In relation to another question of mine I would like to know what the name Yisrael really means.

It literally says Ya'akov is now names Yisrael because he has struggled AND has overcome.

I heard it could be read as Yashar-el, but that the root s-h-r also could point to a ruler/prince, while others link it to strive/struggle/wrestling. So does it mean: 'striven with G-d' or 'to overcome with G-d' or 'Ruler with G-d' or 'straight with G-d', 'G-d contended'.

A friend of mine even told me it could actually mean 'he who wrestles with G-d', but in such case I can't quite understand the meaning, because Ya'akov was told he had prevailed, had overcome the situation; he's no longer wrestling in a manner of speech.

  • I've heard that it comes from Sar-El meaning "Prince" of G-d. I have to investigate this more, as I'm not sure what the initial yod would accomplish within this name.
    – DanF
    Oct 29, 2018 at 16:39
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    It's important to note that what a name really means is not necessarily equivalent to how it is parsed as a word. Ya'akov's naming (actually both of them) is a good example of the fact that the explanation of the derivation is meant to stand on its own while the particular sounds and letters of the resulting name may be motivated or explanable by something else.
    – WAF
    Oct 30, 2018 at 8:44
  • Jacob wrestled with a man and wrestling with G-d, which means Israel, is to be understood metaphorically, I think.
    – Jonathan
    Dec 24, 2019 at 3:54
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    Aside from the meaning. I saw b'sheim the Arizal that the name 'Yisrael', which is the name after which the Jewish nation is called, embodies all the avos and imahos that set the standard for us all - so yud is Yitzchak and Yaakov, sin is Sarah, reish is Rivka and Rochel, alef is Avraham and lamed is Leah.
    – Dov
    Oct 14, 2021 at 19:14

4 Answers 4


Yisroel refers to Yashar-El as in straight with G-d. The Yud is a reference to the the nature of Yisroel - Yisroel is locked in battle with his Yetzer Hara / the forces of Evil in this world. It will only end in the times of Moshiach/The World to Come, when the forces of Good will prevail. In this sense the Yud represents the future - that Yisrael will prevail in the future and be considered Upright with G-d. Notice how the name is in reference to G-d's name as used as a single force in the world - KEl. This is reference to din, or judgment. Din is Divine Justice - meaning in the future, when G-d's true justice is carried out, it will be clear that there will be Only One G-d, who will be righteous in judgment and Yaakov's progeny will be considered G-d's people - hence the phrase - Yashar-El.

The only person in this period that has two names that are both used in Yaakov/Yisrael. Yaakov means the heal. Just like the yud represents the future - so too, in the future, Yaakov will be vindicated, and be shown to be the rightful heir to the berachos and right of the first born. In the future - the heal will be shown to be really the head. Symbolically, the heal is revealed when you take off your shoes. The Neshama is compared to the foot and the shoe compared to the body, hence when we enter into service to G-d (Kohanim take off their shoes), we take off our shoes symbolically revealing our Neshama.

In the future, our heals will be revealed - i.e. it will be shown that Yaakov will be vindicated - that his true nature - i.e. that of the quintessential human being - totally in service of His creature will be revealed and the light of his Neshama will fill the world. It will be clear to everyone who is G-d's chosen people, through the heal - the revealing of our souls.

Perhaps we can understand the duality in Yisrael/Yaakov being reflective of championing over the yetzer hara, and revealing that inner greatness only in the future.

  • According to this, the name should be yishrael with a shin, not a sin.
    – N.T.
    Aug 20, 2020 at 6:06

The first thing to point out is that in this case elohim does not refer to G-d, but to an angel. As I wrote here the word elohim by definition means any power, in this case, the angel of Eisav. The idea that a person could struggle with G-d and emerge victorious is ridiculous on its face and betrays a shallow understanding of Judaism.

In fact, when the story is told over in the book of Hoshea 12:5 the verse is clear that Yaakov fought an angel:

וָיָּשַׂר אֶל־מַלְאָךְ וַיֻּכָל בָּכָה וַיִּתְחַנֶּן־לוֹ בֵּית־אֵל יִמְצָאֶנּוּ וְשָׁם יְדַבֵּר עִמָּנוּ׃
He strove with an angel and prevailed— The other had to weep and implore him. At Bethel [Jacob] would meet him, There to commune with him.

The general translation of שרית here is "struggled", but it is also connected to the term שר, which means a ruler or noble, as we also see with the name Sarah. See Rashi below for the explanation:

לא יעקב [THY NAME SHALL] NO MORE BE CALLED JACOB [BUT ISRAEL] (literally, “not Jacob — supplanting — shall any more be said to thee”) — It shall no longer be said that the blessings came to you through supplanting and subtlety but through noble conduct (שררה) and in an open manner. Because later on the Holy One, blessed be He, will reveal Himself to you at Bethel and will change your name. There He will bless you, and I shall be there and admit your right to them (the blessings). It is to this that the passage refers (Hosea 12:5), “And he strove with an angel and prevailed; he wept and made supplication unto him” — it means the angel wept and made supplication unto him (Jacob). What was the subject of his supplication? This is stated in the next verse: “At Bethel He will meet us and there He will speak with us — implying the request. “Wait until he will speak with us there, and then I will admit your right to the blessings.” Jacob, however, would not agree to this, and against his own wish he had to admit his right to the blessings. That is what is meant when it states (v. 30) “And he declared him blessed there”, that he begged him to wait and he did not agree to do so (cp. Genesis Rabbah 78:2).

So the proper translation of the verse would be

וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא יַעֲקֹב יֵאָמֵר עוֹד שִׁמְךָ כִּי אִם־יִשְׂרָאֵל כִּי־שָׂרִיתָ עִם־אֱלֹהִים וְעִם־אֲנָשִׁים וַתּוּכָל׃
And he said: Your name shall no longer be called Jacob [connoting gaining of the blessings by deception (akvah)], but Yisrael; for you have contended (saritha) with elohim (the angel of Esau) and with men [Esau and Lavan] and you have prevailed. [From Sefaria].


YiSRaEL (יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל) is an Acronym formed from letters of its Meaning (כִּֽי־שָׂרִ֧יתָ עִם־אֱלֹהִ֛ים) :

  • Ki (כִּֽי) provides the [Yod].

  • Sarit (שָׂרִ֧יתָ) provides the [Shin + Reish].

  • Im-Elohim (עִם־אֱלֹהִ֛ים) provides the [Alef + Lamed].

As an Acronym, YiSRaEL (יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל) defines itself (כִּֽי־שָׂרִ֧יתָ עִם־אֱלֹהִ֛ים). It is an honorable title awarded those who confess the truth of their identity with G-d.

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    Do you have a source for this?
    – Dov
    Oct 14, 2021 at 19:15

Rashbam sees it as deriving from ש-ר-ה which means strive/persist with the translation "one that strives with א-ל".

Ralbag roots it in ש-ר-ר which connotes ruler/prince with the translation "A ruler with א-ל".

There's a similarly themed and constructed verse when Rachel names Naftali.

There (as well) he is named for the action (struggle/prayer/connection) and not for the end result of יָכֹלְתִּי/I have prevailed.

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