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    Jacob’s new name – Vayyishlach

    When Jacob was given the name Israel he was told, “You have struggled (sarita) with God and man and have prevailed” (Gen. 32:29).

    The new name is an improvement on its predecessor. Jacob – Yaakov – is linked with akov, a heel. It indicates a birth experience, a brother who grabbed at his twin brother’s heel – not a nice characteristic, not a nice name, not a nice reputation to have.

    The original name suggests a person who wanted to supplant his brother’s status; the new name indicates a person who fights and wins in a fair struggle.

    The new name reflects the night-time wrestling of Jacob and his unidentified assailant. Presuming that the assailant was human, the name tells us that Jacob fought with a man.

    But what about the idea of fighting with God? It is possible that, as with a number of other places in the Tanach, “God” in this verse is not to be taken literally. It is a metaphor. It does not refer to the Almighty but has the meaning of “a great, mighty person”.

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