DEVOTEE: What is the meaning of the name Israel?
RABBI: This must be one of the most esoteric questions you could ask. According to the early Kabbalists, the 231 gates are alluded to in the name Israel. In Hebrew, Israel is spelled YisraEl, which literally means, "there are 231." "The Midrash states that at the beginning of creation, 'Israel rose in thought,' The name Israel thus alludes to the fact that creation took place through these 231 gates. According to the later Kabbalists, those 231 gates are what remained in the Vacated Space that preceded creation." [Sefer Yetzirah 2:4]
DEVOTEE: Your mention of Israel as existing as the vacated space preceding creation is interesting. The Vedas also describe the unmanifested material energy, known in Sanskrit as pradhana. It is from this energy that the whole material creation becomes manifest. You said that at the beginning of creation, "Israel rose in thought". The Vedas describe how everything is manifested from subtle to gross. The subtlest thing in the material creation is the false ego or the material conception of life. In other words, from that original misconception that life comes from matter, and under the influence of the three modes of material nature, the entire gross and subtle elements of the material world become manifest. This is described in the thirteenth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita.
I am also looking at the word Israel from another perspective. Israel, in a broad sense seems to refer to the entire material creation. On that basis, "Israelites" referred to throughout the Torah could, in a broader sense, be referring to much more than the multitudes of people who Moses led out of Egypt by God's order. It could be pertaining to all people in this world because all people are expected to follow the laws of God and to return to God's abode. Regardless of whether one's religion is Jewish, Hinduism, Christianity, etc., he is meant to follow the laws of God. God loves all living entities in this world, not just those who may designate themselves as belonging to a particular religious path. What do you think, Rabbi?
RABBI: Yes, I agree. God's love and mercy are unlimited, and He would certainly not restrict that mercy to a particular group of people. You should be aware that Israel is also another name for the Bride referenced to in the Song of Songs, as well as being the same as the letter He in YHVH.
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