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Then Yaakov inquired and he said, “Tell, if you please, your name.” And he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” and he blessed him there (Bereishis 32:30).
In the aftermath of Yaakov’s victory over Esav’s guardian angel, Yaakov asked the angel for his name. The angel evaded the question by responding “why do you seek to know my name?” Rashi explains that in essence the angel explained that it is not important to know his name because with each mission he receives a new name.
The commentators explain that a name defines the essence of a person or object. Chazal further tell us that Esav’s guardian angel is nothing other than the evil inclination. When Yaakov asked the angel for his name he was in truth seeking an understanding of the essence of the evil inclination. Yaakov wished to have an understanding of the evil inclination so that he could guard himself accordingly. The angel’s response is interpreted by the commentators as meaning that it impossible to truly understand the evil inclination because it constantly changes and adjusts to undermine man in any given situation.
Homiletically we may suggest the angel did tell Yaakov his true name. The angel answered Yaakov by stating that his name is “Why do you seek to know my name.” We may further suggest that because the angel was acting as nothing other than an agent of Hashem, the mention of “my name” is truly a reference to the Name of Hashem. The angel was stating that his mission in this world is to poison the spirituality of man by telling man “Why bother seek the name of Hashem?” Why bother pursue a life of spirituality? Enjoy the good of this world for its own sake.
Using this idea we may look upon the dialogue of Yaakov and Esav’s guardian angel in light of another homiletic approach. The commentators explain that Yaakov was well aware of the tradition that Esav hates Yaakov. Chazal teach us that this hatred will never cease to exist. Yaakov was trying to ascertain from the guardian angel the root cause of this hatred. Perhaps if we had an understanding of this hatred we could be more sensitive as not to provoke Esav to hate us more than necessary. If we take the posuk literally the angel evaded the question by refusing to reveal the root cause of his hatred. However with the above idea we have an answer to the age old question of “why do they hate us so much?” The answer is our quest of spirituality. The essence of Esav’s hatred for Yaakov stems from Esav’s wonder of “Why do you purse the name of Hashem?” Esav’s hatred stems from his jealousy in that he is aware that Yaakov has the ability to control his passions and use the good of this would only as a means to serve Hashem. Esav’s weakness lies in his lack of ability to control his passions. Esav can only enjoy this world for its own sake. He is the one that does not seek the name of Hashem and cannot tolerate why others do.
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Hashem said to him, “Your name is Yaakov; Your name shall no longer be called Yaakov but Yisroel shall be your name.” And He called his name Yisroel. (Bereishis 35:10)
In this week's parsha we learn that Hashem said two things to Yaakov. 1) your name is Yaakov 2) no longer shall your name be called Yaakov but your name shall be Yisroel. Chazal note the obvious contradiction. First, Hashem says your name is Yaakov and then says your name shall no longer be Yaakov? Chazal answer that in truth Yaakov has two names. His primary name is Yisroel and his secondary name is Yaakov. Chazal explain the name Yisrael is related to the word sar which means prince. This name refers to the Jewish people at times when they would fulfill the Will of Hashem are be regarded in high esteem. On the other hand the name Yaakov is related to the word akaiv which means heal. This name is symbolic of humility, as the heal is the lowest part of the human body. This name relates to the Jewish people in times of galus when they are not regarded in high esteem.
Earlier in the parsha we find that the angel told Yaakov that he shall no longer be called Yaakov but only Yisroel. We may ask, how do we reconcile this statement with what Hashem said that his name shall be both Yaakov and Yisrael?
We may suggest that Yaakov was given the name “Yaakov” twice, once when he was born and a second time later by Hashem. The two Yaakov's however are not related. When Yaakov was born the posuk says “He called him Yaakov” (Bereishis 25:26). Rashi there in his second interpretation explains that it was Yitzchak who called him Yaakov. The reason Yitzchak gave him this name was because he was holding the heal of Esav. Yitzchak took this a sign from heaven that Yaakov would always be subordinate to Esav.
However, since the time of Yaakov’s birth much had changed. The firstborn birth rights had been sold to Yaakov, Yaakov had received the blessing and Yaakov had now prevailed over the guardian angel of Esav. No longer was the name Yaakov appropriate. The angel thus "permanently" removed this name and replaced it with Yisrael . However, later when Hashem confirmed the new name Yisroel, Hashem also chose to give him an additional name, “Yaakov.” Here the name was given to convey that Yaakov would be subservient to Hashem. Furthermore, this name was given to be used for times when the Jewish people would not fully fulfill the Will of Hashem and serve as a temporary replacement for the name Yisroel. It is noteworthy that the new name “Yaakov” has no relation to subservience to Esav and thus has nothing to do with the old name Yaakov.
It emerges that the name Yaakov was given twice, once from the perspective of Yitzchak and once from the perspective of Hashem. Before Hashem pronounced the second edition of “Yaakov” the first was permanently removed by the angel. Just as Avram was permanently changed to Avraham to the degree that we are forbidden to refer to Avraham as Avram, likewise the name Yaakov given from the perspective of Yitzchak was permanently changed to the name Yaakov given by Hashem.
With this idea we may have a new understanding of Rashi in the beginning of parshas Toldos. The posuk says that he called him Yaakov (Bereishis 25:26). Rashi in his first interpretation explains that it was Hashem who called him Yaakov. Rashi, in his second interpretation explains that it was his father Yitzchak who called him Yaakov. We may suggest that in truth they both called him Yaakov but the posuk used the singular word “he” because they both called him Yaakov at different times and for different reason. At the time of birth it was Yitzchak who called him Yaakov assuming that he would be subservient to Esav. However, later Hashem called his name to Yaakov to convey that he would be subservient to Hashem.
This is the Yaakov we know today.
© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5762/2002