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Through the Rabbi’s Window: How You Can Uncover the Deeper Hebrew Meaning of the Name “Israel”

Oct 6, 2019

וַיֹּ֗אמֶר לֹ֤א יַעֲקֹב֙ יֵאָמֵ֥ר עוֹד֙ שִׁמְךָ֔ כִּ֖י אִם־יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל כִּֽי־שָׂרִ֧יתָ עִם־אֱלֹהִ֛ים וְעִם־אֲנָשִׁ֖ים וַתּוּכָֽל׃

Said he, “Your name shall no longer be Yaakov, but Yisrael, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed.”

vai-YO-mer lo ya-a-KOV ye-a-MER od shim-KHA, KEE im yis-ra-AYL, KEE sa-REET im e-lo-HEEM v'-im a-na-SHEEM va-TU-khal

Genesis 32:29

Isaiah 40 reminds us to “comfort my people Israel.” Today, “Israel” is a modern State, it is also a first name for many Jews and even some non-Jews, however, it’s origin, of course, is the Bible.

Israel is the name given to Jacob after wrestling and overcoming an angel as recorded in the Book of Genesis, showing his spiritual strength:

And he said: ‘Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel; for thou hast striven with God and with men, and hast prevailed.’  (Genesis 32:29)

Following the angelic name change, “Israel” in Scripture can refer both to the Land and the People of Israel, for God’s chosen people and His promised land, reflect the essence of the angel’s blessing.

Furthermore, the very word itself “Israel” has deep and profound significance in the Hebrew language. Israel (pronounced “Yisrael”) is spelled with five Hebrew letters: יִשְׂרָאֵל – Yud, Shin, Resh, Alef and Lamed (remember that Hebrew goes from right to left!)

If you notice, the first letter of the word “Israel” is the י – yud, which is the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet. The final letter in “Israel” is the tall lamed – ל, the largest letter in the alphabet.

The very name of the Jewish people, ישראל – Yisrael, alludes to both its humble beginnings as well as its lofty destiny.  Even though the People of Israel have been persecuted throughout history, and we have been made small by our enemies, in the end, God promises throughout the Bible that Israel will be raised high at the end of days. How fortunate are we to live in a generation that has seen the transformation of Israel from a persecuted people into a mighty nation!

When we follow Isaiah’s injunction and provide comfort to Israel, we are tapping into the deepest meaning of the Hebrew word for Israel and fulfilling the prophetic purpose of the Jewish people. This is precisely what the Israel365 Watchmen on the Wall are doing by contributing every month to provide comfort to widows, orphans, lone IDF soldiers and Holocaust Survivors. You have truly brought great comfort to God’s people Israel and have helped raise them up from the ashes to regain their dignity and humanity.

Related Names and Places:

Relate Bible Verses: Chapter 32

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