Judaism: Yaakov Becomes Israel
Moshe KempinskiMoshe Kempinski, author of "The Teacher and the Preacher", is the editor of the Jerusalem Insights weekly email journal and co-owner of Shorashim, a Biblical shop and learning center in the Old City of Jerusalem.
We are living in a time in which the first sparks of dawn have begun to spread their light throughout the world. The confusion and the darkness that has covered the world for so very long is slowly beginning to dissolve away. Events, challenges and calamities are beginning to interconnect in such a way so that their purpose is slowly becoming revealed and understood.
The experience is similar to that of waking from a dream.
"When Hashem brought back the captives to Zion, we were as dreamers."(Psalms 126 :1).
We are all beginning to try to connect the dots and make sense of history and destiny. Yet the darkness has not yet dissipated completely and dark clouds continue to cover the emerging daybreak. This reality of experiencing together light and darkness, Clarity and hiddenness, is all ensconced in the constant switching between the names of Yaacov and Israel in Tanach.
The Netziv (Ha'amek Davar Bereishit 35:10,) explains that the name Yaakov is used at times when our forefather was continuing forward in the natural path of our reality, while the name Israel describes how our forefather moved forward towards Hashem's plan of destiny aided supernaturally. This insight will help explain why the names Yaakov and Israel are used so intermittently even after Hashem declares "Your name is Yaacov, but you will no longer be called Yaacov; your name will be Israel.(Genesis 35:10).
This is so radically different from what we know of Avraham ;"No longer will you be called Avram; your name will be Avraham, for I have made you a father of many nations."(Genesis 17:5). It seems that with Avraham the name change created within him a new entity. Yaacov on the other hand was going to embody both aspects of existence ensconced by both of his names.(Meshech Chochma Genesis 35:10.)
What is true of Yaacov our forefather is true in the experience of his descendants. This is in keeping with the ancient understanding that "Maaseh Avot Siman LeBanim" (Ramban ; Genesis 12:6), the actions of the forefathers become signposts for their children in their own journey.
Our sages describe that the Divine Presence which had left Yaacov during his twenty two years of sadness mourning Joseph, had returned upon hearing that he was still alive. As our sages teach “prophecy does not dwell where there is laziness or sadness -only where there is happiness (shabbat 30b). Ruach Hakodesh, Divine Inspiration, cannot reside in the midst of those lost in sadness. The surprising, but wonderful news that Joseph was in Egypt and still alive , allowed for Yaacov to be filled with Divine Inspiration once again.
This change is clearly evident in the name change that occurs from one verse to another.
We read that ".. and when he saw the wagons which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Yaacov their father revived." Immediately following that, we read “And Israel said: 'It is enough; Joseph my son is yet alive; I will go and see him before I die.". Yaacov is his name in the midst of the trials and tribulations of exile, while Israel is his name in the unfolding fulfillment of destiny.
This helps explain another interesting juxtaposition of the names. After hearing the astounding news regarding Joseph we read “And Israel and all that was his set out and came to Beer Sheva, and he slaughtered sacrifices to the G-d of his father Isaac. (ibid 46:1). Yet immediately ,we read; "And G-d said to Israel in visions of the night, and He said, "Yaacov, Yaacov!" And he said, "Here I am." And He said, "I am G-d, the G-d of your father. Do not be afraid of going down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. (ibid ;2-3). Hashem is telling him that though his descent into Egypt will be filed with the harsh difficulties of reality (Yaacov), it is in keeping with the plan of destiny (Israel)
Even more dramatically we read a little bit further that " And Yaacov arose from Beer Sheva, and the sons of Israel carried their father Yaacov and their young children and their wives, in the wagons Pharaoh had sent to carry him."( ibid; 5)
The sons of Israel ,those that were , those that are and even those that will, be are commanded to carry the aspect of “Yaacov” forward along Hashem’s plan of destiny, regardless of the obstacles that may arise . This is so because that is the destiny of Israel.
Mankind in our days is faced with three options.
It can ignore Hashem’s plan of destiny. It can try to oppose it .Mankind is also given the option to become part of the plan.
That is part of the awakening dawn that we are experiencing. When I was growing up, my father z”l used to tell ne that when we live in Canada we can read and study the Tanach, but when we return to Israel we will actually become Tanach.
In Israel, we become prophecy fulfilled. That is how Yaacov becomes an Israel.