VAYISHLACH (Genesis, 32:4-36:43) — “Name that Angel”

Life would be so much easier if things would go the way we’d like them to. As Rashi quotes the Midrash on next week’s Torah portion, “Jacob wanted to live in peace…,” but G-d just wouldn’t let him. Every juncture of his life was filled with frustrating challenges and difficulties from his brother and his uncle and his wives and his daughter and his sons.

The night before confronting his brother Esau for the first time in decades, Jacob was met by Esau’s guardian angel.  The two fought through the night, neither one able to subdue the other.  At dawn, the angel asked to be released so that he could return to Heaven.  Jacob insisted that the angel bless him first.

He did, but before doing so, he informed Jacob that his name was to be changed to Yisrael (Israel). When Jacob asked the angel for HIS name, he responded, “Why do you ask my name?” (Genesis, 32:3)

What kind of a response is THAT?!

What is in a name? Our Sages tell us that there is great spiritual significance in the name that is given to a person. When G-d created the world, He brought all the animals to Adam, who gave them names, each of which summarized what that animal was all about. He even named himself. He called himself “Adam” because he had been fashioned from the Earth (“Adamah” in Hebrew), reminding himself that despite his potential for spiritual greatness, there is an “earthy” tendency in man that can bring him down. He also named G-d “Adon”, which means, “Master.”

Back to Jacob and the angel. What does “Yisrael” mean? The Commentaries disagree. The angel told him that the name change was because SARISA IM ELOKIM and man and you have succeeded.” (Genesis 32:29)

The Targum translates this phrase to mean, “you have become great (SARISA) before G-d and man and you have succeeded. (“Yisrael” — He who will be great before G-d.) Midrash Rabbah explains it to mean, “you have struggled (SARISA) with angels and man and have succeeded.” (“Yisrael“– He who will struggle with angels.)

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 Does “Yisrael” mean one who struggles or does it mean one who becomes great? I think it means both.

We all know people who have gone through difficult times and have overcome adversity and become successful. We are inspired by these “rags-to-riches” stories of hard work and dedication. But these are often situations not just of poverty but also of tragedy. People like cancer survivors and heartbreak survivors who pick up the pieces and keep going. People like the Holocaust survivor who built a new family and a new life. These people are the heroes who give us the motivation to keep going.

With this we can understand the angel’s reply to Jacob’s inquiry about his name. “Why do you ask my name? I’m an angel! I have different assignments at different times. Different assignments mean different names. But I am never a ‘Yisrael.‘ Angels don’t have struggles. We don’t have challenges that threaten to overcome us. We don’t have within our personalities the temptation to sin. We don’t get sick and we have no enemies or financial headaches. We are Heavenly ‘robots’ who are programmed to do G-d’s will and we do it! Therefore, we don’t possess Yisrael’s human potential to grow to greater heights. In that respect, you, Yisrael, are greater than we!”

We should never ask G-d to give us ordeals that test our faith and fortitude.  However, when life does get tough, we should try our hardest to use this as an opportunity to grow.  We will never understand why G-d does what He does.  It is not within the scope of our mortal minds to comprehend the Divine Agenda.  But it is the struggle to do so that makes us great.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES 

“Straight Pins and Paszkes” (2009)

… there is much about the Amish that fascinated me.  I found many things that I could relate to, and quite a few things with which I disagreed.  I understand the desire to limit the amount of influence that “English”– the Amish term for anything non-Amish — society has one’s growing children.  I certainly admire their sense of working together and taking care of each other.  However, their insistence on the use of straight pins — rather than snaps and buttons – to fasten clothes was lost on me.  …

We stayed in a hotel within walking distance of Lancaster’s orthodox synagogue so we could attend Shabbos Services.  A Chassidic member of the congregation (yes, I’m sure he’s not Amish!!) shared with me an interesting observation about the Amish…

Read more.

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“Way to Go, Joe! (Lieberman)” (2003)

…A funny thing happened on the way to synagogue last Friday.

I got into my car to drive to Services.  I was running late; it was about ten minutes before sundown.  I turned on the radio and heard a familiar voice.  Senator Joseph Lieberman, candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, was being interviewed.  “What’s he doing on the radio,” I asked myself.  “I thought he’s a Sabbath observer!” …

Read more.

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“The Inferior Decorator”, or,  “Stay Out Of My Bedroom!” (2002)

… To Reuben, such action was unacceptable. He would not stand by silently and watch his mother play second fiddle to her sister’s maid! … In describing what Reuben did, the Torah writes: …vayishkav es Bilhah pilegesh aviv…,… a painfully literal reading of the text gives us an additional insight. The actual translation implies that Reuben had committed adultery with his father’s wife!

…No, it wasn’t adultery. But, in a sense, it was close… It was repulsive. It was wrong…

Read more.

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“All or Nothing?” (2001)

A thirty-six‑year separation had not moderated Esau’s hatred for his brother.  Jacob was returning to Canaan  after all these years, and it was time to get even.  Esau resented Jacob for having received Isaac’s blessings.  He had 400 soldiers with him, and it was “pay‑back time.”

Jacob wanted to appease his brother. … he selected a gift for his brother Esau…  Hopefully, Esau would accept the gift graciously and let bygones be bygones.  If not, Jacob was prepared to defend himself and his family.  And, of course, he had prayed to G‑d for protection…

The brothers met…  Their first argument at that meeting was as to the ownership of the gift…

Read more.

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“Name that Angel” (2000)

… What is in a name? Our Sages tell us that there is great spiritual significance in the name that is given to a person. When G-d created the world, He brought all the animals to Adam, who gave them names, each of which summarized what that animal was all about. He even named himself. He called himself “Adam” because he had been fashioned from the Earth (“Adamah” in Hebrew), reminding himself that despite his potential for spiritual greatness, there is an “earthy” tendency in man that can bring him down. He also named G-d “Adon“, which means, “Master.”

… What does “Yisrael” mean? …

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at www.brisrabbi.org.   Copyright © 2000-2013 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com)  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on December 13, 2000 at 10:07 pm  Leave a Comment  

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