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Dear Rabbi Klass:

I hope this finds you well. In a recent Daf Yomi Highlights column (JP 1-15-21), you explain that Yitzchak was able 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.” (Bereishis 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 than other name, so how could Yaakov use his father’s first name twice?


Leonard Ziegler
Via email


Synopsis: The Mechaber rules that a child may not call his parents by their first name. Does this preclude a child from wishing Mazel Tov to his mother named Mazel? Shema Yisrael that we recite is based on the encounter of Yaakov Avinu and his sons who addressed him professing their loyalty to Hashem. Rambam asks how they did so. Lechem Yehuda explains that in addressing him they prefaced ‘Our master our father; Hear O’Israel’ and She’lah adds that Yisrael is more than a name; it is a respectful title as well. Similarly, Yitzchak refers to his father Avraham – there too the name Avraham is not only a name but also a respectful title bestowed upon him by G-d. We noted our reader’s quandary as to how Yaakov in blessing Ephraim and Menashe, invokes both his grandfather’s name and respectful title [no problem] and his father, Yitzchak’s name in light of the ruling forbidding one to call one’s parent by name. As we touched upon the biblical naming process, specifically Rachel and Leah who each named the tribes of Israel, we questioned as well who gave Yaakov and Esav their names?


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Answer: There is some dispute as to the naming of Yaakov. Rashi offers two views, the first being that it was Hashem who named him. Siftei Chachamim offers support to this first view of Rashi. Since it says subsequent to the naming (…and Isaac was sixty years when she [Rebecca] gave birth to them) that this infers that until now the verse is not referring to Yitzchak; therefore it had to be Hashem who gave the name. Rashi offers another explanation, albeit one should note it is in parentheses, but it too expresses the view that Hashem gave Yaakov his name, as Hashem reasons; “You, Yitzchak and Rivka, gave your firstborn [Esav] his name, now I will give my firstborn [Yaakov] his name.”

The only problem with this explanation is that Rashi already said earlier that everyone gave Esav his name. Perhaps that’s why Siftei Chachamim offers to explain Rashi’s reasoning as a simple matter of grammar and sentence structure, and indeed we find the identical view in Ohr Hachayim that it was Hashem who named Yaakov.

Ibn Ezra offers the view that when it says ‘vayikra shmo – he called his name,” either the one who called him is meant or his father. This implies that the verse is ambiguous as to the source of the name.

Da’at Zekeinim leave no doubt as to whom to attribute this name, as they explain: The Hebrew name Yaakov consists of four letters: Yud, Ayin, Kuf and Beit. They explain that the four letters represent the future elevation of Hashem by Yaakov’s children when they will coronate Hashem. The letter Yud represents the Decalogue – the Ten Commandments (the actual basis for the entire Torah – followed only be the Jewish people), the letter Ayin, the numerical 70, represents the 70 Zekeinim – the Sages who lead the people in the proper path. (Again, only our people loyally follow the dictates of our Sages.) The letter Kuf, the numerical 100, represents the Sanctuary of the Temple that stood 100 amah high. (Again, it is only our people who for some two thousand years have kept the message of the Beit HaMikdash alive.) The letter Beit, the numerical two, again represents the Decalogue that was given in the form of two tablets [the mitzvot bein Adam laMakom – the commandments between man and G-d, as well as those bein Adam L’chaveiro – the commandments between man and his fellow].

It therefore seems that even the name Yaakov is a noble and respectful name as well as his name Yisrael; nonetheless we do not find that the tribes ever referred to or addressed Yaakov by that name. In fact it would seem that they were more respectful of the name Yaakov than the name Yisrael.

As for Esav, we find that Ba’al HaTurim (ad loc) explains this name as being one of significance. Esav is comprised of Ayin (numerical of seventy); Shin (numerical of three hundred) and Vov (the numerical of six), for a total of 376. Interestingly, the word shalom is comprised of Shin (300), Lamed (30); Vov (six) and Mem (40): also for a total of 376. Thus he learns that if not for the fact that his name equals Shalom, peace, Esav would destroy the world.

He offers yet another and more intriguing interpretation: “Esav, She bah zeh V’hishlim l’ayin umot she boroti ba’olam – he is called Esav, because with this one came the completion of the seventy nations of Hashem’s design for this world.

We seem to be left with the possibility that Esav, too, is an elevated name. Yet we never think of Esav in those terms. Rabbi Nissan Alpert (Limudei Nissan) notes the numerical equivalency, which he too finds quite astonishing. He therefore goes on to explain it as follows. There are two types of shalom, there is one type of shalom which is shleimut, completeness. There is a shalom that manifests ‘real and sincere’ shleimut and then there is a shalom that manifests an artificial and false shleimut. As proof, the verse states: And the first came out red, all over like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau.” Explains Rabbi Alpert, he was completely covered with hair, that the hair covered the true nature of [the weakness and wickedness of] his flesh.

(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.