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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?

Leonard Ziegler
Via email


In a previous issue, reader Leonard Ziegler referred to a Daf Yomi Highlights column (January 15, 2021) that explained how 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) because “Avraham” itself is a “respectful title.” But 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)…. It seems Yitzchak is no more a respectful title than any other name, so how could Yaakov use his father’s first name twice?


Synopsis: The Mechaber rules that a child may not call his parents by their first names. 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 they prefaced the name, saying: “Our master our father; Hear O Israel,” and Shelah adds that Yisrael is more than a name; it is a respectful title. 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 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 concerning Rachel and Leah, who each named the tribes of Israel. We also questioned who gave Yaakov and Esav their names. There are two views as to who named Yaakov, whether it was Yitzchak or Hashem (see Rashi). From Da’at Zekeinim it seems clear that it was Hashem who named him. We also found that Esav seems to be a name of significance as well. Rabbi Nissan Alpert offers that Esav represents a shleimut, albeit one that is only on the materialistic physical level and not one of spiritual attainment. We then noted the views that both Yaakov and Esav are names that are of significance, but that Esav’s represents greatness in this world, while Yaakov’s purpose and goal are the reward of the World to Come.


Answer: No discussion of given names is complete without referring to Moshe Rabbeinu, surely the greatest man who ever lived, the man who conversed directly with Hashem and was ultimately chosen by Hashem to deliver the Children of Israel from their bondage in Egypt. This man of eighty years was able to ascend a mountain and be taught by the Creator both the written and the oral Torah and then transmit it to the people for all generations. If Hashem had a unique relationship with Avraham Avinu, it is hard to grasp the relationship He had with Moshe.

The Talmud (Megillah 13a; expounding I Chronicles 4:18) and the Midrash (Shmot Rabbah 40:4; Vayikrah Rabbah 1:3; Yalkut Shimoni Shemot 166) convey to us that Moshe actually had ten names: Moshe, Toviah, Halevi, Chever, Yekutiel, Avi Zanuach, Avi Suchah, Yered, Avigdor, and Shemayah.

Of these names, three were those given to him by his parents: Toviah, Chever and Yekutiel. Yet of all these names we do not find him referred to or called by Hashem by any of them save for Moshe, Moshe being the name given him by Batyah the daughter of Pharaoh. And the Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah) states: “Hashem said to Moshe: ‘On your life, from all these names by which you are called, I do not call you but by the name given you by Batyah daughter of Pharoah. So great was the merit of this woman who saved the life of Hashem’s chosen to redeem, to lead and to teach His chosen people.

Thus we see that Moshe, a name given to him by one of flesh and blood by agreement with Hashem becomes an elevated name, one of significance and importance.

Now let us return to the name of Yitzchak. As we noted, both names – Avraham and Yisrael – represent a higher level of importance than the original name and are in fact both name and respectful title at the same time. As for Yitzchak, his name was never changed to give him a respectful title and yet we find that Yaakov invokes his father’s name.

The origin of Yitzchak’s name is interesting. When the angels, disguised as wayfarers, visited Avraham (Genesis 18:9), they ask: “Where is your wife, Sarah?” Sforno explains that they came specifically to her to deliver the news that she will bear a child to Avraham. Her reaction was: “And Sarah laughed to herself.” She laughed due to her advanced age.

Later on, at his birth and after Avraham named him Yizchak, Sarah remarks that Hashem has made laughter for her – “Yitzchak li.” Rashi (Genesis 21:6) explains that great joy was visited upon many barren women who became pregnant at that time, many of the sick were healed, many prayers were answered due to Sarah and there was great happiness in the world at that time. Thus, Yitzchak’s birth was not only a great source of joy to Avraham and Sarah but a source of joy in the world with these many barren women who gave birth.

Ibn Ezra explains that when Avraham named Yitzchak he did not add any other name or change it [altogether], because he was commanded to give him that name.

Now we understand that Yitzchak was given his elevated name at birth. Later on, Avraham is commanded by Hashem (Genesis 22:2): “And he said please take your son, your only, whom you love – Isaac – and go to the land of Moriah, bring him up there as an offering upon one of the mountains which I shall tell you.”

If we follow the wording of the verse carefully, Rashi notes the command was not to slaughter Yitzchak but rather to bring him as an oleh – to raise him up, to elevate him. Indeed, Yitzchak was imbued with such a high level of sanctity that he was not permitted to leave the boundaries of the Land of Canaan, which was to become Eretz Yisrael, a land that Hashem imbued with a special kedusha. Noteworthy is that when one goes to Eretz Yisrael from anywhere in the world, one makes aliyah, one rises – and that is what Yitzchak Avinu represents.

Now we can understand how Yaakov invokes his father’s name. Yitzchak was not only his birth name but it was his respectful title as well.


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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.