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Parashat Vayishlach: Taking Jacob-Israel as a paradigm

Portrait Adrian M Schell - by Meyersfeld - webIn parshat Vayishlach Jacob’s name is changed to Israel, not once but twice. The first time, in 32:29, Jacob is named by a “man” after spending all night wrestling with him.Figures_Jacob_Wrestles_Angel In 35:10 Jacob receives the name Israel directly from God. According to Rashi, the name change signifies a change in Jacob’s character. He moves from “Ya’akov,” (יעקב) whose root means ankle and recalls his cunning (עָקְבָה) in tricking his brother, to Yisrael (ישראל), which contains the word (שר) “sar,” meaning leader. Yet despite being renamed twice, Israel continues to be called Jacob. In fact, after both incidences, he is immediately called Jacob again. So what was the point of the name change?

It seems to me that Jacob’s journey is a journey of returning. Even when he flees his brother Esau, he is running away to his mother’s homeland. Years later, when Jacob leaves Laban’s home after having acquired wives, children and wealth, he returns back home to Canaan. Jacob’s journey is circular. His return is an illustration of both continuity and change in his life story. His names also reflect this-his new identity of Israel is not a negation of who he once was.

Like our forefather, we are known as Jacob as well as Israel. We can take Jacob/Israel as a paradigm. Unlike Abraham, whose change is a complete break with his past, we can allow ourselves to change throughout our journeys but realize that this need not be a negation of who we were in our past. It is in this dual state as both Jacob and Israel that we can truly receive Balaam’s blessing (Numbers 24:5) “How good are your tents oh Jacob, your dwellings oh Israel!”

Shabbat Shalom – Rabbi Adrian M Schell

(Source: Rabbinical Student Nathan Roller, Illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible(Wikipedia))

Torah Reading for Shabbat Vayishlach
Genesis 32:4-36:43 (Reading 32:4-31; Plaut p.219; Hertz p.122)
Haftarah: Hosea 11:7-12:12 (Plaut p.241; Hertz p.135)

The Torah Study with Rabbi Schell continues this Shabbat, 12 December at 08h45 (Rondavel).

The Prayers of our Siddur”– class with Rabbi Schell every Thursday from 18h00 to 19h30 (Foyer).

Podcast of Rabbi Schell’s weekly Sermons Tuesdays on Radio Today (10h30) or: http://goo.gl/LsHQrY.

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