Two Names, Two Paths of Divine Service

Our Sages1 compare the verse:2 “Your name will no longer be Yaakov. Instead, your name will be Yisrael,” with the verse,3 “Your name will no longer be Avram,” and state that a person who refers to Avraham by the name Avram commits a transgression.4 In contrast, a person who refers to Yaakov by that name, rather than by the name Yisrael, does not transgress.

What is the difference? Our Sages explain that from the time G‑d gave Avraham his new name, the Torah refers to him with that name alone. With regard to Yaakov, by contrast, even after G‑d gave him the name Yisrael, the Torah still refers to him as Yaakov.

What is the rationale for this distinction? Why does the Torah still refer to Yaakov by that name even after he was given the name Yisrael?

In Chassidus,5 it is explained that the names Yaakov and Yisrael reflect two different approaches to Divine service. Every Jew must possess both traits, for there are times when a Jew must carry out his Divine service in the path reflected by the name Yaakov, while at other times, his Divine service must reflect the path of Yisrael. Although Yisrael implies a higher level, at certain times, and in certain situations, the Divine service of Yaakov is necessary.

Yaakov’s Deception, Yisrael’s Mastery

The difference between the approaches of Yaakov and Yisrael can be described as follows: The name Yaakov indicates that the blessings from Yitzchak are acquired through deception and trickery.6 Through cleverness, Yaakov was able to snatch Yitzchak’s blessings from Esav. Yisrael, by contrast, reflects a higher rung. For Yisrael, there is no need to secure blessings by craftiness. Instead, they are granted him: “as befitting a ruler, in a revealed manner.”

“The deeds of the Patriarchs are a sign for their descendants,”7 providing us with guidance in our own Divine service. “[The meaning of] a verse never departs from its simple interpretation.”8 Thus the blessings given by Yitzchak9 “The dew of the heavens and the fat of the earth” refer to material prosperity. To receive these blessings, Yaakov and Rivkah were willing to take risks and employ deception. For example, Yaakov had to wear the clothes of Nimrod,10 the one who “with his kingship, caused the entire world to rebel against [G‑d].”11 What was the purpose of these tactics? To elevate the sparks of G‑dliness which are contained in material entities.

This serves as a lesson for us. A Jew must approach eating, drinking, and other material activities with a certain measure of craft and deception.12 How does a person perpetrate a fraud? He does not reveal his true intent. He begins by appearing to follow the path which his opponent desires, but at a particular point, he changes course and does what he desires, although it is against his opponent’s wishes.

This is the way a Jew should approach material activities. On the surface, he like everyone else is involved in material activities; he eats, drinks, and deals in business. But he engages in these activities “for the sake of heaven.”13 He wears “Esav’s clothes,” but carries out all his material activities with a sense of inner purpose: to elevate the sparks of G‑dliness contained in the material entities.

The Divine service of Yisrael involves a different approach. The blessings for prosperity granted him by Yitzchak are conferred upon him “as befitting a ruler, in a revealed manner.” He does not have to conceal the G‑dly goal of his material involvement. For material concerns do not create a conflict for him; for him, there is no concealment of their G‑dly source. To cite an example, by simply eating a Shabbos meal,14 a Jew is performing a mitzvah. This is different from the task of refinement which he performs during the week. During the week, he eats for the sake of heaven, i.e., with “deception.” For a Jew is practicing “deception” every time he performs a physical activity for a spiritual purpose. On Shabbos, the physical activity of eating itself reflects holiness.

This concept is alluded to by the name Yisrael, which was granted to Yaakov because: “You strove with angels15 and men and prevailed.”16 The terms “angels” and “men” refer to the different challenges we face in our Divine service, for both involve the concealment of G‑dly influence. “Angels” refer to the 70 spiritual archangels who serve as channels through which the Divine influence that maintains material existence passes.17 This process veils G‑dliness.

An even greater process of concealment is brought about by “men” coarse individuals who ridicule Jews for seeking to observe the Torah and its mitzvos.18 As is painfully obvious, it is more difficult to overcome human obstacles than those which are brought about through spiritual beings, i.e., the inherent veiling of G‑dliness involved in the creation of material existence. For this reason, the entire Shulchan Aruch begins by stating: “Do not be embarrassed by those who scoff.” This is the foundation of our Divine service to break through the forces which conceal G‑dliness.

The advantage alluded to by the name Yisrael the ability to “strive with angels and men and prevail” is that Yisrael is able to see through the concealment perpetrated by both angels and men. Not only do these forces not contend with him, they consent to the blessings he receives.19 Not only does Yisrael defeat the archangel of Esav, but that angel blesses him, in keeping with the dictum:20 “His enemies will establish peace with him.” This includes the greatest enemy, “the primeval serpent,” the source of all sin and conflict. Not only will this force not present any opposition, it will “establish peace,” and offer assistance.

When Struggle is No Longer Necessary

The distinction between the levels of Yaakov and Yisrael can be clarified based on the maamar in Likkutei Torah,21 which interprets the verse:22 “[G‑d] does not look at wrongdoing within Yaakov, nor does He see vice23 within Yisrael.” On the level of Yaakov, there is no “wrongdoing;” there is , however, “vice.” Indeed, a struggle is necessary so that no wrongdoing ensues, for on Yaakov’s level, the veiling and concealment of G‑dliness present a challenge which must be overcome. Therefore Yaakov is given the title “My servant,”24 for his Divine service of refining the animal soul involves labor and toil. (There is, however, no “wrongdoing,” for Yaakov summons up inner strength, and overcomes the yetzer hora.)

