"Your name shall be Yisrael"
Looking back on the lives of the three patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov, we can identify a certain pattern of growth and development. Avraham embarked on a voyage of discovery that began with an intellectual inquiry: Who created and informs all creation? When G-d responded to Avraham's query with the instructions "Lech lecha," "Go from your land... " (Genesis 12:1) Avraham's intellectual quest was superseded by a spiritual awakening which guided him throughout the rest of his life.
Yitzchak was born into this knowledge of G-d and on the eighth day of his life entered into the covenant that had been established between his father Avraham and G-d. Yitzchak's life was not one of spiritual searching, but rather a life of introspection and intimacy with G-d. It was Yitzchak who laid himself down on the altar on Mount Moriah, where his father Avraham had brought him. And it was Yitzchak who witnessed the angel who called out to Avraham and stayed his hand from striking him. Yitzchak never set foot outside the land of Israel nor did he ever question G-d as to the future of his own offspring, or the administration of justice in this world, as did Avraham. Yitzchak's life was the result and the culmination of all of Avraham's searching and questioning.
One might therefore assume, quite naturally, that Ya'akov's life picked up just where Yitzchak's left off. That is, that Ya'akov grew up and matured within a cocoon-like spiritual reality, impregnable and impervious to those less than sublime forces of every day life that conspire constantly to deflect us from out true course, to drag us down into despair, and to compel us to compromise on and lose sight of the spiritual truths which guide our life's journey.
Yet, Ya'akov's life, as we all know, was not a serene life of privilege, untouched by tempest and strife, but quite the opposite. Even while still inside his mother's womb, Ya'akov had to contend with violent forces of jealousy and greed aimed against him. This envy and antipathy toward Ya'akov only waxed stronger as he grew up alongside his brother Esav. Eventually Esav's anger became deadly in nature and Ya'akov literally had to flee for his life. But rather than granting Ya'akov some well-deserved respite from all his troubles, his troubles only seem to grow ten-fold. Ya'akov is forced to leave the land of Israel and then he is forced to work as a slave to his wily and rapacious father-in-law. He falls head over heels for Rachel, but is deceived into first marrying her sister Leah. Jealousy between sisters simply adds to Ya'akov's woes. Even separating himself and his family, at long last, from his father-in-law Lavan, in order to return home to the land of Israel, proves a stressful and dangerous task.
Why is it then, that even as the collective soul of the emerging nation of Israel seems to have reached maturation and even perfection in the personage of Yitzchak, it is immediately plunged into a "life-scape" so fraught with peril and threat of extinction, in the personage of Ya'akov? What is G-d, the shaper of the infant nation of Israel, intending to achieve? It would seem that even as steel, once refined and beaten into shape, needs to be plunged into a white hot fire in order to be tempered and strengthened, so too did the soul of Ya'akov. Already an alloy of the soul of Avraham, the outgoing man of loving kindness, and the soul of Yitzchak, the introspective man of quiet vision, the soul of Ya'akov was in need of tempering before this single patriarch could pass along his spiritual patrimony to his twelve sons, the eponymous fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Already tempered through trial and tribulation, the soul of Ya'akov meets its ultimate test in his confrontation with an unnamed angel, just before stepping back into the land of Israel. It was by virtue of this confrontation, in which he bested this heaven-sent messenger, that Ya'akov was at last named - and transformed - into Yisrael - he who has "struggled with G-d and with men, and [has] prevailed." (Genesis 32:29) As Ya'akov - now Yisrael - reenters the land of Israel he immediately must confront new threats and challenges of a nature even more perilous than those he has faced before. But now, while still vulnerable as an individual, as the embodiment and progenitor of the up and coming nation which is to be called by his name Yisrael, the soul which merged the best of Avraham with the best of Yitzchak, has become an irresistible force for spiritual truth, to be reckoned with, by man and by G-d, throughout all the ensuing generations of the history of mankind.
No doubt we, the generation of Yisrael that lives in the land today, and all those who attach their souls to the soul of Yisrael, can take heart in the courage and the conviction displayed by Ya'akov our father. For we too, like Ya'akov, find ourselves constantly besieged and set upon by murderers and thieves, detractors, despoilers and deceivers, in high places and low, who seek to deny and defy us, to supplant and replace us. To all our brothers who bear an implacable envy in their hearts: This generation of Yisrael has returned, and all we want is what is ours - that which Yisrael earned by dint of his cleaving to G-d's truth, and bequeathed to his children and to his children's children.
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss the mysterious balance of light and darkness during the month of Kislev, and the eternal struggle between Ya’akov and Esav, as exemplified by Ya’akov’s wrestling with an angel in this week’s Torah portion of Vayishlach, even as the United States once again pressures Israel to freeze Jewish building in the Land of Israel. Also, the three irrevocable purchases in the land of Israel and the light of Queen Helena's golden lamp.