Where wast thou, when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Declare, since thou hast such knowledge!
Who fixed its dimensions, since thou knowest?
Or who stretched out the line upon it?
Upon what were its foundations fixed?
And who laid its corner-stone,
When the morning stars sang together,
And all the sons of God shouted for joy? – Job
In the ancient Talmud it states:
The Holy One, blessed be He, cast a stone into the ocean, from which the world then was founded as it is said: Whereupon were the foundations thereof fastened, or who laid the corner-stone thereof?
The Zohar, written in medieval Spain, elaborates:
When the Holy One, blessed be He, was about to create the world, He detached one precious stone from underneath His throne of glory and plunged it into the abyss; one end of it remained fastened therein, while the other end stood out above. Out of the latter the world started, spreading itself to the right and left and into all directions.
This stone is the even ha-shetiyah, the foundation stone of the universe, the seed point or navel of creation. There are many legends associated with it. When God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, it was on this stone that Isaac was bound. When Jacob slept and dreamed of a ladder between heaven and earth, with angels ascending and descending, it was this stone he used as a pillow. Afterwards he named the place Beth El (House of God), set up the stone as a pillar, and anointed it with oil.
The most important legends concern the Temple of Solomon. It is said the King David rediscovered the stone while digging the foundations of the Temple. He recognised it by the sacred four-letter name of God scribed upon it. He took the stone, and it was subsequently set in the Holy of Holies as the altar for the Ark of the Covenant. It is synonymous with Zion, and is the centre from which blessings flow to the entire world.
There is a tradition that sages feared someone learning the sacred name on the stone, and so they set up two brazen lions at the entrance to the Holy of Holies. If someone did penetrate the sanctuary and learn the name, the lions would roar so loudly as to drive all knowledge of the name from that person’s mind.
In Kabbalah the even ha-shetiyah symbolises the Shekhinah, God’s Holy Presence in this world, and also the sefira Malkut. There is a tradition that when the stone was cast out of the upper world, it left behind a hole that is known on the Tree of Life as Da’at (knowledge). It is the task of human beings to perform the great work of restoring Malkhut to its position in Da’at.
The Foundation Stone of the Universe is an important symbol in Freemasonry, and draws heavily upon Jewish lore for its basis. There is a tradition that Solomon, knowing the Temple was destined to be destroyed, prepared a secret chamber under the Temple for the sacred objects within the Holy of Holies. It may have been this chamber that the original medieval Knights of the Temple sought to find. There are legends that the stone was indeed recovered. One of the more important of the Grail legends, Parsifal by Wolfram von Eschenbach, asserts that the Grail was in fact a lapis exilis, a stone that fell from Heaven.