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Prayerbook Vocabulary Studies
November 15, 2006
© Rabbi Jack Moline

Our father Jacob (Ya'akov) was the person for whom we are named. His relationship with God resulted in God being known as Avir (or Abir) Ya'akov. The word "abir" means strength or nobility. And it certainly makes sense that it is the attribute most associated with Jacob.

Jacob was, after all, the husband of four and father of thirteen (or more). Unquestionably, it took both physical strength and strength of character to fulfill those roles. He spent his life seeking to rise above his circumstances, seeking a certain nobility as it were. And on that night that he awaited a reunion with his estranged brother Esau, Jacob spent the night wrestling with – someone. We don't know if it was his brother, or a brigand, or an angel, or even God. All we know is that when the sun was rising, Jacob was given a new name as a blessing: Yisra'el, meaning "struggles with God." The strength necessary for that effort is present in "abir." And in the middle of the name is the word "sar," which means "prince."

Jacob is the grandson of Abraham, who knew God as Magen Avraham, God of identity. Jacob is the son of Isaac, who knew God as Pachad Yitz'cha, God present in terror. Jacob knew God as Avir Ya'akov, God the source of strength in terror and nobility of identity.

Jacob's relationship with God is our legacy. Our history is one of self-knowledge, like Abraham, and, unfortunately, knowledge of private and very public fears, like Isaac. We are graced with the strength and nobility to blend those relationships and forge a new sense of God in our lives that nourishes the next generation – in every generation.

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