In the Torah portion that was read on December 2, Parashat Vayishlach, we were told that Jacob’s name was being changed to Israel (Yisrael). There is a profound message in that name change that is of great relevance right now.
The name Jacob — Yaakov — derives from the Hebrew word meaning heel in its actual physical sense, but he was very much a heel in the modern figurative sense. He cheated his brother Esau and tricked his father Isaac. He outfoxed his father-in-law Laban. He mistreated Leah, his devoted first wife, and had little regard for the children she bore him. At Beit El, he dared God to keep God’s promises to him. Later, in a plea for God’s protection, he ignored the fact that God had kept those promises for the last 20 years.
Jacob’s self-centeredness, his greed, and his two-faced approach to dealing with others made him unfit to be the patriarch of God’s intended kingdom of priests and holy nation. Yaakov, the heel, had to give way to Yisrael, meaning the God-striver. Jacob needed to become Israel, the man who would strive for God, not with God.
The lesson this name change is meant to teach us is that Jewish leaders must always put the people they lead and their needs first, something Jacob seemed incapable of doing. Government ministers of the State of Israel, starting with its prime minister especially, must always put the people and their needs ahead of their own.
Israel’s current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, not only puts his own personal agenda ahead of Israel’s national interest, but he also installed a host of ministers in important posts to protect that agenda. They, too, have little regard for what is best for the citizens and the state.
Bibi’s personal agenda is to serve as prime minister for as long as possible—and he has been very successful at it. As of today, December 22, he has held that office for 5,807 days — 932 days more than were served by the previous record-holder, David Ben-Gurion, the primary founder and indisputable architect of the modern State of Israel.
Bibi will say and do anything to keep that record growing, including speaking out of both sides of his mouth, claiming to support “two states for two peoples” (as he did in 1996, 2009, 2013, 2016, 2018, and 2020) and then working overtime to see that it never happens, apparently including helping to fund Hamas (see below).
In 2022, Bibi needed the extremist right-wing parties to put him back in office. To assure their support, he promised to appoint a sordid collection of extremist right-wing ministers to significant cabinet posts, including at least two avowed racists, Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir. They want to turn Israel into a ritually rigid theocracy, and they want to possess all the land that defines the biblical Israel God promised would be ours.
Bibi returned to office last December 29. Early in January, one of the first things he and his allies did was move to strip Israel’s judiciary from having any power to get in the way of their plans for theocracy and “Greater Israel” — and the country exploded. We saw that explosion on the streets of Israel almost every day this year leading up to October 7.
Much worse, though, is this: While Hamas, and Hamas alone, is to blame for what happened on October 7, Netanyahu and Company are to blame for enabling Hamas to succeed as it did. As part of their “Greater Israel” effort, Bibi’s right-wingers decided to crack down unmercifully on the West Bank. To do so, however, required moving IDF units and intelligence operations away from the southern border with Gaza into the West Bank. They did that despite the fact that Israeli officials knew since the summer of 2014 that Hamas was developing an attack plan, the knowledge of which grew exponentially over the last year or so. As the daily newspaper Haaretz reported on November 24:
“For over a year before Hamas’s massive attack on Israel…, Military Intelligence had detailed information on the group’s plan to breach the Gaza border at dozens of points and attack dozens of communities and army posts…, but Israel didn’t properly prepare for the threat….[Instead, the] army diluted the forces of its Gaza Division…[and] withdrew companies that had been deployed at certain kibbutzim….”
The “detailed information” Haaretz referred to was contained in a document code-named Jericho Wall. As the New York Times reported on December 2, the 40-page document “outlined, point by point, exactly the kind of devastating invasion” Hamas was planning, and which Hamas followed “with shocking precision,” according to the Times.
Despite the mounting evidence that Hamas was planning a massive attack, the IDF was ordered to weaken the Gaza Division’s forces and to withdraw many of the troops who were protecting kibbutzim near the southern border — all because Bibi and Company wanted to bolster Israel’s control of the West Bank in order to advance its “Greater Israel” agenda.
