In honor of Israel’s 75th birthday, Israel365 is excited to launch a new series of essays that will unlock the secrets of the Hebrew Bible!
Excerpted from Rabbi Akiva Gersh’s forthcoming book, 75 Hebrew Words You Need to Understand the Bible (available now!) these essays illuminate the connection between related Hebrew words, revealing Biblical secrets only accessible through Hebrew.
Enjoy the series – and happy 75th birthday to the State of Israel!
“These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each coming with his household.” (Exodus 1:1)
ואלה שמות בני ישראל הבאים מצרימה את יעקב איש וביתו באו.
“He said, ‘Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed.’” (Genesis 32:29)
ויאמר לא יעקב יאמר עוד שמך כי אם ישראל כי שרית עם אלהים ועם אנשים ותוכל.
Yisrael, Hebrew for Israel, literally means “to wrestle with God.” Jacob was given this new name after he wrestled with and overcame an angel of God while returning to the holy land. The Jewish people were originally called Bnei Yisrael, the “Children of Israel,” for they all descended from one man – Israel, or Jacob.
In Biblical thought, a nation’s name is very significant, for it describes the nation’s collective character and destiny. Israel’s life was full of struggles, from clashes with his brother Esau and his father-in-law Laban to losing his son Joseph and believing he was dead for over twenty years. Nevertheless, Israel never despaired, and his suffering only made him stronger. Israel’s character and destiny were passed on to his descendants, the people of Israel, a nation that has faced many terrible struggles throughout its long history yet has managed to not only survive, but thrive.
Though we strive for pure faith in God, the Bible also invites us to “wrestle with God” and to develop a personal and intimate relationship with our Creator that makes space for our questions and our desire to better understand His will in the world. The greatest leaders of Israel “wrestled” with God, including Abraham, who continuously asked God to reconsider his decision to overturn the city of Sodom, and Moses, who told God to erase him from His book if He destroys the nation of Israel because of their sins.
The word Yisrael can also be pronounced yashar li’El, meaning “straight to God.” The struggles we experience in life are meant to bring us closer to God, just as Israel’s great struggles and suffering brought him closer to God.