This week's Torah portion begins with the verse: "And these are the names of the Children of Israel who came to Egypt; with Jacob, each man and his household came" (Exodus 1:1). At first glance, this verse seems to be redundant.
This week's Torah portion begins with the verse: "And these are the names of the Children of Israel who came to Egypt; with Jacob, each man and his household came" (Exodus 1:1). At first glance, this verse seems to be redundant. The Torah could have easily said, "And these are the names of the Children of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob." Why the repetition? Furthermore, why does the Torah use both names of Jacob (Israel and Jacob) in the same verse?
Rabbi Tzadok Shmuel Suchard, a prominent South African Torah scholar, offers the following explanation: It is important to realize that the Egyptian exile, which begins in this week's Torah portion, relates to the long exile in which we now find ourselves. This follows along the same pattern found throughout the book of Genesis, of "Ma'aseh avot siman l'banim - that which occurred to our forefathers is a sign for the children." Therefore, when dealing with our current exile, we must look to our forefathers in Egypt for direction.
The name "Israel" was given to Jacob after his fight with Esau's guardian angel (Genesis 32:29). It symbolizes the ability of the Jew to fight his enemies and prevail. The name "Jacob", on the other hand, alludes to "Jacob, the wholesome man who dwells in the tents [of Torah study]" (ibid. 25:27). This name symbolizes the Jew's love and devotion to Torah learning. Both the quality of "Israel" and the quality of "Jacob" are necessary to ensure Jewish survival in exile.
The first verse in last week's Torah reading states: "Jacob lived in the land of Egypt for seventeen years" (ibid. 47:28). The very next verse, which tells of Jacob's death, reads: "The days of Israel drew near to death." When describing Jacob living in Egypt, the Torah uses the name of "Jacob". When describing Jacob's death, however, it uses the name "Israel". The quality of "Israel" - the quality of fighting - is important for a Jew, but we can still endure even if it dies for a span of time, especially in exile. However, the quality represented by "Jacob" - the quality of Torah devotion - must never leave a Jew. It alone will guarantee the survival of the Jewish people.
A story is told about a blind man who carried a lit torch through the dark city streets. Onlookers asked him in bewilderment why he needed the torch if he could not see anyway. He replied, "Although I cannot see, through this torch other people will notice me and guide me to my destination."
When we as Jews live the life of "Jacob", clinging to the light of Torah, Hashem will notice us in the darkness of exile and lead us to our ultimate redemption, may it occur soon in our days.
Dov Kroopnick writes from Atlanta.
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