From Nothing…

In Hebrew, the question "where [am I/are you] from?" (מאין) contains the answer. "Where from?" literally reads "from nothing."

The first appearance in the Torah of the question "where from?" is in the story of Jacob on his way to Haran, about to meet and fall in love (at first sight) with Rachel. (He was 77 years old at the time.) He came to a well and found there a group of shepherds whom he asked, "My brothers, where are you from?" They answered, "We are from Haran."

The conversation continues: "And he said to them, 'Do you know Laban the son of Nachor?', and they said, 'We know him.' And he said to them, 'Is he well?', and they said, 'He is well, and behold Rachel his daughter is coming with the sheep.'"

When a tzadik asks someone else a question, he asks himself the same question simultaneously. When Jacob asked the shepherds, "Where are you from?" he asked himself the same question, "Where am I from?" This is alluded to by the fact that he preceded his question with the word "My brothers," thereby connecting to their soul-root (in Hebrew, "brother" means "sewed together"). Jacob was coming from Israel (then the Land of Canaan). The spiritual origin of Israel (both the souls of Israel and the Land of Israel) is the Divine nothing (as the Ba'al Shem Tov read the dictum of the sages that "nothing is the soul-root of Israel"). The shepherds, on the other hand, were coming from Haran, which in Hebrew means a place of anger (the opposite of feeling oneself to be nothing).

In the shepherd's answer to his question Jacob heard the answer to the question he asked himself – they are from anger and I am from nothing. This was the necessary preparation for him to encounter his soul-mate, Rachel. They both came from a common source – the Divine nothing (the origin of all Jewish souls).

As soon as he heard the shepherds say, "Rachel his daughter is coming with the sheep" (this is the first time that Rachel's name is mentioned in the Torah) he knew that she was his predestined soul-mate (beshert, in Yiddish). He heard Divine Providence speaking through their words. The average value of the five words (in Hebrew), "Rachel his daughter is coming with the sheep" (רחל בתו באה עם הצאן) is 182 (7 times 26, God's essential Name Havayah), which equals Jacob (יעקב). Hearing these words Jacob sensed that he and Rachel and the sheep – in Kabbalah we learn that all the souls of Israel were present in the sheep – are one. Combining Jacob (יעקב, 182), Rachel (רחל, 238), and sheep (צאן, 141) gives 561 = "My brothers, where are you from?" (אחי מאין אתם).


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