Sep 08


(Torah Portion Vayishlach) A Rare Fight!

The night before Yaacov encountered his hateful and distant brother Aisav, Yaacov found himself alone with the angel who represented Aisav. The Torah describes that the two struggled throughout the night until daybreak.

Although Yaacov became injured during the scuffle, he was able to overpower and pin down the angel. Yaacov agreed to release the angel only if he would bless him. The angel gave Yaacov a new name – calling him by the name Yisroel. The name Yaacov has the connotation of having received the firstborn blessings by deceit, while the name Yisroel means an officer to G-d. By giving Yaakov the name Yisroel, the angel of Aisav relinquished any claim to the firstborn right, surrendering it to Yaacov. The Torah relates that G-d also added Yisroel to Yaacov’s name later on.

Immediately after the Torah relates that the angel changed Yaacov’s name, the Torah prohibits eating the sciatic nerve of a kosher animal because the angel injured Yaacov in the thigh. While giving this command, the Torah, for the first time, calls the Jewish nation, B’nei Yisroel – the children of Israel. The name, B’nei Yisroel or Am Yisroel is our label.

A quick computer query will show that the word Yisroel appears 587 times in the Torah and an additional 1928 times in the books of the prophets.

Our prayers and blessings are replete with the word Yisroel. The most notable is Shema Yisroel, but also in the Kaddish where we say, bais Yisroel and kol Yisroel, and of course, our beloved land is called Eretz Yisroel.

As we mentioned, the word Yisroel means “an officer to G-d.” Meaning that Yaacov and his descendants represent G-d by carrying out G-d’s will and instruction.

The letters that form the word Yisroel have embedded messages as well. Our Sages point out that each Hebrew letter of Yisroel represents the first letters of the names of our patriarchs and matriarchs.

Yud – Yitzchok and Yaacov; Sin – Sarah; Raish – Rivkah and Rachel; Aleph – Avraham; Lamed – Leah. Thus the name that we are called encompasses the virtues and aspirations of our forbearers.

There is an additional embedded acronym that emerges from the word Yisroel which requires introductory details.

When the Jews were miraculously freed from Egypt there was a purpose for their new found freedom. In a short fifty days they would have an encounter with G-d and receive the Torah.

The Torah tells us that the number of Jews leaving Egypt was around 600,000, which represents the entirety of the Jewish nation. Our Sages also teach us that the Written Torah consist of 600,000 letters, so that this number also represents the totality of the Torah.

With this said, we can get back to and appreciate what our Sages tell us, that the letters of the word Yisroel stand for the acronym, Yeish Shishim Ribo Osiyos LaTorah – there are 600,000 letters to the Torah.

Commentators – Rabbi Yaacov Kaminetzky o.b.m. and Reb Tzodok Hakohain – point out that if one counts the letters in the Torah he will only find 304,805. They explain that many letters are actually made up of combinations of other letters, for example, an Aleph is configured of two letter Yuds and a Vuv and is counted as three letters. So too, a Shin is constructed of three Vuvs and a Hey is made of two letters, a Daled and a Yud.

According to this approach the number of letters in the Torah scroll swells to 576,452 letters. (A reconciliation of the remainder is beyond the scope of this presentation.)

Other commentators explain that every letter in the Torah has to be encompassed and surrounded by blank space of the parchment so that every letter is distinct with no letter touching another. Therefore the space around the letters is also considered as letters. Thus, we double the 304,805 letters of the Torah moving the number over the 600,000 mark.

We can glean an amazing insight from this. Each person in Klal Yisroel carries a personal identity and responsibility within the name Yisroel. For the name Yisroel intimates that each one of us represents a letter of our sacred Torah.

Just as we know that each letter of a sacred Torah scroll has to be written to perfection in order for the Torah scroll to be kosher to read from and for one to receive an Aliyah, so too, each person of Klal Yisroel has been entrusted by G-d to uphold and preserve his/her personal ‘letter’ of the Torah!

When we each place focus on enriching our lives by furthering our devotion G-d, the Torah and to mankind, accordingly, Klal Yisroel as a unit becomes stronger, greater and appreciated!

Wishing you a most enjoyable & uplifting Shabbos
Rabbi Dovid Saks