Before the outbreak of the war on October 7, we, in Israel, were at each other’s throats. The proposed judicial reform led to weekly protests throughout the country for over eight months. The protesters feared that the judicial reform would split an already divided country and undermine the very foundations of Israeli society. This, in turn, led to widespread counter-protests with those in favor of the judicial reform claiming that the judicial system had abused its power for years and had ignored the will of the people. These protests and counter-protests dominated the news and conversations among all segments of Israeli society. Furthermore, these conversations often descended into mutual recriminations with each side accusing the other of endangering the very future of the Jewish state. These arguments, at times, became so heated that relationships between friends and family members began to fray. It seemed that, with every passing day, the two sides were growing farther apart, and we, as a people, were one step away from civil war.
And then came October 7th. With one vicious, brutal, and barbaric attack everything seemed to change almost instantaneously. The same people who were on opposing sides of the fierce debate over judicial reform, and hurling insults upon one another, suddenly came together to fight side-by-side and to extend a collective hand and do whatever is necessary to help those in need. People from the political right and the left, along with the religious, traditional and secular, joined forces to provide money, food, clothing, supplies, services and emotional support for soldiers and for families who were forced to evacuate their homes. The slogan on television, newspapers, billboards and buildings around the country was, and continues to be, yachad nenatze’ach (“together we shall be victorious”) which we, as a people, have internalized. We are now more united than at any time in recent memory.
Thus, the curious bystander may reasonably ask, are we schizophrenic? Are we an utterly dysfunctional people on the verge of civil war, or are we a united people fighting together to ensure the future of the country that we all know and love? Or to borrow the words of the host of a former TV game-show: Will the real Israel please stand up?
But even more importantly than the question of who we are now is, who will we be when this war is over? Will we return to our previous bickering and divisiveness, or we be able to sustain the good will, brotherhood, and common purpose that define our identity at this time?
I believe that the Torah portions that we read at this time may shed light on these questions. In chapter 35 of Genesis, God tells Jacob: “You whose name is Jacob, you shall be called Jacob no more, But Israel shall be your name” (35:10). By changing Jacob’s name to Israel, God is, in effect, changing his very identity and destiny, as well as that of his descendants. If the name “Jacob” implies tripping-up, deception and crookedness (Genesis 27:36), the name “Israel” suggests strength, integrity and uprightness (see Genesis 32:29 as well as my earlier article https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=210947698716602&set=a.114186111726095)
Based on the above, it would be reasonable to conclude that Isaac’s son will, henceforth, be referred to solely by the dignified name “Israel” rather than by the unbecoming name “Jacob”. Such a conclusion, however, is flatly contradicted by the text.
Although God changed Jacob’s name to Israel in chapter 35 of Genesis, the Torah continues to refer to him as both Israel and as Jacob throughout the remaining chapters of Genesis. In fact, both names appear with roughly the same frequency (39 for Jacob and 36 for Israel), sometimes both names appear in succeeding verses (see 35:20-21; 37:2-3; 42:4-5; 45:27-28; 47:28-29), and sometimes even in the very same verse (see 35:22; 46:2,8; 48:2)! It is as if the Torah is saying that even after his name has been changed to Israel, Jacob it still living with an identity conflict, or to put it more bluntly, he is suffering from a form of schizophrenia. If so, our contemporary schizophrenia may be part of our inherited tradition and genetic makeup, and thus, we are doomed to live with this disease for the foreseeable future.
This would be true had the Torah continued to refer to Jacob as both Jacob and Israel. After Jacob dies, however, his descendants are referred to, almost exclusively, as B’nei Yisrael- the children of Israel, not the children of Jacob. What happened? Apparently, once Jacob was no longer just an individual but the forefather of a nation that was destined to be enslaved and then liberated by God, the Torah could no longer refer to him by the name assigned by his father. In other words, Jacob’s identity crisis, or schizophrenia, was never fully resolved until God resolved it for him by enslaving and then redeeming his descendants.
Thus, the question we need to ask ourselves today is, will we find a way to sustain the spirit of caring, goodness and brotherhood that have defined our identity during wartime, or will we revert, after the war is over, to our old ways and then wait for God to step in and save us from ourselves?