We are all familiar with the Yesod that Hashem is incorporeal, having no physical existence whatsoever. This notion confronts us constantly when we recite Yigdal, אין לו דמות הגוף ואינו גוף. At first glance, it seems that our Parsha challenges this idea.
At the beginning of פרק מו when Yaakov is traveling to Egypt, he comes to Beer Sheva where Hashem communicates with him. In פסוק ד, Yaakov is told three things. The Pasuk begins with saying, אנכי ארד עמך מצרימה, that Hashem will go down with Yaakov to Egypt.
The pasuk continues by saying, ואנכי אעלך גם עלה, that Hashem will certainly raise Yaakov up. Finally, the pasuk concludes by saying ויוסף ישית ידו על עיניך, that Yoseph will place his hand on the eyes of Yaakov. How are these three parts related? How can we understand Hashem's motion?
The first element in this pasuk does seem to imply movement, a physical phenomenon, on the part of Hashem. Hashem is going down to Mitzrayim with Yaakov. Does Hashem travel, does He move from place to place? If Hashem moves from point A to point B, can we really say that Hashem is no longer present at point A? We should all recall the phrase from ישעיה recited at every קדושה, מלא כל הארץ כבודו, that Hashem's Honor fills all the land.
The Ramban commenting on the aforementioned discusses the question of the Rambam in מורה נבוכים on the Targum of אונקלוס. The Rambam points out that אונקלוס usually goes out of his way to reinterpret פסוקים that give Hashem physical attributes. Where movement is implied on Hashem's behalf, אונקלוס will usually ascribe it to Hashem's כבוד or השגחה. However, in our פסוק, אונקלוס interprets it literally, saying Hashem is going down to Egypt. The Rambam answers that since Yaakov received this message במראת הלילה, in night visions, it merely represents what Yaakov was told as opposed to representing what actually happened. Therefore, the Torah tells us that Yaakov was told that Hashem will go down with him and not that Hashem actually did go down. Hence, according to the Rambam, no movement is really implied. We see that the Rambam wanted to concentrate on the existential quality of movement as it relates to Hashem, with no relevance to our perceptions.
The Ramban, on the other hand, chooses to refocus the comment of אונקלוס to be in tune with the Gemara (מגילה כט.) which says that ר' שמעון בן יוחי urges us to see how beloved כלל ישראל is to Hashem, for after all, every place we were exiled to, the שכינה went with us. The first example he brings us is that of Egypt - גלו למצרים שכינה עמהן. The Ramban explains that since this refers to His essence, the שכינה, there is no other way for אונקלוס to accurately translate it. In this sense the Ramban is not concentrating on the objective quality of movement on the part of Hashem, but on our perception of the שכינה, the Divine Presence. This פשט runs smoothly through the three elements in our פסוק. Hashem's presence should be perceived as accompanying Yaakov to give him confidence. Then Hashem's presence is to be perceived as causing Yaakov to travel, after death, to his burial site. Finally, the divine spark, which is in all of us, is to be perceived as it is leaving after physical death such as when Yosef shuts the eyes of Yaakov upon his passing.
We operate daily with both the messages of the Ramban and the Rambam. With reference to Hashem's presence, we attempt to act differently when we are in Shul or Beit Midrash. In theses places we engage Hashem in a more personal way and are more aware of His presence. However, the Ramban would not be in favor of acting inappropriately just because one is not davening or laining. Indeed, he would agree with the Rambam that ultimately, דע לפני מי אתה עומד applies wherever one stands. With Hashem's help we should keep these ideas on our minds and let them mold our actions for the benefit of all mankind.