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The Torah In Haiku: Vayigash

The Torah In Haiku: Vayigash


Sometimes he's Jacob
Other times he's Israel
Once in a while, both.



After he wrestles with an "ish" (a man? an angel? G-d?) Jacob is told "Your name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel" (Gen 32:29). Nevertheless, both names are used in the text to refer to the son of Isaac.

In this week's portion there are two times when both names are used in a single verse: " G-d spoke to Israel in a night vision, and said, 'Jacob! Jacob!'" (Gen 46:2) and " Jacob set out from Beer-sheba. Israel's sons transported their father, along with their children and wives, on the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to carry them. " (Gen 46:5)

In a 2006 essay for Jewish Bible Quarterly, Herbert Block explores the different aspects of the son of Isaac and Rebekah that are indicated by the use of one name or the other. Block says that "Jacob was a compliant person, easily swayed by characters like his mother and Laban." But Israel is "a solid and determined man, one who recognized the need for strong, positive action and was ready to take it."

Concerning Gen 46:2 and 46:5, Block seems to suggest that G-d wants the more assertive "Israel" to travel to Egypt but needs to convince the more timid "Jacob" by easing his fears. He sees "a reluctant Jacob riding in a cart during the journey, but the sons of Israel are in a glad and happy mood."

What do you think? What is the Torah trying to tell us about Jacob/Israel when one name or the other is chosen to identify him?

Ed Nickow is a teacher and member of the Board of Trustees at Temple Chai in Long Grove, IL. He blogs at The Torah in Haiku.

Ed Nickow

Published: 12/06/2013

Categories: Learning, Torah Study
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