Straight to God

A teaching from Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apt, Ohev Yisroel, Balak.

מַה טֹּבוּ אֹהָלֶיךָ יַעֲקֹב מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל                      How goodly are your tents, Jacob, and your sanctuaries, Israel. Numbers 24:5

It is known that there are two aspects of a person [designated by the two names], Jacob and Israel (1). Sometimes we do something, and we don’t find God in that thing until afterward; this is the aspect of “Jacob” or יעקב, for divine wisdom, which is represented by the letter י Yud [in the Ineffable Name YHVH], only comes עקב, “afterward.” But when we truly cleave to God, and have in mind at the beginning of the act that we are serving God, then we feel the divine life in that act even as we do it, and then we are called “Israel” or ישראל, that is ישר אל, meaning “straight to God.” In this world most of us are like Jacob, only feeling God’s presence from time to time and usually only afterward, but we should strive to be like Israel, living in God’s presence always. Thus Jacob is mentioned in connection to tents, which are temporary and earthly dwellings, while Israel is connected to sanctuaries, permanent dwellings where the divine presence is always palpable.


1) The two names of the third patriarch, born Jacob and then renamed Israel in Genesis 35:10 after an all-night wrestling match with God. Jacob in Hebrew is Yaakov/ יעקב, and Israel is Yisrael/ ישראל. Yaakov comes from the root ekev, meaning “heel,” because Jacob was born holding his older brother’s heel (Genesis 25:26). “Pulling someone’s heel” is an ancient expression similar to “pulling my leg,” meaning the person is a trickster (see Genesis 27:36). The root ekev also means “after,” in the sense of “following on the heels of.” Yisrael is made of two parts, the root Y.S.R., meaning “to struggle,” and El, a name for God. The Ohev Yisrael will deconstruct these names and discern new meanings from them.

This entry was posted in Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apt/ Ohev Yisroel, Balak, Hasidic Masters, Parsha, Prayer. Bookmark the permalink.

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