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Parshat Vayishlach (5768)

This week we read a strange episode in the history of Judaism; G-d changes the Patriarch Jacob's name, "Your name will no longer be called Yaakov but Yisroel will be your name" (35:10)

And it wasn't the first time it happened. Earlier (17:5) G-d changed Avram's name to Abraham. But there is seemingly a big difference between them:

After Avraham got his new name he is never referred to again bythe old one. But after Yaakov's name change the Torah continues calling him Yaakov (in fact just a few sentences later (35:14) it does it!) and calls him BOTH Yaakov and Yisroel.

At first glance this makes no sense. First, why did G-d have to change names? Was it really so important?

Second, why is Yaakov called by TWO names?

And finally, and most important, what does this mean to us now?

To explain this here is a story (HaGeula #105)

Rabbi Yaakov Levkefker, today the Chabad representative in Elizabeth New Jersey has an interesting story to tell.

Some twenty five years ago he was a new resident in the U.S.A. and wanted to apply for a 'Green Card'; a permit to live and work in that country.

But because it was a complicated process and this Card was of the utmost importance to him he decided to get a good lawyer to guide and represent him.

So he chose an expert lawyer by the name of Mr. Ring who had been helping Chabad Chassidim in such matters for years.

And just a few days later Mr. Ring called the Rabbi and told him that he had good news; he used his influence and got a early hearing and things looked promising… but they had to move quickly. They would be going to court in a week's time.

But to Mr. Ring's surprise Rabbi Levkefker wasn't pleased. The date fell out within the first nine days of the Jewish month of AV which were bad luck days for the Jews… especially in a non-Jewish court. They'd have to push off the meeting for a week or two.

Mr. Ring was disappointed and angry… all his work was down the drain! He called Rabbi Levkefker to come to his office. He was going to tell him face to face to find another lawyer.

But when the Rabbi entered suddenly Mr. Ring remembered something that happened long ago and he changed his mind.

It was over thirty years ago. A young religious Jew of about eighteen years old came into his office, introduced himself as Rabbi Label Raskin (who later would become the Rebbe's emissary in Morocco) and explained that the Lubavitcher Rebbe had recommended him.

Mr. Ring was very flattered. At that time he was just a few years into his practice and was surprised that a person of the fame and stature of the Rebbe even knew his name.

But then when he got some of the details of the case he lost his enthusiasm.

It seems that this young Rabbi Raskin was already in trouble with the immigration bureau and had received a notice of deportation for many good reasons.

But the main cause of his rejection was that on his application for citizenship he described himself as nothing less than 'The Manager of all Chabad Activities in Europe'!

Mr. Ring explained to him how ridiculous it was for him to write such a fabrication and that the only way they might possibly change their minds is if he tells the truth and says something believable. Perhaps write that that he had been the principle of a school and didn't understand the question.

But Raskin refused and even gave two unforgettable reasons: First, he insisted that he was telling the truth and really had been in charge of all Europe. And second, the Rebbe had sent him not to hear opinions or ideas why it wouldn't work but because he would get the Green card. So any pessimism was totally out of place.

Ring was so impressed to hear such clear and forceful words coming from such a young man and amazed to see thetotal devotion he demonstated tothe Rebbe that he took the case. But as things progressed he began to regret it. It became obvious that the case was surely doomed to failure.

So he made a new condition that he would only continue working if Raskin would pay after every stage of the process and not at the end as was the usual practice.

"Anyway" Mr. Ring continued the story to Rabbi Levkefker, "after a few weeks I got a date for a hearing to re-consider the case and told Rabbi Raskin the good news. But do you know what he said? Just like you, he said he couldn't go.

"He said that the evening of the hearing fell out on a day that the Lubavitcher Rebbe would be speaking in public, which he couldn't miss,and he wanted me to go there without him.

"I thought he was nuts. At first he's desparate to get the citzenship and then he doesn't seem to care at all. There was no doubt in my mind that when the judges saw that he couldn't even make it to his own trial they would for sure throw the case out of court and evict him from the U.S.A."

"But do you know what happened? Against my better judgment and certain of failure I went to the trial without him andI got a few surprises.

"First of all the judges didn't seem to care or evennotice that my client wasn't there. Rather they just asked me why I thought that their decision to reject Raskin's request was a mistake. At first I was confused but then suddenly from nowhere an idea popped into my mind. In fact it was like the words just came out of my mouth without me thinking at all.

"I said, 'Your honors. We here in the United States are accustomed to young men at the age of eighteen that are given life on a silver platter; they are supported by their parents, watch television and are truly incapable of standing under the pressure of directing and organizing international projects.

"'But my client was born and raised in Communist Russia where life is pure hell! I'm certain that your honors can imagine the fortitude it must have taken for a young orthodox Jewish boy to succeed under the pressures and prosecutions of that oppressive government. Why, from the age of kindergarten he was probably already making life and death decisions about himself and those around him.

"'It is precisely dealing with these obstacles that gave him the experience and maturity necessary to direct the Chabad activities in Europe after he left Russia. So it is no wonder that it was hard for you to believe his claim at first. But I can assure you that my client was not exaggerating when he described his achievements.

"The judges were silent for a few seconds, then turned to one another for consultation and finally decided unanimously that the appeal was accepted and Raskin would get his papers.

"But the best part was when I returned and gave Raskin the good news. We were both very happy and I said half-jokingly, 'Well Mr. Raskin, I have to admit that you have a very clever Rebbe if he knew to pick probably the only lawyer in America that could reverse a hopeless case like yours into a victory."

"Raskin looked at me as though I was a child and said, in a tone of certainty I've never heard before or since then.

"'Tell me Mr. Ring, do you really think that what you said to those judges came from your talents? Why, you know yourself that it isn't so! It was the Rebbe who made sure that those right words would come out of your mouth… that is why the Rebbe chose you!'

"The idea was ridiculous, unheard of, completely not normal… but I somehow knew he was right. It was a miracle that did it. That was thirty years ago and his words are fresh in my mind as today."

Mr.Ring took Rabbi Levkefker's case and, needless to say, it too succeeded.

This answers our questions.

A name of a person indicates both how he (or she) affects the world and also (according to Kaballa) how that person's soul is attached to his body. (That is why an unconscious person may be awaked by calling his name.)

Sochanging the namemeans changes the person both inside and out.

When Abraham's name was changed it brought him from being removed and distant from the world (Av Ram) to being the spiritual 'father' of all mankind (17:5) whichthis is the purpose of the Jews: Namely to bring the entire world to worship only the Creator according to the Torah.

So he was never again called Avram.

And the other forefathers brought this purpose more and more to fruition. Especially Yaakov-Yisroel.

'Yaakov' implies correcting the world from by overcoming obstacles and nature (especially one's own human nature) (Gen. 27:36) something like what Mr. Ring thought had happened at first.

While Yisroel means revealing the blessing of G-d in the world in a miraculous way something like what really happened to Mr. Ring; the words just 'came to him' and he won the case.

And we need both names; i.e. both types of service of G-d:

Like Yaakov we need to to use all our talents and all the resources in the world to do the Creator's will; do it all ourselves.

But like Yisroel we must realize that the results of our efforts are really not from us; they are miraculous blessings of G-d; and success is assured!

And it is only through the combination of these two approaches to life that we can transform the world into a joyous, meaningful, blessed place… fulfill all the promises given to the forefathers and bring the complete redemption with

Moshiach NOW!!

Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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