Vayechi-High and Low Stations
“Jacob lived in Egypt seventeen years, and the years of his life were a hundred and forty-seven. When the time drew near for Israel to die (Genesis 47:28-29).”
The name Israel is superior to the name Jacob, as explained in the Talmud on the verse, “Declare to My people their transgression, and to the house of Jacob their sins (Isaiah 58:1).” [Bava Metzia 33b] But if so, why was he called Jacob while still alive, but in death he was called Israel? (This is implied in the text: “and Jacob lived in,” “Israel to die.”) The other way around would seem reasonable.
The answer is that Jacob indicates a lower level, the level of the heel, and it is for this very reason that according to our verse he is connected in life to Him, Blessed be His Name. But this does not apply in the case of Israel, which implies high station, “For you have striven (Genesis 32:28),” and this leads to arrogance, as the Zohar states on the verse, “When a ruler sins (Leviticus 4:22).” [Zohar III, 23a] The Torah says, “When a ruler sins,” as if it were certain that he would do so, and does not use the conditional word “if,” as is to be found in the other instances, for in the case of a ruler there is no doubt that he will succumb to arrogance. God does not abide with those who are arrogant, for God says, “I and he cannot abide in one world (Sotah 5a).” A person who is far from God is far from life and close to death. (Toledot Yaakov Yosef; Bereishit, section 2)