They were not even dissuaded by detailed warnings coming from women in the Gaza Divisions who worked as “spotters” and spent their days monitoring live feeds from video cameras in Gaza and from surveillance drones flying over the area. What the spotters saw scared them, but the warnings they sent up the intelligence chain were routinely ignored.
Also ignored were three detailed warnings coming from “an experienced, professional noncommissioned officer,” as Haaretz described her. She belonged to Unit 8200, the IDF’s elite and highly secretive intelligence-gathering and cyber operations unit. Her warnings were not only consistent with the ones coming from the Gaza Division’s spotters, but her final warning, sent this past August, almost perfectly matched the Jericho Wall document.
She “concluded that Hamas had completed its preparations” for a full-scale attack, including efforts “to severely harm residents of the kibbutzim,” according to Haaretz. When that warning was dismissed by a senior military intelligence officer as “imaginary,” she responded by noting how it fully matched “the content of Jericho Wall.” She added that it was “a plan designed to start a war. It’s not just a raid on a village.”
She was right on point. Her conclusions, reported Haaretz, “closely” conformed to the events as they unfolded on October 7. As The New York Times reported on December 2, “Officials privately concede that, had the military taken these warnings seriously and redirected significant reinforcements to the south…, Israel could have blunted the attacks or possibly even prevented them.”
All the intelligence amassed over nine years, all the warnings coming in the last few months before October 7 from the spotters and Unit 8200’s NCO, all the details contained in the Jericho Wall document, all of that went ignored, because Bibi and Company put their agenda ahead of the national interest, and no one in the IDF and the intelligence services dared to challenge them.
The invasion on October 7 would have happened, of course, but it would not have been the blackest day in Jewish history since the Shoah, the Holocaust. Hamas’s thousand or so terrorist fighters who invaded that day would have been the ones doing the dying, but Bibi’s need to stay in power forced Israel’s security establishment to divert the very military resources needed to secure the southern border and protect the nearby kibbutzim.
It only gets worse, however. Last week, the New York Times reported what had long been an open secret in Israel: that Qatar, with Netanyahu’s support, if not at his request, had sent “billions of dollars over roughly a decade” to keep Hamas in power. To make sure the money to Hamas arrived safely, the newspaper added, “Israeli intelligence officers even escorted a Qatari official into Gaza, where he doled out money from suitcases filled with millions of dollars.”
Sending Hamas “billions of dollars over roughly a decade” is very telling in itself, because it was “roughly a decade” ago, in 2014, that Israel became aware that Hamas was planning some sort of attack.
The New York Times also reported that in September Israel asked Qatar to continue the payments despite everything it already knew about Hamas’ plans. At a secret meeting that month that Qatari officials had with Mossad chief David Barnea, they pointedly asked whether Israel wanted the payments to continue. Barnea told them that was what the Netanyahu government had recently decided.
Netanyahu wanted Hamas to be an effective rival to the Palestinian Authority — thereby effectively diminishing any pressure on him to negotiate the two-state solution he once hypocritically said was the only path to peace.
His actions have put Israel’s very existence at risk and have caused worldwide antisemitism to rise to new heights. Israel’s standing in the world and even here in the United States, meanwhile, has been brought to its lowest level ever, because of its brutally punishing campaign in Gaza. Israel has dropped more than 30,000 bombs on Gaza so far. Nearly half of them are “dumb bombs” that are guaranteed to cause massive devastation to civilian targets as well as military ones.
Netanyahu is a Yaakov, not a Yisrael. He and Company have to go, and they have to go now.
Shammai Engelmayer is rabbi of Kehillat Torat Chayim v’Chesed — a virtual congregation — and an adult education teacher in Bergen County. He is the author of eight books and the winner of 10 awards for his commentaries. His website is www.shammai.org.