Parashat Lech Lecha- Abraham’s Life as an Example For Us All
When G-d first speaks to Abraham Abinu, He makes several promises, assuring Abraham that he will be blessed and that a great nation would descend from him. He also promises, "Va’agadela Shemecha" – "I shall glorify your name" (12:2). Rashi, based on the Gemara, explains this to mean that we, Abraham’s descendants, would refer to Hashem in the beginning of the Amida prayer as "Elokeh Yaakob" – "the G-d of Yaakob."
We need to understand, how does this reference to G-d as "the G-d of Yaakob" bring glory to Abraham? True, Yaakob was Abraham’s grandson. But even so, does Abraham himself receive glory through the use of the expression "Elokeh Yaakob"?
As we know, Yaakob’s name was changed to "Yisrael." Curiously, this happened on two occasions. The first was after Yaakob’s wrestle with the angel – identified by our Sages as the Satan – who, after realizing that it could not defeat Yaakob, announced that Yaakob’s name would forever be changed to "Yisrael." Later, G-d appeared to Yaakob and announced that his name would now be "Yisrael" – even though it had already been changed by the Satan. Some commentators explain that there is a crucial difference between the Satan’s changing of Yaakob’s name, and G-d’s. The Satan declared that Yaakob would be known exclusively as "Yisrael," and would never be known again by the name "Yaakob." The deeper meaning of this wish is that Yaakob’s descendants would have a connection to Hashem only when they maintain the high spiritual levels represented by the name "Yisrael," which means "straight with G-d." The Satan was telling Yaakob that now that he triumphed over Satan, he is "Yisrael" – but this special relationship would depend on his maintaining this lofty level of spiritual achievement. G-d, however, began His prophecy to Yaakob by declaring, "Shimcha Yaakob" – "Your name is Yaakob" (Bereshit 35:10). This meant that although Yaakob was being given the name "Yisrael," the name "Yaakob" would not fall into disuse. That is to say, although his descendants would now be called upon to aspire to the higher standard represented by the name "Yisrael," G-d would continue helping them, protecting them and supporting them even when they are on the lower level of "Yaakob." G-d is merciful and patient. His love and kindness do not depend on our winning the struggle over Satan, on our achieving the level of "Yisrael." Even during our struggles, even at times when we fall to the level of "Yaakob," G-d remains with us and believes in our ability to grow and reach the level of "Yisrael."
This is the meaning of the expression "Elokeh Yaakob." It means that G-d does not give up on when we fall to the level of "Yaakob," and continues to love us and care for us, patiently waiting for us to recover.
If so, then we can perhaps understand why this expression – "Elokeh Yaakob" – glorifies the name of Abraham Abinu. Abraham was the one who set for us this exact example – of growing from a position of lowliness to a position of greatness. He was raised in the home of Terah, who not only worshipped idols, but who actually "worked in the industry," selling statues for pagan worship. And the Rambam writes that as a youngster, Abraham worshipped idols together with his family and his townspeople. Abraham started out as an idolater, until embarking on his journey of study and contemplation. It was only as a grown adult, at the age of 48, that Abraham finally arrived at his firm belief in, and clear understanding of, G-d’s existence. His life very much embodies the notion of "Elokeh Yaakob," that G-d waits very patiently for us during our periods of struggle and during our periods of failure, trusting that we can and will grow and achieve the level of "Yisrael" that is expected of us.
One of the most dangerous weapons in Satan’s arsenal is the feeling that we are no longer wanted or loved by G-d because of the mistakes of our past. This was Satan’s plan in changing Yaakob’s name to "Yisrael" – to make us think that once we slip, once we fall short of expectations, our relationship with G-d ends, and there is no purpose in trying to change. We must always remember that Hashem is "Elokeh Yaakob" – the G-d who loves us, cherishes us and believes in us under all circumstances, no matter how low we have fallen. With this belief, we will never despair and never feel discouraged, and will instead learn from Abraham’s example and continue working to improve and strive for the lofty level of "Yisrael," each and every day of our lives.