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If G-d changed Jacob's name to Israel, why is he still called Jacob?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg


Library » History » Patriarchs, 12 Tribes | Subscribe | What is RSS?


The Torah says1 that the name Yisrael (Israel) means "for you have striven with Divine [Esau's archangel] and with man [Esau and Laban] and have overcome."

Rashi explains (on the same verse) that Esau's angel declared "it will no longer be said that you deserve the name Yaakov (Jacob) - which implies deceit and trickery2 -- because you obtained Isaac's blessings deceitfully. Instead you will receive the name Yisrael which means superiority and nobility; it will be acknowledged that you received the blessing because you were the more deserving brother.

Jacob is what we are called when we are in exile and persecuted... The name Israel has the same letters as "my master." This is the level of the Jews when they are in a state of spiritual and physical redemption.
According to Chassidic teachings, his descendants, the Jewish People, contain both the Jacob and Israel elements. Jacob is what we are called when we are in exile and persecuted, for the word Jacob stands for "Yud Akaiv" -- The G-dly soul, which is represented by the letter yud, is in the level of akaiv (the heel). When we are in exile it is often-times necessary to use slyness and shrewdness to be able to study the Torah and do the mitzvahs despite the daily hardships which we encounter.

The name Israel has the same letters as "sar lee" (my master). This is the level of the Jews when they are in a state of spiritual and physical redemption.

Since there is virtue in both overcoming challenges (exile) and in being beyond them (redemption), the Torah continues to call him both Jacob and Israel.


  • 1. Genesis 32:29.
  • 2. See Genesis 27:36.


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Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105). Legendary French scholar who authored the fundemental and widely accepted "Rashi commentary" on the entire Bible and Talmud.
(Pl.: Chassidim; Adj.: Chassidic) A follower of the teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), the founder of "Chassidut." Chassidut emphasizes serving G-d with sincerity and joy, and the importance of connecting to a Rebbe (saintly mentor).
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
Second of the three Jewish Patriarchs, son of Abraham and Sarah. Lived in Canaan (Israel); b. 1712 BCE, d. 1532 BCE.
Rogue son of Patriarch Isaac and Matriarch Rebecca. Elder twin of Patriarch Jacob.
Rebecca's brother and father of Rachel and Leah. He deceived Jacob into marrying both of his daughters for the price of fourteen years of labor.
1. Additional name given by G-d to Patriarch Jacob. 2. A Jew who is not a Kohain or Levi (descendant of the Tribe of Levi).