People have frequently asked, “If your name is “Daniel”, why is your Hebrew name “Ya’akov”? Even though Daniel is my English name (some might say “my diaspora name”), when I am called to the Torah it is “Ya’akov”. The simple answer: Grandma Tzirel Devora, Zichrona Livracha, wanted an Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov in the family. My father, Zichrono Livracha, was Yitzchak, and my older brother, Yibadayl Lechayim Aruchim, is “Avraham”.
Then there was the issue of the meaning of the name. What Bible scholars call “folk etymology”, in Genesis 25:26, it is taken to mean “heel”. Add to that the common connection people make to “the tricky, shady one”, and I was stuck…until my late teacher, Professor Nahum Sarna explained that the true etymology of the root means “protect”, and it is a shortened form for “Ya’akov-El” meaning “May El [God] protect”.
Having discovered that calmed my nerves and reduced my blood sugar numbers. Still, I have been tied to Ya’akov-Jacob over the years, and particularly two profound events in his life – the dream of the ladder to heaven (Genesis 28) and the wrestling match with the angel (Chapter 32). Recently, something began to bother me about the usual translation of “sullam” as “ladder” or “stairway”. Let us for a moment apply the well-known Rabbinic principal ayn mukdam ume’uchar baTorah – Torah texts are not always chronological. Reverse the order of the events, i.e., wrestling match then ladder dream, in our 21st century growing sensitivity to persons with disabilities, Jacob, now limping from his injury would not be able to climb the ladder or stairs.
Again, Professor Sarna comes to the rescue, explaining that the etymology of the root of sullam is obscure, but it might also mean “ramp”. That works much better, as we have seen the many synagogues install ramps to the Bima.
This is just one more Torah hint and commentary that reminds us how, thankfully, times have changed. The historical proof is simple: ask any rabbi to show you a sermon delivered 25 years ago about access for congregants and guests with disabilities. Such a sermon just doesn’t exist. Baruch HaShem, times have changed.