Reading the Torah, sometimes, can give a false impression of reading a story, albeit the greatest story ever written. This Divine drama involves colorful characters, sophisticated plots, jealousy, sibling rivalry, deception, struggle, suffering and every human emotion.
The profound insight brought to light by the Kabbalah—the esoteric interpretation of Torah—was the realization that the human drama played out by Biblical characters is also a mashal—a metaphor or an allegory—that alludes to spiritual forces interacting in higher worlds. Actually, from the point of view of Jewish mysticism, whatever happens down here, first takes place in the spiritual worlds and only later (or, on lower levels, from the point of view of seder hishtalshelut—the unfolding of creation) manifests itself in the physical realm. Every Biblical hero, from the point of view of the Kabbalah, is an embodiment and personification of a supernal spiritual prototype.
The physical Abraham (Avraham), in the Kabbalah mysticism, is an embodiment of the midat ha-hesed—Godly attribute, sephirah, of kindness; Issac (Yitzchak) is a personification of the midat ha-gevurah—Godly attribute, sephirah, of strength and strict judgment. Jacob (Yaakov) is an earthly embodiment of the spiritual construct called partzuf Zeer Anpin—configuration of a “small visage,” also called the Z”A. The sisters, our matriarchs, Leah and Rachel, are personifications of spiritual Partzuf Leah and Partzuf Rachel respectively, which are two aspects of the Nukva d’Z”A—the “mate” of the Zeer Anpin. Because in spiritual worlds Partzuf Leah and Partzuf Rachel are coupled with the Z”A, in the physical worlds, two sisters are married to Jacob, who is the physical embodiment of the Z”A.
Thus every Biblical story is read in the Kabbalah as an allegory to a spiritual dynamics unfolding in higher realms (in addition, of course, to its literal meaning). In other words, according to the Kabbalah, Biblical stories also teach us about the spiritual laws.
It seems to me, however, that Torah also contains profound allegories to fundamental laws of nature. It has been the purpose of this blog to uncover some of these parallels and allusions, which go both ways—sometimes, physics helps to understand difficult Biblical passages otherwise defying rational explanation; other times, the Torah lays out or, at least, sheds light on the laws of nature. Indeed, how can it be otherwise? The Midrash says, God looked in the Torah and created the world (Midrash Raba, Gen. 1:1). The Torah, therefore, can be seen, inter alia, as the blueprint of the physical world. It is no surprise, therefore, that the Torah should teach us about nature. Such lessons, however, are hard to glean from the Biblical text. These insights are rare gifts from above. The Torah portion Vayeitzei holds such a gift for us. Reading this Torah portion, I recalled an old lesson in physical chemistry.
In my post, Jacob’s Ladder, I wrote on this Torah portion earlier, I suggested how Jacob’s dream hints at the atomic structure of matter. To continue this topic further, let us recall that an atom is comprised of a positively charged nucleus surrounded by negatively charged electrons “orbiting” the nucleus on discrete elliptical orbitals. According to the laws of quantum mechanics, every orbit or shell can be populated by a certain number of electrons, say, the first innermost orbit can have only two electrons, the second shell can have eight, etc. Electrons populating the outermost shell are the ones that mostly determine the chemical properties of the atom, because chemical reactions are driven by electrical forces acting between atoms, which are mostly due to electrons on the outermost shell of the atom. Usually an atom is neutral, because the number of negatively-charged electrons is exactly equal to the positively charged protons in the atom’s nucleus. However, if an atom has extra electrons on the outermost shell it will be negatively charged. Such atoms are called negative ions. If the outermost shell is missing a few electrons, the atom will be positively charged. Such atoms are called positive ions.
Some atoms easily “lend” or “borrow” their electrons to or from other nearby atoms forming ions as they try to fill their outer shell, thereby attaining more stability. Sodium, for example, has one electron in its outer shell and will happily give it up to another atom to have a full shell, which is the shell below. From the point of view of quantum mechanics, when two atoms are close together, the electrons on the outer shell may distribute themselves over two atoms to create most stable configuration.
Metals are particularly known to easily give up their electrons (which is why they are such good conductors). Nonmetal elements are happy to borrow electrons from others. The element most likely to borrow electrons is chlorine (Cl). Compounds formed by the transfer of electrons from one atom to another are said to be electrovalent, and electrons, which can be borrowed, are called valence electrons. These electrons create bonds between atoms.