With regard to Yisrael, by contrast, there is no “vice.” There is no need to contend with the yetzer hora. Yisrael has already “strive[n] with angels and men and prevailed.” The verb uses the past tense, indicating that the struggles are behind him. He has already nullified all the veils concealing G‑dliness.

Therefore, the Divine service of Yisrael does not involve a struggle with forces opposed to holiness. Instead, his efforts are dedicated solely to reaching higher and higher within the domain of holiness, “go[ing] from strength to strength.”25

Two Maxims

The Previous Rebbe related26 that the Tzemach Tzedek was once sitting with chassidim at a farbrengen. Suddenly he jumped onto the table and exclaimed: “[Our Sages’ statement:] ‘What difference does it make if you kill it entirely or kill it partially?’ can be applied to the yetzer hora…. It is, however, necessary to kill it partially.”

As the farbrengen unfolded and led to dancing, the Tzemach Tzedek continued: “When one kills the yetzer hora as it is written,27 ‘My heart is slain within me” one’s life takes on a new cast.”

The two maxims of the Tzemach Tzedek reflect the different levels of Yaakov and Yisrael. On the level of Yaakov, it is necessary to wage war against the yetzer hora, “killing it, [at least] partially”; life is filled with strife. On the level of Yisrael, by contrast, the yetzer hora has already been slain, and existence takes on a new visage; it becomes a life of satisfaction and pleasure.

Two Levels of Spiritual Light

The two levels of Yaakov and Yisrael and the paths of Divine service associated with each reflect two rungs within the G‑dly soul. The Hebrew letters of the name Yaakov, יעקב , can be divided as י' עקב , i.e., only the eikev, the heel, the lowest level of the yud, the soul, shines within the person. As such, it is possible for the body and the animal soul to conceal the light of the Divine soul, and thus conflict ensues.

The name Yisrael, ישראל , by contrast, can be divided into the words לי ראש , “the head for Me.”28 The “head” of the soul shines within him. Accordingly, there is no need for war; “You [have] strive[n] with angels and men and prevailed.”

In general, the name Yisrael describes the righteous, while the name Yaakov relates to beinonim “intermediate men,” which is “the attribute of all men.”29 More particularly, within the Divine service of the ordinary man, the name Yaakov refers to our efforts during the week, while the name Yisrael refers to our devotion on Shabbos.

Moreover, within the Divine service of the righteous themselves, there is a rung of observance associated with Yisrael and a rung in proportion to their level of righteousness associated with Yaakov. Indeed, this is obvious from the Talmudic passage quoted at the outset, which states that even after Yaakov our Patriarch was given the name Yisrael, he was still sometimes called Yaakov.

Since every Jew, both beinonim and righteous men, relate to the level of Yaakov, the Torah still refers to him by that name even after he has been renamed Yisrael. The name Yaakov remains, because even afterwards, his Divine service must bear a relationship to that level.

An Assurance of Victory

As mentioned above, the Torah states: “[G‑d] does not look at wrongdoing within Yaakov.” The verse does not exclude “vice,” however, for vice indeed exists at Yaakov’s level. The level of Yaakov involves a struggle with the yetzer hora that requires strenuous effort, and involves danger. Nevertheless, Yaakov has the inner strength to succeed in this struggle and remain free of “wrongdoing.” For every Jew is “the branch of My planting, the work of My hands in which to take pride.”30 He is “an actual part of G‑d.”31 As such, just as it is impossible for anyone to overcome G‑d, it is impossible for anyone to exert any authority over a Jew’s soul, if he resists. For a Jew always has the inner strength to be victorious. Indeed, he has been assured that he will ultimately prevail, as it is stated:32 “No one will remain estranged from You.” And we have been promised:33 “All of Israel has a portion in the World to Come.”

This promise (like all concepts in the Torah) affects our Divine service at present. The assurance that we will be victorious in the struggle should infuse us with strength and happiness. This strength and happiness will, in turn, hasten the victory. As my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, said:34 “A soldier… proceeds with a happy melody, although he goes to a place of danger…. It is his approach in happiness which enables him to be victorious.”

Happiness, Instead of Fear

Based on the above, we can appreciate the implication of the liturgical hymn sung at the Melaveh Malkah meal on Saturday night35 : “Do not fear, Yaakov My servant.” As explained in Likkutei Torah, on Shabbos the Jewish people are on the level of Yisrael. There is no need for strenuous efforts to refine the world’s material substance.

As the Shabbos departs, however, Jews make the transition to the level of “Yaakov My servant,” and prepare to resume their mission of refining material entities in the weekdays which follow. Therefore they are assured: “Do not fear, Yaakov My servant.”

A Jew is promised that there is no need to fear this transition. On the contrary, he is empowered to proceed in his Divine service with happiness and satisfaction. This in turn will hasten the completion of the task, and the coming of the era in which we will receive “generous recompense for our efforts”36 “the era which is all Shabbos and rest for life everlasting.”37

(Adapted from Sichos Yud Shvat, 5718)