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Rabbi Jonathan Ganger
by Published on December 4, 2020

If we think getting the land Israel has been difficult, perhaps, as difficult was getting the name Israel.  It took a dusty wrestling match and an acute injury. But the real question is why the name change and why the name Israel?  Granted, Abraham needed to change names from Avram to Avraham because his name came from a place of idolatry.  But Isaac born into holiness didn’t go through any name changes, and ostensibly, Yakov was born into holiness too, so why did he undergo a name change?

If we had to summarize the life goal of each forefather, it would look something like this.  Abraham created a new path for the world.  He brought people back to the recognition that holiness is a better alternative to idolatry (which is a form of self- worship). However, Isaac, took that holiness to new heights.  He remained internal and stayed in Israel. We don’t hear much about Isaac because his goal was not to reach out, but to reach in and elevate.  Yaakov’s task was different. He had to leave Israel, and then he had to come back before ending his life in Egypt. Why?

Yaakov’s purpose was not to elevate holiness but to bring more aspects of the world into holiness- specifically those things that are not holy, even evil.  One thing is to be holy, and another thing is to stay holy in the face of difficulty, but it is a whole different level to stay holy while elevating all that is around you to holiness.  That is why Yakov’s name underwent a change.  To vanquish evil and place it in the service of good means a person has changed essentially.  The name Israel is the numerical value of Yaakov in addition to the numerical value of the evil inclination, also known as the satan.  Israel is the combination of Yaakov, the force of good, and a vanquished evil that has been turned to good.

On a personal level, we all have parts of our personality that are subpar.  To be part of Israel, the job is not only to defeat that part of our self, but to control it and have it serve the good.  For example, jealousies that control us create wedges with other people.  We have to uproot that jealousy and use it in a positive way.  A way to do is to be jealous of a person who has acquired more wisdom and use that as personal motivation.  That takes the evil quality of jealousy and turns it around towards goodness. When we do that, we become Israel.