The father of the children of Israel.

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The Pillar of Truth

The statement in the Talmud (Taanit 5b) that Jacob did not die, since Scripture, while speaking of Jacob's embalming and burial, does not actually say, as it does of the other patriarchs, that he died, was undoubtedly meant to be figurative. Yet in the Middle Ages it was taken literally and the legend developed that Jacob did not, in fact, die and that he awaits patiently, in the Cave of Mahpelah, the final redemption of his children; there is a resemblance here to the legends about King Arthur and similar folk-heroes in other cultures.

In the Kabbalistic doctrine of the Sefirot, the powers in the Godhead, Jacob represents the power known as Tiferet ("Beauty"), the male principle, so to speak. The Zohar, for instance, sees each of the patriarchs as representing one of the Sefirot: Abraham, Hesed, the divine loving-kindness;  Isaac, Gevurah, the divine judgement; and Jacob, Tiferet, the power through which harmony is brought about between loving-kindness and judgement.

Hence Abraham is "the pillar of loving-kindness;"  Isaac, "the pillar of judgement;"  and Jacob, "the pillar of truth," since truth is arrived at when apparently contradictory principles are reconciled. In the Lurianic Kabbalah, the two wives of Jacob represent two different aspects of the female element in the Godhead, the Sefirah Malkut, Sovereignty, also known as the Shekhinah. Already in the Rabbinic literature there is found an attempt to elevate Jacob to what cones close to a divine rank, as when it is said that the image of Jacob is engraved on the divine throne. Yet here it is only the "image" of Jacob that is on the throne. The Kabbalah is somewhat less reserved. While in the Kabbalah generally the patriarchs are no more than symbols for the Sefirot, yet with regard to Moses  (also representing Tiferet) and Jacob it is said in the Zohar that they became "the consort of the Shekhina," Moses even during his lifetime, Jacob at his death. On this Tishby remarks:  "Here we can see the process of transition from a normal symbolic state to an identification of symbol with the thing symbolized, and this leads almost to the deification of the most outstanding men." Tishby rightly qualifies this extraordinary idea by using the word "almost" since nowhere in Jewish literature and thought do we find anything even remotely like the Christian doctrine of the  Incarnation.

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.