“No longer will it be said that your name is Yaakov, but Yisrael” (Bereishis 32:25).
During majestic eras, when the Jewish nation is faithful to Hashem, the name Yisrael suits it. When the Jewish nation rejects Hashem, however, and says (Iyov 21:14), “Go away from us! We have no desire to know Your ways!” the name Yaakov is more appropriate.
The name “Yaakov” comes from the word “eikev” (heel). Yaakov Avinu was given this name because “he emerged with his hand grasping the heel of Esav” (Bereishis 25:26). Grasping the heel of Esav is a metaphor for the Jewish nation trying to affiliate with the nations of the world and assimilate among them. When the Jewish nation acts in this fashion, it cannot be identified as a “kingdom of princes and a holy nation.”
Nevertheless, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 44a) states that even when the Jewish people sin, they are still called Yisrael, as the Torah indicates when it states “ [Hashem] dwells within them amid their contamination” (Vayikra 16:16).
Rav Meir Shapiro, zt”l, cites great chassidic commentaries who expound on Tehillim 66:7: “His eyes oversee the nations.” Why do we mention this fact? Because when Hashem wants to judge Klal Yisrael with the divine attribute of strict justice, chas v’shalom, we want Hashem to contrast our ethics and deeds with those of the depraved nations of the world.
On Yom Kippur in the Holy of Holies, the kohen gadol would ask Hashem to bless the Jewish people so that they shouldn’t need to seek out each other, or other nations, for assistance. One interpretation of this prayer is that there should be no need for Hashem to compare us to spiritually inferior people in order for us to emerge with a favorable judgment. Nonetheless, if we are in dire straits, we ask Hashem to do just that.
The Shulchan Aruch writes that a person who has a court case with a non-Jew should postpone the case until after the Three Weeks because our mazal is impaired during this time. If possible, he should reschedule his day in court to Adar since Adar is when Hashem turned days of darkness and sadness into days of light and joy. Although the Jewish people participated in the forbidden seudah of Achashverosh and did not deserve to be saved, Hashem saved them nonetheless because He contrasted their deeds with the depravity and wickedness of their enemies.
Our sages tell us that when Moshiach comes, all the yamim tovim will be annulled except for Purim. The continued existence of Purim guarantees us our eternal ancestral merit of being distinguished among the nations of the world.
When Yaakov emerged victorious after battling the angel of Esav, he ensured the power of the Jewish nation to successfully avert the divine attribute of strict justice. When our spiritual position is contrasted to that of the nations of the world, we prevail.
When the Persian Gulf War broke out in mid-1990, the Iraqi president made many threats against Eretz Yisrael. Concerned for the safety of its citizenry, the Israeli government required everyone to wear gas masks and enter a sealed room after each strike in case the missiles were armed with chemical or biological weapons. Ultimately, 39 Scud missiles landed on Eretz Yisrael, which, with the great mercy of Hashem, hardly caused any major harm.
The religious community in Eretz Yisrael at the time wanted to know whether they should acquire these gas masks and prepare sealed rooms or place their bitachon (faith) entirely in Hashem.
As long lines formed at various locations to obtain gas masks, someone suddenly noticed R’ Yitzchak Gutfarb standing on line. R’ Yitzchak, a famous tzaddik from Yerushalayim, was an elderly man in his 70s who was well-known for his sincere bitachon in Hashem. Astonished to see him there, the man ran over to him, and asked, “Reb Yitzchak, are you afraid of the Scud missiles?”
“Not at all,” answered R’ Yitzchak. “But I believe with all my heart that the time of Moshiach is coming close, and I am afraid when he comes he will see the many aveiros that are etched in my forehead. I came here to get a mask so that I can perhaps cover my face and Moshiach won’t see those aveiros.”
We constantly strive to get closer to Hashem. We all desire to be seen as perfect in Hashem’s eyes. Nevertheless, we are fully aware of the kindness and mercy that Hashem showers upon us in galus as we may not be fully deserving.
Note: Rabbi Shimshon Chaim ben Rabbi Nachman Michal Nachmani – known as the Zera Shimshon – was a renowned rabbi and erudite in Torah. He wrote novella on Torah that were published under the name “Zera Shimshon,” dedicated to the memory of his only child who died at a very young age with no children. The Zera Shimshon promised that anyone who learned from his writings would be blessed with “children, praise, health, livelihood, wealth and honor.”
You can join the thousands who have experienced yeshuos from the merit of learning from the Zera Shimshon by listening to a daily WhatsApp broadcast of a short easy vort that I share. It can be accessed by calling 732-814-5483 and asking to be added to the group.