The Magazine

Patriarch of Identity

Who is Jacob, and what does he mean?

Mar 18, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 26 • By DAVID WOLPE
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Zakovitch has provocative and interesting answers to these and many other questions. In his gripping exegesis, we see Jacob as alternately courageous, cunning, self-pitying, faithful, and distrustful. The reader is left wondering why this fascinating, deeply flawed man lends his name to the people of Israel when surely we would have chosen a more upright representative. The answer can only be what Rabbi Alexandri said so beautifully in the Midrash: “If a person uses broken vessels it is considered an embarrassment, but God seeks out broken vessels for His use.” 

In his imperfection, his struggles, his wariness, and his gratitude—in his very brokenness—Jacob reflects who we are, with slight, shining hints of who we might be. Israel, indeed.


David Wolpe, rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, is the author, most recently, of Why Faith Matters.