And Yaakov remained alone and a man wrestled with him until break of dawn.
And he saw that he could not defeat him so he grabbed him in the hollow of
his thigh and he dislocated the hollow of Yaakov’s thigh with his
wrestling with him. And he said, “Send me because the dawn has broken.”
And he said, “I will not send you unless you bless me.” And he said to
him, “What’s your name?” and he said, “Yaakov!” And he said, “No long will
your name be Yaakov but rather Israel, because you struggled with the
Divine and man and you prevailed.” And Yaakov asked and he said, “Tell me
please, what your name is?” And he said, “Why is it that you ask for my
name?” And he blessed him there. (Breishis 32:25-30)
This is a very odd dialogue. After wrestling an entire night, the man that
Yaakov wrestled with became desperate to leave. Yaakov refused to let him
go without first receiving his blessing. The man tells him that his name
is no long Yaakov but rather Israel. Why does Yaakov demand a blessing
from his opponent? Why does he accept a change of his name as a blessing?
What does that mean? Who was the person with whom Yaakov struggled all
I’m not such a numerologist. Numbers go through my system like diet soda.
I like chunky calorie rich ideas. However with regard to Yaakov and his
name change there is an amazingly instructive way of appreciating what
happened with a few simple calculations. The numerical value of the name
Yaakov (Yud-10+Ayin-70+Kuf-100+Beis-2) equals 182. Our sages inform us
that Yaakov was victorious that night against not less the “yetzer hora”-
the negative inclination. Another name for that opposing force in Hebrew
is Satan. The name Satan when spelled out numerically (Sin-300+Tes-9+Nun-
50) equals 359. It is a curious fact that Yaakov (182) plus Satan (359)
together add up to Yisrael (Yud-10+Sin-300+Reish-200+Aleph-1+Lamed-
30=541). What are we to make of this discovery, not my own?
The sages offer a curious comment on the verse, “And G-d saw all he
created and behold it was very good!” (Breishis 1:31) Why did everything
suddenly improve from good to “very good”?
The simple answer, we would think of, is that after all the good quality
ingredients are harmoniously blended together a new synergistic whole that
is greater than the sum of its parts emerges and that is what is “very
good”. Our sages say, “Very good! This is the evil inclination!” Whoa!
What a shocker! What does that mean? Let us try two approaches.
1)It could be that as Reb Tzadok HaKohen wrote that wherever we struggle
the most, wherever the Yezter Hora has invested so much energy, there in
that spot, is the where our greatest potential lies. If we would peak into
the Kremlin during the cold war and observe that they have a thousand
warheads aimed at some benign location on the plains of Kansas where there
sits an elderly man on his front porch smoking a corncob pipe and rocking
in his chair while his old hound Boo slumbers, we may wonder, “What’s he
got in that pipe?” However, when we dig a few stories beneath the surface
we discover America has a secret silo with thousands of weapons pointed at
strategic locations in Russia.
It’s not unusual that in the overcoming of a given difficulty a person can
make his greatest achievements. I know of a man of with a great record of
helping people that testified that he has a cruel streak and in curing
himself from that tendency he found the milk of human kindliness buried
beneath the shale of his callous nature.
2) Imagine that the Israeli army has chased the Syrian army to the Golan
and their soldiers have abandoned their tanks as they scramble back to
Damascus. Would the Israeli army just leave all that valuable equipment
there? No! They would incorporate them into their own arsenal.
So too Yaakov was not going to send away his negative inclination in
defeat. He was now ready to subjugate and sublimate all worldly forces in
the service of HASHEM. This signals a grand expansion of potential for
Yaakov, and such a major merger calls for a new name. With the surrendered
weapons of the Yeter Hora in his employment the promise for Israel is no
longer a life of mild goodness. However good it is, it’s not good