Israel, the Name

Israel – What does it mean?

One of our Krav members had a question. His first name is Israel and he wanted to know what does his name really mean.

The third of our three Biblical forefathers was Jacob. He came out of his mother's womb holding on to his older brothers' heal (akeb), so he was named Yaakob (Jacob), meaning "One who is holding the heal". The word Yaakob also means "To follow".

In Hebrew we say there is great significance to one's name. Yaakob is a follower, and yet Jacob was destined to be the father of the twelve tribes, the main father of the Hebrew people. He was not quite ready.

When he was crossing the Yabok river he encountered a man. "Having sent all the members of his family, Jacob remained by himself; and an angel, in the form of a man, wrestled with him until daybreak. When he saw that he could not overcome him (Jacob), he attacked the hollow of this thigh; and Jacob's thigh was strained, as he wrestled with him.

And the man (angel) said: 'Release me, for the day breaks'; and when Jacob discerned that he was an angel, he said, 'I will not release you, unless you bless me.'"

And the angel said to him, 'What is your name?' and he said, 'Jacob' ( a follower) and the angel said, 'Your name will no longer be called Jacob, but rather Yisrael (Israel) for you have struggled with God and man and have prevailed.'" (Beresheet, Chapter 32)

So we see that originally Jacob's name meant "follower" and it was a reminder that he was hanging on to his brother's heel. Now his name is changed to Israel, one who struggles with God and man, who is struggles with spiritual matters and physical forces, and overcomes. That is Israel, the name is born in a struggle; the nation is born in a struggle. It is a powerful name, a name worthy of the man who produces the twelve tribes of Israel.

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