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If G-d changed Jacob's name to Israel, why is he still called Jacob?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

The Torah says1 that the name Yisrael (Israel) means "for you have striven with Divine [Esau's archangel] and with man [Esau and Laban] and have overcome."

Rashi explains (on the same verse) that Esau's angel declared "it will no longer be said that you deserve the name Yaakov (Jacob) - which implies deceit and trickery2 -- because you obtained Isaac's blessings deceitfully. Instead you will receive the name Yisrael which means superiority and nobility; it will be acknowledged that you received the blessing because you were the more deserving brother.

Jacob is what we are called when we are in exile and persecuted... The name Israel has the same letters as "my master." This is the level of the Jews when they are in a state of spiritual and physical redemption.
According to Chassidic teachings, his descendants, the Jewish People, contain both the Jacob and Israel elements. Jacob is what we are called when we are in exile and persecuted, for the word Jacob stands for "Yud Akaiv" -- The G-dly soul, which is represented by the letter yud, is in the level of akaiv (the heel). When we are in exile it is often-times necessary to use slyness and shrewdness to be able to study the Torah and do the mitzvahs despite the daily hardships which we encounter.

The name Israel has the same letters as "sar lee" (my master). This is the level of the Jews when they are in a state of spiritual and physical redemption.

Since there is virtue in both overcoming challenges (exile) and in being beyond them (redemption), the Torah continues to call him both Jacob and Israel.

Footnotes

  • 1. Genesis 32:29.
  • 2. See Genesis 27:36.

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