I Have Two Names

Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Parshas Vayishlach

Yaakov’s name means crooked. The word “Akov” means insidious. Esav defined his brother Yaakov’s essence according to his name. He is deviant, perverse, corrupt and crooked. “That is why his name is Yaakov – because he has already tricked me twice.”  (Breishis 27;36)

G-d called Yaakov, Yisroel. We say daily in our prayers: “Vekarasa es shmo Yisroel Veyeshurun.” “You called his name Yisroel because he was straight.”   G-d defined Yaakov as Yashar: honest, truthful, sincere, straightforward, upright and scrupulous.

Our forefather had two names, each one conflicting with the other. Yaakov and Yisroel. Akov and Yashar. Crooked and straight!

These two descriptions seem to form an eternal dichotomy. The nations of the world call us Yaakov but the truth is that we are Yisroel. The real truth seems always surrounded by a veneer of falsity.

We are living in the information age. Everyone knows everything about everyone. When you go to lease a new car, within a minute the salesman is looking at your entire life on the screen in front of him, sneering. Yet the press has been manipulated, so that they have turned the simple truth inside out. They show a picture of a Jew pointing a gun at a child, yet never show that hiding behind that child stands a sharpshooting terrorist ready to murder. They report the ridiculous Arab claim that the Temple Mount has no holiness to the Jews, while ignoring plain history and archeology. What’s most disturbing is that the world believes it. The war of the cameras intensified when the NY Times called a Jew an Arab and, to date, has never apologized. Revisionism works.

Esav called us Yaakov; G-d called us Yeshurun.

But last week it struck me that we have a much bigger problem than Esav calling us Yaakov. I received hate email from a prominent Jew. He admonished me for raising money for Jews to be able to defend themselves. I was told that I am incompassionate and naïve and that as Jews we do not have the luxury of self-defense. I gave a shiur last week, explaining the words “Pereh Adam”, and I was told by a listener that I and people like me are the real cause of Palestinian terrorism. It is not only they who are calling us Yaakov; it is our own brothers and sisters.

I feel that as Jews we are fitting in to the battered woman syndrome. We are being abused and taking the blame. This in turn damages the Jewish people. I always wonder why we, as Jews, "take it." Why aren't we screaming? We have always been taught that it’s not polite to scream and it's not polite to toot our own horn. We tend to feel that people and countries, will intuitively "get it." This seems too generous an assessment of human nature. The message is, we must remember who we are, why we are, and not to lose sight of who is aggressive and who is defensive. I feel there is some spiritual self esteem work that needs to be done for us to survive.

The secret to self-esteem is self knowledge. There are a few exercises we can do to attain a better spiritual self-esteem.

1) Daven! Every day we state in our Tefilos: “And G-d made a covenant with Abraham to give the Land of Israel to his children. He kept His word for He is just.” Let us internalize what we are saying and live by our words.

2) Go there! The Rambam teaches, “Every man is obligated to take his young child by the hand and show him or her the walls of Yerushalayim.” There is nothing that brings home the history of Eretz Yisroel like breathing it.

The Angel of G-d wrestled with Yaakov and asked him his name. “My name is Yaakov!” he answered. And the Angel said: “Stop calling yourself Yaakov! Your name is Yisroel!” You are not Akov – you are Yashar. Esav won’t get it – that is the way I created the world; but you, the Jews must understand that you are Yisroel.

A voice calls out in the wilderness: Clear the way of Hashem; make a straight path in the desert, a road for our G-d. Every valley will be raised, and every mountain and hill will be lowered; the crooked will become straight -- VeHaya HeAkov LeMishor! -- and heights will become valley; and the glory of Hashem will be revealed…”. (Isaiah 40;4)

There are so many ways to accomplish our goals. For a lofty goal almost everything can be justified. But at the end, that is not the Jewish way! Go straight.

Life is full of difficult decisions. Some consult Kabbalists, some consult politicians, some do the Gra’s goral, some flip a coin. I have a spiritual method for deciding what to do when we don’t know what to do? I ask myself- if I wasn’t afraid, if I wasn’t lazy, if I wasn’t concerned about kavod what would I do? I ask myself, what really is the straight way? With meditation we will come up with the answer. The answer may not be the easiest, the most politically savvy, or the safest but it is the straightest. And straight we must go.

As Jews we were taken out of Egypt to do the right thing. The Torah was not given to the Bnei Yaakov – it was given to the Bnei Yisroel. Call yourself Yisroel, said the Angel, and you will master both man and G-d!

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