The Torah relates that our patriarch Yitzchok, together with our matriarch Rivka, had twin boys, Yaacov and Aisav. Rashi tells us that Aisav was born full of hair like an adult. People were amazed and as a result they named him, “Asu – he is complete.”
Rashi tells us that Yaacov was given his name by G-d Himself. The name Yaacov means, “heel” and reflects on the manner Yaacov was born. Aisav emerged first, and Yaacov was holding onto the heel of Aisav’s foot.
Let’s take a look into the name Yaacov. Why did Yaacov specifically hold onto Aisav’s foot and not another part of his body? Moshav Zekainim explains that King David in Psalms compares Aisav to a pig. A pig is unique because it is the only non-kosher animal with split hoofs – one of the two signs of a kosher animal. However, the pig is not kosher because it does not have the other kosher sign – the internal sign of chewing its cud.
When a pig hunkers down let’s say to eat, its feet extend forward instead of bending back, as if to say, “Look at my feet they have a kosher sign.” A pig presents itself externally as kosher, yet its inner organs and mechanism is not. We tend to imagine Aisav’s mug shot as a hunter, idolater, rapist, murderer and thief. However, that is not necessarily the case. Aisav’s outward appearance in terms of his dress was similar to his righteous brother Yaacov. This is the way Aisav was able to deceive his father Yitzchok to think that he was righteous and deserving of the patriarchal blessings.
Yaacov, in order to minimize his mothers’ pain during labor, held onto the one area of Aisav that was pure, which was his heel – the place of the pig’s kosher sign.
A question can be asked, why was it that Yaacov was called heel just because he was holding on to the heel of Aisav? I posed this question to my father Rabbi Boruch Saks. He explained that Rashi tells us that already in utero Yaacov and Aisav were opposites – Yaacov wished to live a righteous spiritual life while Aisav wished to fulfill all his desires. The link to the Patriarchal continuation of the Jewish nation was determined on who emerged as a first born. When Aisav was exiting Rivka, Yaacov held onto his heel to display that he really wanted the position of firstborn. G-d specifically called him Yaacov which reflects on his holding onto the heel so that he would never forget his interest in fulfilling his wish to become the firstborn and the link to the Jewish people. In fact, at the age of 15 Yaacov indeed fulfilled this ambition, when Aisav sold him the birthright for a mere bowl of soup.
Additionally, the root of the name Yaacov, is the word Aikev. In our Parsha, G-d blesses and guarantees our forefather Yitzchok a multitude of offspring and the inheritance of the Land, and that He will fulfill everything He swore to Avraham. Then G-d uses the word, Aikev – it is because – Avraham listened to My voice and observed all Mitzvos and the Torah that that I commanded.
The word Aikev is a reference to the little things – things that seem insignificant, that one does away with, just as one tramples with the heel of his foot. G-d testifies of Avraham’s righteousness that nothing was too insignificant for him in terms of serving his Creator or doing for others. As great as he was, he never lost focus of the small things – and that was his greatness.
G-d called Yaacov / Aikev to remind him to continue on the path of Avraham and never lose sight of the small things. In fact, the Torah tells us that Yaacov jeopardized his life in order to rescue small items that he had left behind. At that time Yaacov had an encounter with the angel of Aisav where they struggled and Yaacov overpowered the angel. It was when Yaacov went to retrieve the small stuff that the angel changed his name to Yisroel, which means an officer of G-d. His all encompassing righteous conduct became so ingrained in Yaacov that the title Yisroel reflected on his spiritual accomplishment.
The Torah tells us that Yitzchok became ‘Godol – he raised himself up.’ In fact, it states Godol three times within one verse. What message is the Torah sending us? Says Rabbi Sha’altiel Cohen, the Torah is teaching how Yitzchok attained his heightened spiritual and material wealth. It didn’t come to him at once. He continually worked on it and incrementally raised himself higher, from level to level. With his perseverance, his collective spiritual achievements became gradually achievable and realistic.
A great prescription for success!