Parshat Vayigash 5783: Yaakov/Yisrael — The Significance and Interchangeability of Each

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua, Parsha Vayigash is being co-sponsored by Jonathan and Sarah Wachtel of Ramat Beit Shemesh and by Rabbi Elozer Dovid and Estie Gluck of Sorotskin in Jerusalem and who dedicate this Parshat HaShavua for good health of all of Am Yisrael and B’Ezrat Hashem, the speedy eradication of the corona virus pandemic and all like viruses and variants. To the Wachtel and Gluck families; blessings and many thanks for your co-sponsorships and for your continued kindnesses.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Vayigash 5783: Yaakov/Yisrael — The Significance and Interchangeability of Each

by Moshe Burt

After Yosef tearfully reveals himself to his brothers, he instructs his brothers to return to Yaakov and inform him of his (Yosef’s) survival and success in Egypt.

What follows is an excerpt from Rabbi Shmuel Goldin’s Parshat Vayigash summary in his sefer, “Unlocking the Torah Text.” Sefer Breish’t (page 241):

Yosef… further urges them, with Pharaoh’s approval, to bring Yaakov and the entire household to Egypt. If the extended family settles nearby, in the region of Goshen, Yosef argues, he will be able to provide for its members during the years of continuing famine.

The brothers return to Yaakov laden with wagons bearing gifts and with the news that Yosef is still alive. After initial disbelief, and upon seeing the wealth that Pharaoh and Yosef have sent back with the brothers, Yaakov comes to the realization that his beloved son has indeed survived. Excitedly, Yaakov gathers his household and begins the descent to Egypt.

Rabbi Goldin now provides a background and asks questions regarding the name fluctuation between Yaakov and Yisrael (ibid, pages 249-251):

Although Yaakov’s name is “changed” to Yisrael twice in Parshat Vayishlach — once by a mysterious adversary and once by Hashem himself — the name Yaakov remains in use. The Torah refers to [our] last patriarch as Yaakov and at times Yisrael.

A particularly glaring example of this name fluctuation is found in Parshat Vayigash when Yaakov receives word of Yosef’s survival and begins his descent to Egypt. Within the span of eleven posukim, Yaakov and Yisrael are… [used interchangeably some ten or eleven times between Perek 45, posuk 26 and Perek 46, posuk 8].

Under what conditions will the Torah refer to the last patriarch as Yaakov and under what conditions as Yisrael? Can the name variation add to our understanding of specific biblical passages such as the section in Parshat Vayigash dealing with Yaakov’s descent into Egypt?

A number of classical scholars weigh in concerning Yaakov’s “impermanent” name change.

Some authorities claim that the altering of Yaakov’s name remains unfinished because, in his case, the phenomenon is not personal but prophetic. The name fluctuation reflects the impending historical journey of his descendants, a journey that will be marked by times of struggle (Yaakov) as well as times of triumph (Yisrael).

The Sforno, for example, suggests that Yaakov’s full transformation to Yisrael must wait until the end of days. He interprets Hashem’s proclamation to Yaakov in Parshat Vayishlach as follows: “Your name is Yaakov. No longer will your name be called Yaakov but Yisrael will be your name.” (Rabbi Goldin rendering to English Sefer Breish’t, Perek 35, posuk 10)

[The Artscroll Stone Chumash renders Sefer Breish’t, Perek 35, posuk 10 to English as: “Your name is Yaakov. Your name shall not always be called Yaakov, but Yisrael shall be your name. Then He called his name Yisrael.”]

The Chizkuni offers a different explanation of the retention of the name Yaakov. He explains that the total uprooting of that name would have lent credence to Eisev’s accusation against his brother: “Is he not rightly called Yaakov? For he deceived me twice?” (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Breish’t, Perek 27, posuk 36)

Through a play on words, Eisev suggests that the very name Yaakov means deceit. To counter that claim, and to show that no shame is attached to Yaakov’s name or actions, Hashem leaves the name in place even after the introduction of the name Yisrael. (Rabbi Goldin citing Chizkuni on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 35, posuk 10)

The Ohr Hachaim maintains that…. in Yaakov’s case,… the total name transformation from Yaakov to Yisrael would have entailed the eradication of his first name. Such an act would have symbolized the rejection of Yaakov’s spiritual development to this point. To negate this rejection, the name Yaakov remains partially in use. (Rabbi Goldin citing Ohr Hachaim on Sefer Breish’t, Perek 35, posuk 10)

Perhaps the most powerful and poignant explanation for Yaakov’s incomplete name change, however, is the one closest to pashut pshat:

The names Yaakov and Yisrael are used interchangeably to distinguish between the vastly different emotions and experiences that course through Yaakov’s life. In his turbulent life, buffeted by events so often beyond his control, he is at times, Yaakov, struggling and downtrodden, and, at times, Yisrael, triumphant and victorious.

The Artscroll Stone Chumash in Parshat Vayishlach cites Ramban, Sforno and R’ Bachya on Perek 35, posuk 10, (Sefer Breish’t, page 188):

“Your name is Yaakov.” Although He was about to give Yaakov the additional name of Yisrael, Hashem told him that he would continue to be called Yaakov (citing Ramban, Sforno). From that time onward, the name Yaakov would be used for matters pertaining to physical and mundane matters, while the name Yisrael would be used for matters reflecting the spiritual role of the Patriarch and his descendants (R’ Bachya).

It seems to this author that Rabbi Goldin’s final explanation of the interchangeability of the names Yaakov and Yisrael could also reflect our history: a possible fulfillment of Yitzchak’s consolation blessing given to Eisev and a Rashi citing on Perek 27, posukim 39-40, (Sefer Breish’t, ibid, page 141):

“Behold, of the fatness of the earth shall be your dwelling and of the dew of the heavens from above. By your sword you shall live, but your brother you shall serve; yet it shall be that when you are aggrieved, you may cast off his yoke from upon your neck.” (Sefer Breish’t, Perek 27, posukim 39-40 as rendered to English in the Artscroll Stone Chumash)

“When you are aggrieved.” If Israel ever transgresses the Torah, and is thus undeserving of dominion, you will have the right to be aggrieved that he has taken the blessings: then you may cast off his yoke from your neck. (Rashi) This is in consonance with the prophecy given Rivka while she was pregnant: Her two sons would not be able to coexist; when one ascended, the other would decline. (Artscroll Stone Chumash citing Sefer Breish’t, Perek 25, posuk 23)

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them, that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebui homes and the oft-destroyed Yeshiva buildings in Homesh be rebuilt, all at total government expense; due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now in his second year at home in Eretz Yisrael and embarking on a new chapter in his life. May Esther Yocheved bat Yechiel Avraham have an aliyah in Shemayim and may her spirit and memory continue to lift Jonathan to at least 120 years. May the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of eight years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese corona virus pandemic and all like viruses. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.