One time, my wife Dina came into my room and noticed that I was smiling. She asked me why. I explained that growing up, we were always taught about being happy, and having trust and belief in G‑d, especially in times of darkness and difficulty. But I didn’t know how I would react when put to the test. Now that G‑d has given me ALS, He put me in the darkest of places and I feel that I am handling it well, and that makes me happy. So now I know—and somehow, knowing makes things easier.

The haftarah for Bo is Jeremiah’s prophecy of the destruction of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar. This is followed by a vision of hope and reassurance that the Jewish people will return to their homeland.1

The connection to our parshah is clear. Bo tells us of the destruction of Egypt by G‑d through the final three plagues. This is followed by the exodus from Egypt, which was the beginning of the travels that brought the Jewish people to the Holy Land, Israel.

The haftarah begins with a detailed description of the devastation of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar and his army, who would come from the north. So vast will be his army that they will be more than a swarm of locusts. It describes how the Egyptians would quiver out of fear and flee. Even Pharaoh will be afraid; he will talk big, but when the time comes, he will waiver. Egypt will be deserted for a time, and then its dispersed will return.

The Jewish people will see the Egyptians returning to their homeland and wonder when will they be returning to their homeland? The prophecy continues with a reassurance that they, too, will return to their homeland. “Do not fear My servant Jacob, do not be dismayed Israel, for behold, I will save you from far away, and your descendants from the land of their captivity. Jacob shall return, and be at rest and at ease, and none shall make them afraid. Do not fear My servant Jacob . . . because I am with you. “2

In this verse, the Jewish people are referred to as Jacob and Israel. It is also the custom of many to say or sing “Do not fear my servant Jacob,” after the departure of Shabbat. What is the difference between Jacob and Israel? Why is the custom to specifically use the name Jacob after Shabbat? And finally, why is Jacob called “My servant”?

The Talmud3 tells us that after G‑d changed Abram’s name to Abraham, we are not permitted to call him Abram anymore. As the verse says, “Your name will no longer be called Abram.”4 However, even though the verse says the same with regards to Jacob, “Your name will no longer be called Jacob,”5 we are permitted to call him Jacob, because even after the name change, the Torah continues to use the name Jacob.

But the question remains. Why is Jacob still OK after G‑d issued the new name of Israel?

The difference between Jacob and Israel is that the name Jacob refers to us when we need to contend with the physical world and outsmart our evil inclination in order to use the physical for G‑dliness. Jacob is called “My servant” because this work is pleasureless, like the work of a servant. Like a servant, Jacob doesn’t feel a closeness to G‑d. Indeed, the name Jacob comes from the word eikev (heel), referring to the lower part of the soul, which can be concealed by the body and the physical world.

Israel refers to us when we are above the physical. In this state, “Israel [is] My firstborn son,” as we feel close to G‑d. Instead of the evil inclination and the physical being a hindrance to our service to G‑d, it becomes a helper. The name Israel was given “because you have struggled with angels and with men and you prevailed.”6 He has overcome the opposing angels and the scoffers to the point that not only do they not hurt, they actually help. This is because the name Israel is an anagram for li rosh, which means “I have a head.” The head refers to the higher part of the neshamah (soul), which nothing has the power to conceal.

This is also the meaning of the verse from Parshat Balak, which we say on Rosh Hashanah: “A sin was not observed in Jacob, and toil was not seen in Israel.”7 Jacob doesn’t have any sins because he has the ability to overcome his challenges through toil. Israel, on the other hand, doesn’t have to toil because he is above it all.

In a general sense, this is the difference between a tzaddik and the average Jew. The tzaddik is at the level of Israel; he has no struggle because he has totally changed his evil inclination into good. The average Jew, however, is like Jacob; he struggles, but he overcomes.

On another level, we see that the average Jew is a mix of both Jacob and Israel; it is the difference between the weekdays and Shabbat. During the weekdays, when he must contend with his physical surroundings, to overcome and transform them into holiness he takes on the role of Jacob. However, when Shabbat comes, even the physical becomes holy, as we see that eating food and sleeping on Shabbat are holy acts. That is when he takes on the role of Israel.

This is true for a tzaddik as well, albeit in a more subtle way. It’s understood from the fact that he was still called Jacob, even after he earned the name Israel. This is because even a perfectly righteous person must be Jacob at times.

Now we understand the custom to say “Do not fear My servant Jacob” after Shabbat. Why Jacob? Because we are coming from Shabbat—when we are Israel, where everything is holy and there is no struggle—and entering the weekdays as Jacob—with darkness, struggles and hardships—and that is scary. Why shouldn’t we be afraid? G‑d continues: “Because I Am with you.”

This also means that G‑d specifically puts us in this situation and helps us accomplish what He wants most: that we turn this dark world into a place where He can reside openly. So when G‑d says, “Do not fear My servant Jacob,” He give us the strength to persevere and succeed.8

In fact, there is really nothing to fear. We are certain that we will ultimately be victorious because at our core, we have a soul, which is a part of G‑d. Just as no one can rule over G‑d, no one has power over us. We see this from the last words of the haftarah, “I will not make an end of you . . . and I will not wipe you out.”9 While others may be wiped out, we will always remain because we have an essential connection to G‑d that can never be erased.10 On top of that, we have a guarantee that “not one of [us] will be cast away.”11 And that “all of Israel will have a portion in the world to come.”12

Knowing this will fill us with joy, and that joy will help us succeed more quickly. May we merit to win our final victory, which will usher in the coming of Moshiach, when it will be like Shabbat all the time. May it happen soon!13