It is not what we learn in conversation that enriches us. It is the elation that comes of swift contact with tingling currents of thought. — Agnes Repplier
Jacob crosses the river, leaving the duplicitous Lavan behind and getting ready to face his dangerous brother Esau. He is then attacked by an angel. They struggle throughout the night, but the angel can’t overcome Jacob. In an unexpected blessing that will define the character and purpose of the Jewish people, Jacob is told by the angel that he will no longer be called Jacob, but rather Israel, the name that we, the descendants of Jacob, bear to this day.
The Berdichiver analyzes that change of name, the duality of the names “Jacob” and “Israel” and explains that each name signifies a different level in our attachment to God, which can be perceived by two different levels and capabilities in our communications, and specifically our communications with God.
The first level of communication with God is our attunedness to Him during our service of God, our studying of the Torah and our performance of His commandments. It is to be expected that when we are directly involved in His precepts, in a holy task, that our minds and our internal communications, our inner conversation be directed to God. That is related to the name Jacob (Yaakov in Hebrew).
The second, higher level of communication, is that even in the more mundane and non-ritual or secular aspects of our lives, we remain in contact with God. That even during our conversation with another person, at some level, we still have the ability to think about God, to remain connected to God, to direct some aspect of our thoughts, our consciousness, our inner conversation to God.
That was the level that Jacob reached when he was given the name Israel. He was able to keep God in his mind even while he struggled with another. That is the root of the word Israel: that he was able to struggle with God and with man and persevere.
And that is ultimately the purpose of the plethora of commandments Jews have been given. It is to create an ongoing, all-encompassing God-consciousness. Every aspect of our lives, every act, eating, talking, working, sleeping, can be infused with divine service. God is and becomes a tangible part of every moment of our lives. When we reach that level of thought, of communication, of living, then even the angels will be impressed.
May our conversations and our actions always aspire to merit reaching God.
To the memory of Stanley Leiber (Stan Lee). His vision, his imagination, his creativity and his humanity entertained, educated, inspired and ennobled decades of fans. In the end, he had great power, and proved himself responsible…