Jacob Who Became Israel

One of the many things I learned from reading Wisdom from the Batcave is the origin of the word Rabbi. Rabbi Friedman explains:

The Hebrew word “rav“, from which the English equivalent “rabbi” is derived, is etymologically related to another Hebrew word, “reev“, which means “struggle” or “battle”. Get it? The idea is that a rabbi is supposed to be a champion on behalf of the Torah and God, against wickedness and for righteousness.

This reminded me of one of my favorite bits of Hebrew word play from Genesis. I, of course, don’t read Hebrew mind you, but even if a joke is explained to me I can still find it funny.

Anyway, after a struggle in the womb to determine who would bear the distinction of being born first, two children emerge. The first, a reddish hairy thing is named Esau. The second, born holding on to the heel of the first is named Jacob. The name Jacob means something like supplanter or heel-clutcher.

Later, after a life of adventure, brought upon him by craftily stealing back his birthright from Esau, Jacob comes home from abroad. The night before he faces his brother again he meets a strange man, a divine creature. Jacob wrestles with this man until daybreak, refusing to release him until he receives a blessing:

So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans and have prevailed.”

The supplanter has become one who strives with God. The heel-clutcher is now the God-clutcher. Allow me an attempt at pat universal moralizing that does no justice to mythology: If one plans on leading a contentious life I recommend picking someone worth contending with. Get it?

The above illustration is Jacob at Beth-el, long before he meets God at the river Jabbok, dressed in cosmic super-garb befitting, in my opinion, the weirdness of the situation. It was inspired by one of my all time favorite comic illustrations. Guess which one and receive 1000 blog points.

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