In Parshas Lech Lecha Hashem changed Avraham’s name from Avram to Avraham. The Gemara in Brachos (13a) says that one who calls Avraham, Avram, has transgressed both a positive and a negative commandment. Yet, we do not find the same halacha regarding others whose names were changed, such as Sarah Imeinu and Yaavok Avinu whose name was changed in this week’s parsha to Yisrael.
The Gemara (ibid) addresses this paradox. The Gemara says that when Hashem changed Sarah’s name He only told Avraham not to call her Sarai any more, as the pasuk says, “You shall not call her …” (Beraishis 17:15). The prohibition was not intended for anyone else but Avraham.
The Gemara then proceeds to inquire why the prohibition does not apply to Yaakov’s name. The Gemara answers that we find that Hashem Himself referred to Yaakov with both names after it was changed. This must prove that Yaakov’s name was not changed; rather another name was added.
The Maharsha there notes in wonderment why this prohibition is not mentioned in the poskim. Although he lived much after the Maharsha, the Magen Avraham (Orach Chaim 156:2) does in fact codify this prohibition. The Tzlach on the Gemara and the Nemukei Hagrib say that in fact the Gemara that rules that this is prohibited is contradicted by other opinions in other Gemara s. Therefore, we rule in accordance with those opinions and it is not prohibited.
Regardless, the Gemara does not explain the discrepancy. Why was Avraham’s name completely changed and Yaakov’s merely added on to?
The Yefei Mareh (on the Yerushalmi Brachos 1:6 s”v lo) explains that the name Avram was given by Terach, Avaraham’s father, whereas the name Avraham was given to him by none other than Hashem. To refer to Avraham by the name given to him by his father instead of the one given by Hashem would be utter disrespect to Hashem. I know what you are probably asking, the name Yaakov was given by Yitzchak Avinu. Wrong, well partially. One explanation in Rashi (Beraishis 25:26) says that Hashem named Yaakov his name Yaakov. Therefore, there is no disrespect to refer to Yaakov by either of his G-d given names.
Alternatively, the Yefei Mareh suggests that the Gemara (ibid) explains the name Avram refers to the Av – father of Aram, as he was a prominent figure in Aram. The Gemara explains that the name Avraham refers to the fact that after his bris mila he became Avraham, the Av l’kol ha’olam – the father of the entire world. Therefore, to refer to Avraham by the name Avram would be diminishing in Avaraham’s kavod. Therefore, it is so prohibited. However, the name Yaakov is not at all degrading.
The Chizkuni explains that the reason why Hashem did not intend for us to stop referring to Yaakov Avinu by the name Yaakov, is because had the name Yaakov been removed the nations of the world would have had an argument that the brachos that we received were attained by stealing and cheating for them. Removing the name Yaakov would have given these claims validity. Thus, Hashem did not want to remove the name Yaakov, and we refer to him by both names.
The Torah Shelaima (Lech Lecha (17:36) explains the difference between the changes that the name Avram underwent and that of Yaakov’s. The name Avram was actually changed to Avraham. Thus, we are not to use the old name that was altered. However, the name Yaakov was not changed; rather he was given a second different name. Therefore, we are allowed to use both names.
The Abarbenel (Beraishis 17:1-4) quotes the Ran that answers that the name Avram was given to him before his bris mila, and the name Avraham was given to him after his bris. Therefore, the name Avraham became his name that we should use. Understandably, the name Yaakov, which was given to him at his bris remained even after he received another name.
It is interesting to note that not only do we use the name Yaakov, but it is the primary name that we use to refer to Yaakov Avinu, despite the fact that he was given another name. Perhaps, it is because the name Yaakov reflects the fact that we will be at the heel of Eisav in galus. We look forward to the Geulah where we will begin to use the name Yisrael, which is a reference to, as Eisav’s Sar explained, that he has struggled with G-d and with men, and has prevailed.