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Question: We see numerous instances in Scripture where a person’s name was changed. Some people are then always referred to by their new name, while others are not. A case in point is the way we refer to our Patriarchs in the daily Shemoneh Esreh. Why is that so?

Abraham Goldman



Synopsis: We previously noted that one is never to refer to Avraham as Avram after his name was changed. But what of Yaakov? Should that same rule apply? The Gemara (Berachot 13a) explains that we see that G-d Himself later refers to him as Yaakov. We cited many reasons for the strictness as regards Avraham’s name and the lenience as regards Yaakov’s name We now continue:

Answer: My Rebbe, Harav Dovid Kviat, zt”l, late rosh yeshiva of the Mirrer Yeshiva (Sukkas Dovid, Parashat Vayetzei) cites the Gemara (Berachot 26b) that the Patriarchs enacted the three tefillot. The Gemara names the following sources: Avraham enacted the Shacharit prayer, as it says (Genesis 19:27) “Vayashkem Avraham bavoker el ha’Makom asher amad shom et pnei Hashem – And Avraham arose early in the morning to the place where he stood before Hashem.” Amida – standing – refers to tefillah ….


Yitzchak enacted the Mincha prayer, as the Torah states further (Genesis 24:63) “Vayetze Yitzchak la’suach ba’sadeh lifnot arev – and Yitzchak went out to pray in the field before evening.”

Yaakov enacted the Maariv prayer, as it states (Genesis 28:11) “Vayifga ba’Makom – and he encountered the place.”

Rabbi Kviat refers us to the Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 68:9), where we find similarly stated that the Avot enacted the three daily tefillot. R’ Shmuel b’ Nachmani explains that each enactment was related to the three times a day when significant changes occur:

At night, one should say, “May it be His will that He brings me out from darkness to light.” In the morning, one should say, “I give praise to You, Hashem, my G-d who has brought me from darkness to light.” Before evening, one should say: “May it be Your will that just as I merited to see the sun as it arose may I also see it as it sets.” Thus, we see that we should anticipate the light that succeeds darkness.

Now, I was thinking that Avraham represents the very light that replaced the darkness, since before him most people, except for a few righteous individuals, lived in spiritual darkness, and it was Avraham who brought the light to the masses. Yitzchak praised Hashem as the source of the light that was revealed to him through his father, and sought to merit to see it as well even as the light begins to depart. Yaakov approaches the full impact of night and its enduring darkness.

The greatness of Hashem – recognition of which is the purpose of the first segment of the Amida, is that the Ribono Shel Olam’s greatness is expressed through Avraham, who represents loftiness, who has conquered the darkness, and through Yitzchak, who is so lofty that in spite of his self-sacrifice, only experiences light. Lastly, He is our mighty G-d of Yaakov – even when we are in darkness. For this particular prayer, Hashem’s greatness is seen through Yaakov. Perhaps later on, with the arrival of Moshiach the name Yisrael will supplant Yaakov.

Indeed, we do see in the prayer U’va l’Tziyon, which our Sages composed based on various verses found throughout Scripture, that we refer to “Hashem Elokei Avraham, Yitzchak v’ Yisrael,” our patriarchs.” This prayer suggests that time to come.

Yet I thought of another novel interpretation for the name Yaakov being used interchangeably with Yisrael – but in the instance of the beracha of Avot, only the name Yaakov is used. And we will see that far from being a lowly name, perhaps it too is a name of equal stature with the names Avraham and Yitzchak.

The Torah tells in Parshat Toldot of the birth of the two sons of Yitzchak and Rivka, Esav and Yaakov. As for Esav, whoever saw him called him by that name. But with Yaakov, it says He called him Yaakov. There are two traditions, the first cited by Rashi is that Hashem gave him that name because he grasped the heel, akev, of Esav to restrain Esav preceding him at birth. Hashem proclaimed, as it were, “You named your eldest, now I name my eldest – my bechor [Yaakov].” The other tradition also cited by Rashi is that Yitzchak, upon seeing how he grasped his brother’s heel, named him Yaakov.

Either way, it would seem that the name is of lowly stature by dint of the fact that it derives from the lowest of the body, the heel. Klei Yakar seems to address this when he offers that the name refers to those mitzvot that a person tramples upon with his heel as he despises them, it is those mitzvot that Yaakov grasps.

I wish to offer yet another novel interpretation. Avraham lived 175 years, but it was when he was three years old that he understood Hashem as the Creator of all; thus, Avraham served Hashem for 172 years, which equals ekev (ayin, kuf, beis). And when in Parshat Toldot Yitzchak is blessed by Hashem, the Torah says “Ekev asher shomar Avraham b’koli, vayishmor, mishmarti, mitzvotai, chukotai v’torotoi – Because Abraham obeyed My voice, and observed my safeguards, My commandments, My decrees and My Torahs.” If so, then Yaakov – what better name to combine with the other two Patriarchs with whom we begin the Amida – sought to be the rightful successor of Avraham and Yitzchak, thus completing the chain of the Avot, the pillars of Klal Yisrael. We can now better understand Yaakov even at birth grabbing onto the akev of Avrohom; his wish was to inherit the mantle of the Avot to transmit to his future generations – Bnei Yisrael.

It was all of this – akev, that Yaakov understood Esav to be incapable of keeping. He thus wanted to keep this for himself and for his progeny.

Now it should be obvious that we see the name Yaakov in a very different light.

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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.