experience, to what sticks out prominently. On the other hand, we wish to maintain a gestalt view of all that is happening around us so that we can respond to something that pokes and prods us from experience. These two perspectives are reflected in the line: אֱלֹהֵי אַבְרָהָם וֵאלֹהֵי נָחוֹר יִשְׁפְּטוּ בֵינֵינוּ אֱלֹהֵי אֲבִיהֶם “G-d’s Guidance of Avraham and G-d’s Guidance of Nachor shall judge between us, G-d’s Guidance of their fathers.” Allegorically, this statement does not distinguish between two G-ds, but rather between the different type of guidance obtained from G-d as a result of the two different perspectives from which G-d’s guidance is viewed. Avraham means “one’s spreading out so as to take notice of the many things stirred up in experience.”14 Whereas Nachor means “one’s being prodded by experience.” While it is important to take notice of sudden and unexpected things that arise out of the complex fabric of existence, without the ability to stop and examine particular things we would never be able to advance our understanding of the world around us. Our mind must be able to look at the world from both perspectives, we must be able to see the world around us as two camps (MaHhaNayim – מחנים) – that of Yaaqov and Avraham and that of Lavan and Nachor.

1 – SheBha\ (שבע) seven, Although with a shin, this word appears to have been derived from the similar root with a letter sin, SaBha\ understood as satiated, it derives from either NaBha\ (נבע – to swell or well up) or Ba\aH (בעה – to bubble up, boil). Perhaps it means the number seven because it fulfills a period of one week, although this too is not completely clear. Metaphorically, from context and this etymology it means “being satiated by what bubbles up” or just “a bubbling up of something.
2 – ELoHim (אלהים) – most derive Eloah (אלוה) / Elohim (אלהים) from אל. I believe that the word evolved from LaWaH (לוה) meaning to escort and guide. Hence, initially the word Elohim (אלהים) referred to the pantheon of gods, whose purported purpose was to guide and escort humanity. With the advent of monotheism, the word was used with a singular verb to represent G-d, but continued to be used to represent the pantheons of others, a council of judges and people of similar purpose.
3 – Sha\aR (שער) Although not at all related to the roots Sh\R (שער) & S\R (סער) which all mean “to stir up” in one way or another, but allegorically the word for gate is used that way as a play on words.
4 – El (אל) G-d, meaning one advancing forward with initiative such as in el (אל) to, toward; El (אל) G-d (=one advancing forward experience); ayil (איל) ram forward; Ya/aL (יאל) to endeavor to advance forward etc
5 – TsoN (צאן) essentially means “what holds back”. Cognate with Arabic S^WN-S^/N (to protect / guard/ safeguard, preserve, conserve, sustain; seclude o.s, protect o.s, be chaste); Th^N ((regard = re – guard >) to think, believe, deem, suspect, suppose, consider, presume); and D^N (to keep back, be stingy, thrifty, meager >) in due consideration of
6 – GaLaL (גלל) from the root GaLaH (גלה) to roll up, roll out, reveal. The related roots all have the same essential meaning
7 – Py (פי) mouth, from the word PeH (פה) which evolved from B’ (ב – in) > BoW/ (בוא – to go / come in)
8 – GaDoL (גדול) great / complex / interwoven; from GaDaL (גדל) from GaD (גד) to cut across. Hence its etymology: to cut across > braid / weave / twist make intricate / elaborate > to pile up / grow larger; can be seen in the Syriac: to twist, plait, interweave, compose words artfully, make intricate plans; and Arabic: to stretch a rope > to braid / plait, (interwoven argument > ) to debate, bicker, contest, and dispute
9 – LaBhaN (לבן) means both white and brick. The verb means to layer bricks. A comparison of related words indicate that this root means to layer out and stratify things such as LaBhaSh (to layer clothing – לבש), LaBhaBh (to layer a cake – לבב), ShaLaBh (to join layers, rungs of a ladder – שלב), HhaLaBh (milk, what layers out – חלב) and L’BhoNah (frankincense, what layers out – לבונה). In Arabic it means undertaking, enterprise, object, wish, aim, and goal.
10 – \eDeR (עדר) from the verb meaning to hold back, sequester; related to Amharic: trust, deposit, safe-keeping, care, custody
11 – \eReBh (ערב – evening, to mix, confuse) comes from the verb \aRaH (ערה – to pour out). A mixing of day and night.
12 – Yoseph (יוסף) In naming Yoseph, the text says that G-d’s guidance (Elohim) was remembering (being clear minded), attentive to and opening the womb of Rachel and gathering in (/aSaPh = אסף) [her] censure-taunt-sharply jabbing. The word ReHheM (רחם – womb), from the root RaWaHh (רוח – wide) means facilitating expansiveness for someone or something. These are the supplemental behaviors that allow roaming about to be an effective way of gathering in information. Therefore, allegorically Yoseph means “a person’s repeatedly gathering in another thing that is jabbing of G-d’s bringing forth of existence, in exploring while roaming about, being clear minded, attentive and receptive to G-d’s guidance found in experience.”
13 – SaKhaR (שכר) from KaRaH (כרה – to dig, to buy) which evolved into both MaKhaR (מכר to sell) and SaKhaR (שכר – to hire, pay a wage, reward). Essentially meaning to dig into > prod.
14 – Avraham (אברהם) a person’s spreading out so as to take notice of and willingly give forth of oneself to experience, comes from /aBhaR or /eBaeR (אבר – to extend outward, spread wings, take flight) + HaMoN (המון), those that are stirred up, from HaMaH (המה – to stir up). Also the name contains hints of the verb /aBhaH (אבה), meaning “to willingly give forth of oneself” in Hebrew and “to take notice” in Arabic.

A.F.L Beeston, M.A. Ghul, W.W. Muller, J. Ryckmans (1982) Sabaic Dictionary. Publication of the University of Sanaa, Yar

Ernest Klein (1987) A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company

Hans Wehr. Ed by J Milton Cowan (1979) Hans Wehr A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic. Ithaca, NY: Published in the United States by Spoken Languages Services, Inc with permission of Otto Harrassowitz

Jeremy Black, Andrew George, Nicholas Postgate, eds., A Concise Dictionary ofAkkadian, 2nd corrected printing (Santag Arbeiten und Untersuchungen Zur Keilschriftkunde, 5; Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2000)

Marcus Jastrow (1996) A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushlami, and the Midrashic Literature.New York: The Judaica Press

J. Payne Smith’s (1999) A Compendious Syriac Dictionary. Published by Wipf and Stock

David Kantrowitz (1991 – 2009) Judaic Classics version 3.4. Institute for Computers in Jewish Life, Davka Corp., and/or Judaica Press, Inc.

G. del Olmo Lete & J. Sanmartin (2003) A Dictionary of the Ugaritic Language in the Alphabetic Tradition. Leiden: Brill. Translated by Wilfred G.E. Watson

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About the Author
David Kolinsky is a retired physician born and raised in Monsey, New York. While living in Monterey California, David initially lived as a secular, agnostic Jew. However, in his spare time, he delved into twenty years of daily study of Hebrew etymology and Torah study culminating in the writing of an etymological dictionary of Biblical Hebrew and a metaphorical translation of Torah. Abandoning his agnostic views, David was simultaneously a spiritual leader of the world's smallest conservative synagogue, a teacher in his local reform synagogue, and a gabbai at Chabad. He is currently sheltering in place with his family in his new home in Plano, Texas.
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