24 Dec 2015 From Yaakov to Yisrael: The Strength of a Nation
The Book of Bereishis closes with this week’s parsha, Parshas Vayechi Yaakov, And Yaakov Lived – a parsha in which both Yaakov Avinu and Yosef Ha’Tzadik die. In a book full of drama, personal and inter-personal struggles, and much emotion, the stories and lives of our patriarchs and matriarchs come to a close. The Egyptian servitude is about to begin. The tide is changing for the Children of Israel; the nation is about to go from “a prince of G-d in the midst of the land” to oppressed in the land of their exile.
Upon his deathbed, Yaakov Avinu calls his children, the Shivtei Kah, to gather around him. וַיִּקְרָא יַעֲקֹב, אֶל-בָּנָיו; וַיֹּאמֶר, הֵאָסְפוּ וְאַגִּידָה לָכֶם, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-יִקְרָא אֶתְכֶם, בְּאַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים – And Yaakov called to his sons and said, gather around, and I will tell you what will happen to you in the End of Days. הִקָּבְצוּ וְשִׁמְעוּ, בְּנֵי יַעֲקֹב; וְשִׁמְעוּ, אֶל-יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲבִיכֶם – Gather yourselves and listen, the sons of Yaakov; and listen to Yisrael your father (Gen.49:1-2).
And Yaakov called his sons close to reveal Jewish destiny through the end of time, and he gathered the sons of Yaakov close to him. And he said to them, listen to Yisrael your father.
Why the name change in these two verses, which begin with “Yaakov” and end with “Yisrael”?
The name Yaakov represents the struggling Jew, the Jew who fights all the long night with the enemy who wishes to destroy him; כי שרית עם אלקים ועם אנשים. It is the Jew as “Yaakov” who faces galus, pain, strife, trials and tribulations. “Yaakov” is the one who strives in the spiritual and physical realm. Yaakov is all of us in our difficult moments and times.
On the other hand, the name Yisrael represents the triumphant Jew, the one who struggles in the spiritual and physical realms, yet emerges from his struggles victorious. “Yisrael” is the one who was locked in mortal combat all the long night, and yet…as the morning sun rises, וַתּוּכָל, he had overcome!
Yaakov is the Jew facing his difficulties, whether spiritual or physical; Yisrael is the Jew who has successfully moved on, and forward, from those very difficulties.
We are all Yaakov – we all struggle and face life’s various hardships. And we are all Yisrael – we can all grow from those situations and emerge victorious and triumphant.
And we are all part of the nation of Yaakov – a nation that faces many battles and much pain. And we are all part of the nation of Yisrael – the nation that thrives, perseveres and lives on, despite all that we have faced.
On his deathbed, the third patriarch called the “sons of Yaakov” to listen to their father “Yisrael.”
There are times, Yaakov was saying to them – and teaching us – when you will feel like Yaakov. You will wonder if this bitter exile will ever end, you will wonder if that battle will ever be won, you will wonder if triumph is possible. The darkness and servitude will seem so bleak and endless and the exiles will seem so bitter and painful, that “Yaakov” will wonder if this will all ever end!
But gather around, called the third patriarch, and listen to “Yisrael” your father! I assure you – and generations of Jews after you – that in the end of days, you will overcome, וַתּוּכָל. The pain will fade away, the struggles will dissipate, and the enemy will finally retreat. You are the nation of Yisrael, for though you have striven much, you will overcome.
Gather around the sons of Yaakov, for I promise you that in the End of Days, you will emerge triumphant, as did Yisrael your father.
As we bear with great pain the news of two more Jewish souls murdered in our holy land and holy city, Ofer Ben Ari, HY”D, 46 years old and the father of two; and Reuven Birmacher, HY”D, 45 years old and the father of seven children, we too wonder if our days as Yaakov will ever end. Gather around, and listen to Yisrael your father, the Torah reminds us. Our day of triumph will soon come.
May it be immediate and in our time, amen.
בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,
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