Toldos
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Parshas Toldos

A look into Yaakov's name

By: Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum

The name "Yaakov" is a most interesting one indeed. It stands for eikev, which means "heel," the bottom of the foot. He was named that way on account of the way he was born. Yaakov held onto Eisav’s heel as they came out of their mother’s womb.

This entire episode seems quite strange. What great importance can there be in Yaakov holding Eisav’s foot so as to name him after this seemingly trivial matter? The very word "heel" doesn’t sound so glorifying as to name a great person after it. Besides, who cares in which manner Yaakov came out of his mother’s womb, certainly there were many more important episodes in his later life after which he could have been named. We find many people named after episodes that first took place years later, why not choose a more befiting episode. Also, why call him Yaakov? He should have been called eikev - heel. Where did the yud at the beginning sneak in?

One must also try to understand the reason why Yaakov held Eisav’s foot altogether. Was he thereby trying to prevent him from going out or getting out before him? If this was his intention, then he failed. Then why mention it altogether? Why remind people of his failure? It would have been better to simply forget the whole thing. Of what significance is it anyway?

It seems to me that what happened here is something unbelievable-nothing less then a miracle. We know that already in their mother’s stomach they knew where they were heading. They had already chosen their future destiny. They were going in two opposite directions. They would be eternal RIVALS. Eisav wanted to settle the score even before Yaakov would get his first breath of air in this world.

The most vulnerable place of a baby’s body is its head. Just on top of the forehead there is a spot which is very soft. Even a little knock on this spot can easily kill the child. As Eisav was coming out of his mother’s womb he shoved back his foot with all his strength. It was headed straight back, aimed to hit this most delicate spot on Yaakov’s head. One powerful blow and Yaakov would be done for forever. It would be all over with. The baby would chas v’sholom be born dead.

As Yaakov saw the foot coming in his direction, Hashem gave him the strength to stretch out his hand in front of him and grab hold of Eisav’s foot. He held it tightly with all the strength Hashem gave him. He held onto it for his dear life. Ordinarily a child’s hands, while he is in his mother’s womb, are bent inward toward the stomach and not stretched out in front of the head. This was strange indeed. It was very unusual and extremely difficult for a child to get his hand in front of his head. Certainly it was a miracle of Hashem represented by the yud, the first letter of His Name. It was Hashem Who came to his rescue and gave him the great power and strength to overcome Eisav’s evil intention. In fact, throughout Yaakov’s life Hashem stood by his side, to protect him against all of Eisav’s many attempts to destroy him. Hashem would always protect him from Eisav’s heel which constantly wanted to trample him to death. Even when Eisav’s heavenly angel himself tried to wrestle with Yaakov, Hashem gave him superhuman strength to resist him. As long as Yaakov held on to the yud - representing Hashem - he had nothing to fear from the hands of Esav. Despite the many difficulties he went through during his life, like being with Lavan for 22 years or the tragedy with his wife Rochel or the story of Yosef, his emunah in Hashem always remained strong.

The name "Yaakov" represents that constant war and struggle which he had with Eisav. It was a war that started before his birth and even continued after his death. That was when Eisav came and tried to stop them from burying Yaakov in the Me’oras HaMachpeiloh. Yet Yaakov had nothing to fear. The "yud" always stood before Eisav’s heel, protecting him at every moment.

Perhaps the meaning is that it’s the very name Yaakov which clearly proclaims our eternal protection against all the tzoros that surround us. All the tzoros we encounter are brought about only when we weaken our study of Torah and our observance of mitzvos. This is when Eisav can chas v’sholom get the upper hand. Yet, as long as the kol kol Yaakov is loud and clear we fear not the kick of Eisav’s foot. As long as we adhere tightly to the "yud" - Hashem - then all our tzoros will disappear.

The word "eikev" also refers to those mitzvos that we are not so careful with. The ones, which we step upon and don't seem to think, are so important. We must keep these mitzvos with the same reverence we keep all others. There is no such thing as a less important mitzvah. This is only the trick of the yetzer hora, who tries to fool us by trying to convince us that some mitzvos are less important than others. This is, of course, totally false.

The yetzer hora knows that if he’ll tell us not to do mitzvos we’re not going to listen. Therefore, he tries to tell us that there are certain mitzvos that are of lesser importance. He tries to convince us not to put much effort into them.

The Gemorrah (Brochos 11) tells us that tefillah - davening - is extremely important. Yet many people don’t really daven properly. It’s usually an exercise of the mouth, rather than an exercise of the heart. Mouthing words without the proper feelings of "ahavah" and "yiroh" isn’t much better than playing a tape of the davening. The tape also says all the words. Yet it fails to put in one’s heart and soul. For one’s tefillah to be accepted, one must put all one’s soul into his tefillos.

However when Yaacov finally wins in his struggle against Esav then his name is changed to Yisroel which means that Yaacov was able to overpower Esav-he’s finally won the battle.

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