Transformation, step by step

Torah PortionVayishlach(And He Sent) B’resheet/Genesis 32:4-36:43

Haftorah Reading Hosea 11:7-12:12


In our portion tonight we read of a pivotal event in the life of Ya’akov. To set the stage he was returning back to Israel after an extended stay in Haran where he had fled to escape his brother’s wrath. He had been gone for over 20 years. He now had four wives and eleven sons. He also had at least one daughter.



In our portion we read of his preparations for his first meeting with his twin brother Esau after Esau had threatened to kill him years before. We also read of his name change. This was the basis for my question to you this week. In B’resheet/Genesis 32:29 we read of the first time Ya’akov was told he would no longer be called Ya’akov but would be called Israel.  The second time this happened, in B’resheet/Genesis 35:9-10, G-d Himself told him his name would be Israel rather than Ya’akov. Notice this is a completely different name, not just something added on to his name, unlike when G-d changed Avraham and Sarah’s names.


Now to my question, given this complete change of his name, why do we continue to see both names being used for him? What is scripture showing us?  Let’s recall how Torah described both Esau and Ya’akov.  As we look back at the life of these two men, it would be an over simplification to say one was good and one was bad. It reads as if they were two different kinds of people, two different personalities. In B’resheet/Genesis 25:28 we see Esau was a hunter, a man’s man and his father’s favorite. While Ya’akov was a man who stayed at home, the favorite of his mother. They were completely different men. As you read the story of these two brothers you might come to the conclusion that Ya’akov wanted what Esau had, his father’s love. Since he took Esau’s birthright and blessing maybe he even wished he was Esau.


Everything changed for Ya’akov at the struggle in the river. Here Ya’akov was told his name would be changed. No longer would he be called Ya’akov but now he would be Israel. Let’s think about these two names. What is the meaning of Ya’akov? It means heel grabber basically. He was holding on to Esau’s heel at birth. 


From the first three Hebrew letters of the word Israel we can derive two Hebrew words, the second and third letters together means Sar or prince or royalty. If you look at the first three letters together it means Y’shar or translated to English, upright or straight. The last two letters, “el,” of the name Israel can signify G-d. From all this we can see this name means an upright prince of G-d, no longer a heel grabber.


As you can see, these two names give an entirely different meaning. In the struggle at the river, the person or angel said to him, “You will no longer be called Ya’akov but Israel.” We could read this passage as, “Let your name no longer be Ya’akov but Israel!” When we read it so, it gives us the impression that this name change calls for a different way of living, a different way of making decisions. “Be a prince,” or “Be upright.” G-d could be saying, “be who I created you to be.” So, as we read on through Torah we will see sometimes he was behaving like Israel and sometimes like Ya’akov.


I think we all face this same issue in our own lives. Sometimes we revert back to an old habit or a way we used to live. We face this challenge many times after we come to the L-rd. This is an issue that has been a problem from the beginning. We see in the Messianic scripture this same issue expressed in Romans 7:15-25. Here Shaul was writing about this exact condition. Shaul talked of the struggle he dealt with in his own life. We all have this battle between flesh and spirit. I think when we find ourselves in this battle we should remember that through the Messiah, the Father has given us the spiritual tools to win the struggle and hold on to what we have been given, a new name and a new identity.


These battles surely come but G-d is with us and has done a great work in us that will help us to live up to who we are in Him.  Also, remember what Israel did here in our scriptures. He did something to prepare for his coming meeting with his brother. Our trust in G-d does not rule out our duty to do everything we can to find G-d’s way through whatever we confront in our lives. I encourage you to be an Israel every day and not a Ya’akov.


On last thought, in Genesis 36:10 we read Ya’akov saying to Esau, “I have seen your face as though I have seen the face of G-d.” Tell me what you think he could have meant here. I think Ya’akov was saying that he saw G-d in the working out of his apprehension about meeting his brother again. In our life, hold on to that thought. G-d is in control and has a way for us no matter how dark the day seems to be.