Who Wants to Be Jewish?

This week we read (in Genesis 32) how Jacob acquires a new name, “Israel,” after wrestling through the night with an angel representing the spirit of Esau. “No longer shall your name be called Jacob,” proclaims the defeated angel, “but rather Israel, for you have contended with G‑d and with men, and have prevailed.”

And yet, Jacob continues to be called “Jacob” in the Torah, though he’s also called by his new name, “Israel”; from this point onward, the Torah alternates between the two names. The same applies to the Jewish people as a whole: we’re generally referred to as “Israel” or “The Children of Israel,” but there are also numerous times in the Torah when the Jewish people are collectively called “Jacob” or “The Seed of Jacob.”

The chassidic masters point out that the name Jacob is used when we’re referred to as G‑d’s “servants” (as in Isaiah 44:1: “Now, listen, My servant Jacob”), while the name Israel is employed when we’re called G‑d’s “children” (as in Exodus 4:22: “My firstborn child, Israel”).

The difference between a servant and a child can be understood on many levels. A most basic distinction, however, is the motivation behind the relationship. Both a child and a servant serve the parent/master and fulfill his will. The difference is in why they do it. When a child does something for his father or mother, he does so with love, pleasure and joy. The servant, on the other hand, does these actions not because he desires to, but because he must.

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