What’s in a Name?

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Dear Rabbi Simon,

Can you shed some light on the two names Jacob and Israel, and why the Torah seems to switch frequently between them? For example

42:29 “They came to Jacob Their father ……
42:36 “Their Father Jacob said to them……
42:37 “Then Reuben told his Father …….
43:3  “But Judah told him……
43: 6 “Then Israel said …….
43:8 “Then Judah said to Israel his Father …..
43:11 “Israel their father said to them …..

It first started with Jacob, then Father, then him, afterwards the name changes to Israel
What happened to cause the name of Jacob to change to Israel? There must be something, that I am not taking in.


Dear Solly,

I am not sure I can explain every nuance of the examples you cite, however in general Yaakov is associated with the struggle of Jewish history. Yisrael alludes to Yaakov’s future destiny and his ultimate triumph. This is hinted to in the way in which the angel first bestowed the name Yisrael upon him (see Gen. 32:29). (This is why the founders of the Jewish state named it Israel, not Jacob.)

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch deals with the uses of the two names throughout the Joseph narrative. He holds that the alternating names reflect Jacob’s different emotional states in the light of what was transpiring. The name Jacob, he maintains, connects with the stooped, downcast man whereas the name Israel connotes hope and reinvigoration (see his commentary on 43:6):
Ever since the loss of Joseph, the name Jacob is always used.  For Jacob denotes the downcast man, the sense of dependence and decline, as a person who “limps” after events, a person who is dragged along by events rather than marching in the lead.
The name Israel shows us the points of light in his life.  On the verse, “Now Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons” (Gen. 37:3), Rav Hirsch notes:  “Israel—not Jacob—for he viewed him as his chosen son, because he was the son of his old age and in him he saw himself repeated and coming again to life; in him he saw the heir of all his spiritual wealth.”
Another instructive example is 46:5. Rav Hirsch writes:
The family were in the happiest frame of mind. They had no premonition of the sad fate which awaited them and toward which they were now journeying. Their father, however, was filled with somber thoughts of his people’s exile which he had been told to expect. Hence we read the Israel’s sons carried their father Jacob.
See also Hirsch on Gen. 45:27-28, 46:2-3, 48:8.
I hope this is helpful, if only partially.
Best wishes

Rabbi Rashi Simon

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Ask the Rabbi: Quinoa on Pesach
Dear Rabbi Simon,
Where do you stand on quinoa (and the kitniyot ban) for Pesach?
Many thanks,
Dear Tzippy,
In line with other American authorities, I am in favour of quinoa. Although I reject completely the voices (mostly from Israel) seeking to abolish the ban on kitniyot entirely, IMO we do not need to include in the prohibition pseudo-grains that were unknown in the Old World until modern times. Best to buy with a Pesach hechsher though, to be free of any possible wheat contamination.
Rabbi Rashi Simon
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