Why Are We Called the “Children of Israel?” and Not Jacob?

As a Jew, do I respond to the needs of the stranger as I am repeatedly commanded to do so? As a Jew, have I fought to recruit a jury and politicians that stands for equality and justice? As Jew, should my voice be raised high, discontented and repetitive until justice is met? 

For me, as I recall the anti-Semitic struggle of my European ancestors, and as I seek to understand how my grandfather’s grandmother, Lucille Mcgruder, was born enslaved in West Virginia during a segment of America’s darkest times, these questions burn in my mind. But as we learn from the story of how Jacob became Israel, these questions are fundamental to all Jews.

In Genesis 32: 25-29 we read:




And Jacob was left alone, and a man (some say angel) wrestled with him until morning…and he (man/angel) said ‘let me go because it is the morning, and he (Jacob) said I will not let you go unless you bless me, and he (angel/man) said to him ‘what is your name?’ he said ‘Jacob.’ And he (angel/man) said, ‘no longer shall your name be Jacob, but rather Israel, because you struggled with God (for the sake of the Divine), and with men (for the sake of man) and were triumphant.’” 

Later in the Bible, in his final message to our nation, Moses reminds the people of Israel as they get ready to enter the land of Israel, that the Israelites are who they are because they seek justice from below and above. Fundamental to being Jews was the agreement with God to make the physical world free of spiritual and moral blemish. We were “chosen” to elevate the stranger the orphan and the widow, and to build a world of moral courage and freedoms for all. We were “chosen” to be Israel, to struggle with the Divine and with Men, to fight for the Divine when Men fall low, and to Fight with God, when men cant “pull it together.” As we learn about Jacob in the Torah, we were not “chosen,” to stay in the walls of our synagogue (tent), because the plight of the world is too great to stay concealed in the warmth of the soul.


We are called Israel
, because we made a decision to scream out when corruption is rampant. (Numbers 25:11)


We are called Israel
, because we are not afraid to say that truth should reign in the place of folly. (Joseph the Righteous, 41:42)


We are called Israel
, because of people like Louis Isaac Jaffe who condemned American whites for lynching American Blacks.


We are called Israel,
because of people like Gili Rosenberg who reasoned “because they are our brothers” when asked why she joined the Kurdish fighters against ISIS.


We are called Israel,
because even when my twin brother plots evil schemes against me, I will still attempt to appease him (Genesis 33:3)


We are named Israel,
because when she comes, we know her well, when the stranger is without refuge, we defend and embrace her without hesitation.

Jacob wrestled with the angel and the battle left him with a limp and a new name. Jews collectively embrace the name Israel, because we will wrestle, even when it means that we may leave limping.

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