"No longer shall it be said that your name is Jacob." (Gen. 32:29)

Unlike with Abraham, whom the Torah no longer refers to as Abram once his name was changed, the Torah continues to refer to Jacob as both Jacob and Israel. Similarly, the Jewish people, the descendants of Jacob, are referred to by both names. This is because the name Israel was not meant displace the name Jacob. Rather, it was meant to be an additional name, expressing a loftier dimension of Jacob. But both names represent a particular aspect of our relationship with G‑d, both of which are critical to the fulfillment of our Divine mission:

...as "Israel," the blessings were conceded to him and no longer contested.

Jacob as "Jacob" had to struggle and use trickery to retrieve the blessings of material bounty from Isaac; as "Israel," the blessings were conceded to him and no longer contested.

Spiritually, this means that our interaction with the material world—the subject of Isaac's blessings—takes on two forms. There are times when the material world challenges our Divine consciousness. During those moments, we must struggle to reveal the Divinity that lies beneath the veneer of materiality. For example, when we engage in physical activities, our G‑dly purpose in doing so is not apparent. We are like Jacob, who, having donned Esau-like garments, was superficially similar to Esau. We are engaged in "trickery," since our external behavior conceals our inner purpose, which is the sanctification of the material.

At other times, the material world not only does not challenge our Divine consciousness, it confirms it. At those times we do not need to struggle to do what is right, since doing so comes naturally and intuitively. At those times our name is "Israel."

The name "Jacob," derived from the word for "heel," refers to a state where we are conscious only of the "heel" of our soul, its lowest element. Our materialistic side is therefore capable of overshadowing the light of our souls, requiring us to do battle in order to overcome our materialistic tendencies.

In contrast, the letters of the name "Israel" (yud-shin-reish-alef-lamed) can be rearranged to form the words for "I have a head" (lamed -yud-reish-alef-shin) alluding to a state where we are conscious of the "head" of our soul, its highest dimension, and are inclined only toward holiness.

Jacob is therefore referred to as G‑d's servant (Isaiah 44:2, et al.) whereas Israel is referred to as G‑d's child. (Exodus 4:22, et al.) Our relationship with G‑d as servants to their master refers to our fulfillment of the commandments out of a sense of duty and obligation, even when it does not come naturally to us. Our relationship with G‑d as children refers to our fulfillment of the commandments because our souls derive from Him, we are His "children," and are therefore naturally aligned with His will and wisdom.

The gentile prophet Balaam therefore prophesied that G‑d "sees no iniquity in Jacob and sees no toil in Israel." (Numbers 23:21) On the level of Israel, there is no toil, since behaving in a G‑dly fashion comes naturally. On the level of Jacob, however, there is no iniquity, but there is toil.

In a general sense, "Jacob" is the name associated with fulfillment of the commandments, which primarily involves the body and the physical world, the "heel," i.e., the lower elements of creation; "Israel" is associated with study of the Torah, which involves the soul and the mind.

More specifically, "Jacob" is associated with study of the Torah for the sake of self-refinement; "Israel" is associated with Torah study for its own sake, experiencing it as pure Divine wisdom, utterly transcendent from this world.

The Zohar relates Jacob to the Divine Name Elokim and Israel to the Divine Name Havayah. (Zohar 1:174a) Elokim is the name that embodies that aspect of G‑dliness that enables Divine concealment, which in turn enables G‑d's creation to project an illusion of separateness from G‑d. Havayah embodies transcendence from Divine concealment.

Jacob must toil to see past the veneer of Elokim, to its essence...Havayah...

Jacob must toil to see past the veneer of Elokim, to its essence, which is Havayah; for Israel, Elokim presents no concealment to begin with, as Jacob said before his journey to Haran, "and Havayah will be for me Elokim." (Gen. 28:21)

Similarly, the Sabbath is related to Havayah, and the six weekdays to Elokim, as in the verse, (Gen. 2:2) "And Elokim ceased on the seventh day [from all the work that He had done]" — on the Sabbath, the concealment of Elokim gives way to the revelation of Havayah.

Accordingly, during the week we are "Jacob"; our mission, in general, is to struggle with the physical and reveal its inner G‑dliness by utilizing it for holiness. For example, when we eat during the week, we are engaged in a mundane act with a holy end (to utilize the energy of the food for goodness). On the Sabbath, however, we are "Israel"; we do not struggle with the mundane trappings of physicality—eating on the Sabbath is itself a holy act.

"Israel" is generally the condition of completely righteous people, who have no temptation for evil; and "Jacob" is generally the condition of people aspiring to be righteous, who must struggle with temptation. In particular, however, even the aspiring person experiences "Israel" on the Sabbath, as mentioned. Likewise, completely righteous people also experience some measure of concealment and struggle — albeit of a far loftier nature than that experienced people who are still only aspiring to be righteous—which is their "Jacob."


Adapted from Sefer HaMa'amarim 5666, pp. 308-309; Likutei Torah 1:62b, 1:72a; Sefer HaMa'amarim Melukat, vol. 5, p. 41-42; vol. 2, pp. 104-105; Likutei Sichot, vol. 3, pp. 795-798
© 2001 Chabad of California/www.LAchumash.org