לֹא יִקָּרֵא שִׁמְךָ עוֹד יַעֲקֹב, כִּי אִם יִשְׂרָאֵל יִהְיֶה שְׁמֶךָ

Your name shall no longer be called Yaakov, but Yisrael shall be your name

Hashem changed Yaakov’s name to reflect his new reality. Rashi writes that Hashem changed the name Yaakov, which signifies someone sly and tricky to Yisrael, a general of Hashem.

Rabbenu Yerucham writes that Yaakov’s name reflected the way Yaakov acted. Esav (in last week’s Parashah) commented that “his name is Yaakov because he has deceived me (“Yaakveni”) twice.” Esav was right. In interacting with Esav Yaakov was forced to act deceptively. Yaakov was forced to combat Esav’s attempted deceptions with deception of his own. Straightforwardness is a virtue, but no one is required to allow himself to be fooled.

Interestingly, we find that while Shmuel HaNavi was alive, he told King Shaul that Hashem had taken away the throne from Shaul’s family and gave it to “Your fellow who is more worthy than you, David”, and after he had passed away, told him (long story how they spoke) “Your fellow, David” (without saying “more worthy than you”). Shaul asked him what changed, and Shmuel answered “When I was among you, I was in a world of untruth, and said an untruth, now that I’m in the world of truth, you’ll hear nothing but the truth.” Shmuel, a prophet, could not speak the complete truth even with a man as holy as King Shaul. Various situations arise that can require tact, but in the world of truth, there is only complete truth.

This world is thoroughly and intrinsically different than the next, and us living here must adapt to that. Abaye, in Masechet Berachot tells us that we must be “cunning” in our fear of Hashem. We have to come up with tricks to fool the yetzer hara. On the other hand, only by the sin of lying does the Torah tell us to distance ourselves (as opposed to simply “don’t lie”), and there are many halachot about when one is allowed even to just twist the truth and how important it is to be completely honest even in inconsequential matters. Yaakov, a man of truth, was cunning when dealing with the likes of Esav and Lavan, while keeping a firm grasp on his innate truthfulness. 

In our time here, we must be “Yaakov”, quick and cunning against opposing forces, while praying for the day when we are “Yisrael”, a day when there are no more opposing forces.

Shabbat Shalom

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