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    Changing names – Vayyishlach

    YisraelAbraham and Sarah had their names changed, but in each case only by one letter. Jacob’s name change was total: “Jacob” became “Israel” (Gen. 32:29).

    The contrast between the two names is dramatic. “Jacob”, from akev, a heel, means “supplanter”; “Israel”, from sar, a prince, suggests superiority.

    The original Jacob tries to seize blessings that are not rightfully his; the new Jacob with his new name earns his eminence by his own efforts (the Midrash Tanchuma to Vayyetzei says, “Man must toil and work with his two hands and the Holy One, Blessed be He, will send His blessing”).

    It might be said that the two names are both involved in current problems in the Holy Land.

    The Jewish people are accused of being supplanters who usurped the rights of the indigenous inhabitants of the land.

    The fact though is that insofar as there are indigenous inhabitants, they are the Jews, since Jews have maintained a presence in Israel from Biblical times and the undying Jewish yearning for a return to the land meant that, even without actually living there, Israel was a constant part of the lives of the Jews of the Diaspora.

    They prayed facing Jerusalem, on Pesach and Yom Kippur they proclaimed, “Next year in Jerusalem!”, they mentioned Zion and Jerusalem on every page of the prayer book, they used Israeli wine on Shabbat and festivals and Israeli etrogim on Sukkot whenever possible, they prayed for rain and dew for Israel, they made pilgrimages to the holy sites and whenever they could they went to live there. The areas colonised by the Jewish National Fund were purchased and made fertile.

    They were Israel, not Jacob.

    Obviously this is not meant to denigrate the feelings or belittle the hardships of any other people, but the way to solve problems is by being honest, talking with derech eretz and determining that “live and help live” is better than “kill and be killed”.

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