This week we continue the Ya’akov saga in our Torah, and we encounter the passage where Ya’akov wrestles all night with a mysterious stranger – finally at daybreak Yaakov receives another name – Israel. When is he called Israel and when Ya’akov? Why does he need a new name? What does it mean when we change our name or add to our names – as we do when we receive our Jewish names, wither by our parents or by our choice? When do we use those names?
“And God appeared to Yaakov again, when he came from Padan-Aram, and blessed him. And God said to him, your name is Yaakov; no longer shall you be called Yaakov, but Yisrael shall be your name; and he called his name Yisrael” (Bereishit 35:9-10).
But in fact this is not a change of name – Yaa’akov continues to be addressed as Ya’akov. Is this a usage that might imply a more person identity vs a more national peoplehood identity? Some commentators would suggest so. There is also a sense of transformation of a man no longer beholden to father or father-in-law, but a man granted autonomy and purpose in his own identity, Yisroel. He is free differently now. He has grown into himself, with the blessing of this new name he moves forward.
Vayishlach is read before Hannukah begins. Hannukah is a time when we remember that we fought amongst ourselves about our identities – should we be like the Greeks – or not? Jews, Maccabbees, fought against the Syrian Greeks who wanted to dominate the Judah-ists politically and economically and confine their practices of Judaism. In that struggle to regain political and religious independence Jews called on their inner Yisroel. Today our two Bar Mitzvah boys are proud to light up their homes and share the story of Hannukah with their class mates – they too are Yisroel – no longer hiding who they are, and proud of their heritage.
May it always be so.
Love to all,