” וַיֵּצֵ֤א הָרִאשׁוֹן֙ אַדְמוֹנִ֔י כֻּלּ֖וֹ כְּאַדֶּ֣רֶת שֵׂעָ֑ר וַיִּקְרְא֥וּ שְׁמ֖וֹ עֵשָֽׂו

וְאַֽחֲרֵי־כֵ֞ן יָצָ֣א אָחִ֗יו וְיָד֤וֹ אֹחֶ֙זֶת֙ בַּעֲקֵ֣ב עֵשָׂ֔ו וַיִּקְרָ֥א שְׁמ֖וֹ יַעֲקֹ֑ב וְיִצְחָ֛ק בֶּן־שִׁשִּׁ֥ים שָׁנָ֖ה בְּלֶ֥דֶת אֹתָֽם

(בראשית פרק כה פסוקים כה-כו)

For the eternal  merit  to the soul of my grandfather Yitzchak Aziz Ben Mashallah Hacohen A”H

After Eisav emerged from Rivkah’s womb, Yaakov came out after him holding on to Eisav’s עקב (heel), and as a result, he was called יעקב . Rabbi Oizer Alport explains that seemingly, if this incident was the basis for choosing Yaakov’s name, it would have been more appropriate to call him עקב . Why is there a letter י appended to the front of his name? The Megaleh Amukot notes that the name Eisav (עשו) is related to the word עשוי (made), as Rashi writes that he was born complete with hair, like an older child. If so, shouldn’t he have been called עשוי? The Megaleh Amukot explains that when Yaakov grabbed Eisav’s heel, he seized the י that should have been placed at the end of Eisav’s name and attached it to the beginning of his name, transforming יעקב into עקב and עשו into עשוי. 

Although this interpretation sounds like a linguistic play on letters, Rav Yisroel Reisman explains that it contains a much deeper lesson. In Hebrew grammar, adding the letter י to the beginning of a verb changes it from the past tense to the future tense, as in אמר (he said) and יאמר) he will say). In this sense, the letter י symbolizes the future. Similarly, Rav Gedaliah Schorr notes that the song that the Jewish people sang after Kriyat Yam Suf begins (Shemot 15:1)

אז ישיר משה, which literally means, “Moshe will sing.” This was Moshe’s way of hinting to the freed slaves that the Exodus from Egypt was not an end but a beginning. A fundamental difference between a person who believes in Hashem and an atheist is that the former believes in a World to Come where his actions will have consequences. Accordingly, when he makes decisions, he thinks not only about the present, but also about the future. In contrast, the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni 111) teaches that Eisav denied the existence of any life after death while he was still in his mother’s womb, as his sole interest was to enjoy the present with no concern for the future. Yaakov alluded to this critical difference in their respective worldviews by taking the י – the letter that represents the future – from Eisav’s name and adding it to his own, connoting his focus on the World to Come and his willingness to sacrifice ephemeral pleasures for eternal benefits.

The Gemara teaches:

איזהו חכם הרואה את הנולד

– “a wise man is one who is able to look to the future”

Gemara (Tamid 32a)

What happens when we fail to emulate our wise forefather Yaakov in his emphasis on the future? After the serpent, which was an embodiment of the evil inclination (Zohar HaKadosh Vol. 1: 35b), succeeded in tempting Chava to eat from the forbidden fruit, Hashem told the serpent:

הוא ישופך ראש ואתה תשופנו עקב

-“man will defeat you  with the head, while you will prevail with עקב”

(Bereishit 3:15)

Rav Reisman explains that this can be interpreted to mean that if we remember the י at the head of Yaakov’s name, we can withstand the Yetzer Hara’s temptations, but when we ignore the future י and live for the present, we are reduced to עקב and will succumb to the serpent.

The society around us passionately adheres to Eisav’s ideology of living for the moment and only worrying about the present, with no compunctions about idly wasting hours on trivialities. As descendants of Yaakov, we are expected to know better than to join them. When we recall the message of the י and maturely weigh the present against the future, we make better, more responsible decisions that imbue our lives with deeper meaning and show that we are truly wise.

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