By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Makom means place. A place humming with Jewish activity is known as a makom Torah.

If, heaven forbid, you receive a disapproving frown when you sit down in shul, it may be that you have inadvertently occupied someones makom kavuah, regular place. (Of course, you should never receive, and still less, give disapproving frowns for any reason in shul)

A surprising and interesting use of the word makom is as a name of God. Mitzvot such as Shabbat and kashrut, which do not directly involve other people, are known as mitzvot bein adam vMakom, mitzvot between people and God.

A traditional way of comforting mourners is to say HaMakom yenachem otcha, May The Place (God) comfort you.

The Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 68:5) explains the insight behind this usage: He is the place of the world, and the world is not His place. God is not found in any particular location, rather, God is immanent in all places.

Perhaps this explains why the word makom is used for God in the two examples above. Mitzvot bein adam vMakom are not directed to a particular person but towards God who is omnipresent: the formula HaMakom yenachem reminds the mourner that God, the source of comfort is not distant, but may be found anywhere.

Last updated: 12:33pm, March 6 2009