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Vayishlach 5761
December 10-16, 2000 by Reb Yosef

Where Does the Name "Yisrael" (Israel) Come From?

We all know that Israel is the country where the Jews live.  It is the country that we lived in up until about 2,000 years ago, and the country that we live in again today.  But where does this word "Yisrael" or "Israel" come from?  The answer is in this week's Parashah - Vayishlach. 

Parashat Vayishlach begins with the story of the adult Jacob as he is going to meet his brother Esav.  He is very afraid that Esav and his men will attack him and prepares to provide gifts to make sure that his brother will not be angry.  Before the two brothers meet, Jacob rests for the night and wrestles with an angel.  We pick up the story here: 

27. Then he [the angel] said, "Let me go, for dawn has broken." And he said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me.":

28. He said to him, "What is your name?" He replied, "Jacob.":

29. He said, "No longer will it be said that your name is Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with the Divine and with man and have overcome.":

This leads to a question?  What was different - merely that Jacob/Israel had wrestled with an angel and won?  No - these is considerably more to the story than that. 

If we go back to when Esav and Jacob were born, we see that they were twins and that Esav was the first-born and that Jacob was born after holding onto Esav's heel.  The word Yaakov (Jacob) signifies this - that Jacob was holding onto his brother's heel and was a follower.  Just like Avraham Avinu (our Father Abraham) had to endure tests and trials, so do his son, Yitzchak (Isaac), and grandson Yaakov.  One of Yaakov's tests was this wrestling with the angel.  By winning in this struggle, he became entitled to be the father of a nation - Klal Yisrael - the Nation of Israel.  No longer was Yaakov a follower.  Now he was Yisrael - the father of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

And that is where the name Yisrael comes from.


Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash and from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash

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