Take, for example, sodium chloride (NaCl)—regular table salt. An atom of chloride (Cl) receives its eight electrons (positioned on the outer shell) from the nearby atom of sodium (Na), which donates its outmost electrons and retracts to the lower stable orbit.
Enough chemistry. What does this all have to do with the Torah portion we are discussing? Let’s read the following dialog from this Torah portion:
And Rachel saw that she had not borne [any children] to Jacob, and Rachel envied her sister, and she said to Jacob, “Give me children, and if not, I am dead.” And Jacob became angry with Rachel, and he said, “Am I instead of God, Who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” (Gen. 30:1-2)
Great kabbalist Ari (the Ari”zal) explains this seemingly simple dialog as follows: Jacob reveals to his wife, Rachel, that her infertility is due to the lack of the letter “ה” (Heh) in her name. Indeed, Jacobs’s grandparents, Avram and Sarai, had been barren until God added letter the “ה” (Heh) to their names changing them respectively to Avraham (Abraham) and Sarah. Jacob’s mother, Rivkah had the letter “ה” in her name and so did Jacob’s other wife, Leah. Only Rachel among all Jewish matriarchs was missing the letter “ה“. Letter Heh is seen as the essence of femininity. In Hebrew grammar, nouns ending with the letter “ה” are usually of feminine gender. In Kabbalah, this letter “ה” signifies the sephirah-emanation of Malchut, which is the ultimate feminine archetype. Lacking the feminine letter “ה” (Heh), Rachel was unable to bear children. According to the Ari”zal, this mystery is hinted at in the above verse. The phrase “Am I instead of God?” in Hebrew reads “הֲתַחַת אֱלֹ-הִים אָנֹכִי” (hatachat Elo-him Anochi?) The numerical value (gematriah) of the Divine name, ELo-HiM, is 86 (Alef=1, Lamed=30, Heh=5, Yud=10, Mem=40. 1+30+5+10+40=86). The numerical value of the word “ANoChi” (“I”) is 81 (Alef=1, Nun=50, Chof=20, Yud=10. 1+50+20+10=81). By stating emphatically that he is not God (Am I instead of God?!) Jacob hints to Rachel on the missing letter “ה” whose gematriah (numerical value) is 5: 86-81=5!
Jacob further hints to Rachel that the solution is in her maidservant, Bilhah, who has two letters “ה” in her name—Bilhah—one for Rachel and one for herself. All Rachel needed to do was to borrow this letter “ה” from Bilhah and they would both will conceive. Rachel gets the message as we read in the very next verse:
So she said, “Here is my maidservant Bilhah; come to her, and she will bear [children] on my knees, so that I, too, will be built up from her.” (Gen. 30:3)
Indeed Bilhah soon conceives:
So she gave him her maidservant Bilhah for a wife, and Jacob came to her. And Bilhah conceived, and she bore Jacob a son. (Gen. 30: 5)
And then Rachel conceives as well:
And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and He opened her womb. (Gen. 30:22)
Thus far is the Ari”zal. To summarize this interpretation, Rachel was missing letter “ה” (Heh) in her name while her maidservant Bilhah had an extra letter “ה“. As a consequence, both were barren. Redistributing the extra letter “ה” from Bilhah to Rachel (both closely related as twin systers, according to Midrash Seder Olam or, at least as half-sisters, according to Midrash Raba, Gen. 74:14) allowed them both to conceive. Two barren women were healed by redistributing an extra letter between their respective names. (Actually, no change in their names occurred, such as with Avraham and Sarah. Being Rachel’s handmade, Bilhah belonged to her and, therefore, her name, as it were, belonged to Rachel as well. Rachel only needed to realize that and give Bilhah to Jacob to achieve this effect).
Now compare this to two elements, one missing five electrons on its outer shell and the other having five extra electrons on its outer shell, both being in unstable (“unhealthy”) state. Being close together allows them redistribute extra electrons that both elements achieving stable (“healthy”) state.
As an icing on the cake, let me add that the root of Chloride (the element most likely to borrow electrons) is “Chlor.” Spelled in Hebrew letters, it is Chet, Lamed and Resh—the same letters that spell the name RaCheL!
If you recall, metals usually donate their electrons. “Barzel” (iron or metal in Hebrew) is also an acronym for Jacob’s four wives: Bilhah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Leah.