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Dear Rabbi Klass:

            I hope this finds you well. In a recent Daf Yomi Highlights column (1-15-21), you explain that Yitzchak was permitted to bless Yaakov by saying: “May Hashem grant you the blessings of Avraham” even though one is forbidden from using a parent’s first name, since the name Avraham itself is a “respectful title.” But this raises the question: How could Yaakov say to Yosef: “The G-d before whom my fathers Avraham and Yitzchak walked… bless the lads … and may my name be declared upon them, and the names of my forefathers, Avraham and Yitzchak.” (Genesis 48:15-16). Your explanation would explain why it was proper for him to use the name Avraham (presumably one is not permitted to call a grandparent by a first name just as one is forbidden to call a parent by his first name) but it seems Yitzchak is no more a respectful title any than other name, so how did Yaakov use his father’s first name twice?

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Leonard Ziegler
Via email

 

Answer: In referring to that particular column, we cited the Mechaber (Y.D. 240:2), who rules that a child is forbidden to call his parents by their first names. We then cited Ben Ish Chai (Torah L’Shma 264) who raises an interesting question of a mother whose name was none other than Mazal Tov, a somewhat common Sephardic name. What should her children say to her when she has a baby? May they wish her mazal tov, or is this considered calling her by her first name?

Looking back at Ben Ish Chai’s response I thought of a different response, especially as our communities, Ashkenazi and Sephardi, are so inter-connected these days. To the best of my knowledge, most Sephardim these days offer a parallel wish or greeting, “Mabrouk,” which conveys the same basic message. However, my response would not have captured the full import of Ben Ish Chai’s ruling. And it’s possible that the questioner was from one of the Ashkenazi communities, possibly a Rav who sent him this question via post.

The Gemara in Pesachim (56a) discusses the proper way to recite the Shema, with the inclusion of “Boruch Shem K’vod Malchuto…” immediately after the first verse “Shema Yisrael…

The question was how did the sons of Yaakov Avinu refer to their father in his presence by his name? This halacha that a child may never refer to a parent by his/her own name, as cited by the Mechaber, is based on the Rambam (Hilchot Mamrim – Kibud Av v’Em Chap. 6:3, which finds its source in our Talmud Kiddushin 31b)

The answer given by Lechem Yehuda (Hilchos Keri’at Shema 1:4) was that they did not just say his first name. They preceded it with the most respectful titles, “Adoneinu Avinu Yisrael – Our master, our father Israel.” Therefore, it was not considered disrespectful. When we say Shema Yisrael today, we recite a shortened version, leaving out the titles.

We then cited The Shelah (Parashat Va’yechi, Derech Chayyim 3), who answers that the name Yisrael proclaims that Yaakov struggled with angels and with men, and emerged victorious. Therefore, that very name is a respectful title, symbolizing his mastery. When Yaakov’s sons called him Yisrael, it was as if they were calling him “Our master.”

A similar explanation can be given to explain why Yitzchak referred to his father by his first name. When he blessed Yaakov, he said, “May [it be that] Hashem grant[s] you the blessings of Avraham” (Bereishis 28:4). This was not considered a disrespectful usage of his father’s first name, since the name Avraham means, “The father of a multitude of nations.”

Remember, his name was originally Avram and was then reimagined and renamed by Hashem as Avraham, an exalted title. Thus that name too [like Yisrael] is also a respectful title (Teshuvos Tirosh V’Yitzhar 69).

Now as to Yaakov blessing the two sons of Yosef, Menashe and Ephraim (who respectively become the patriarchs of two of the tribes of Israel of the same names), and specifically referring to his own father’s name as well as his grandfather’s respectful and exalted name, Avraham, it would seem that this leaves us with a perplexity.

The Torah goes to great length to detail the naming of the twelve sons of Yaakov Avinu by the matriarchs, Rachel and Leah. Each name reflected a personal and emotional expression of appreciation of Hashem’s love and munificence that they felt was uniquely bestowed upon them with the gift of each child. They were visionaries who understood that that from these twelve sons of Yaakov would emerge the Nation of Israel; they thus took great care when they named them.

It is interesting as well that concerning the birth of Yitzchak and Rivka’s twin sons there is much discussion as to who named them, as the verses in Parshat Toldot (Genesis 28:25-26) leave room for much discussion: “And the first came out red, all over like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau.” … And after that came out his brother, and his hand took hold of Esau’s heel, so he called his name Jacob, and Isaac was sixty years when she [Rivka] gave birth to them.”

As regards Esav’s naming, the verse states: “they [plural] called his name,” so it appears that all called him this (Rashi ad loc) – that any and all seeing this baby gave him this name. And as to Yaakov the verse states: “h called his name,” in the singular. Thus, who was the one who gave the name Yaakov? We are to assume it was Yitzchak, because it says “he called his name.” Why then make the assumption that ‘they’ concerning Esav means that others called his name? Why not offer that both his parents, Yitzchak and Rivka, named Esav?

 

To be continued

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.