Saturday 21st December 2019 23rd Kislev 5780
PARASHAT VAYESHEV Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
Gen 37:1 – 40:23; Amos 2:6 – 3:8; Matt 1:18-25
One fact about this week’s parshah has long perplexed the commentators. After his wrestling match with the unnamed adversary, Jacob was told: “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings Divine and human, and have prevailed” (Gen. 32:29, JPS translation). Or “Your name will no longer be said to be Jacob, but Israel. You have become great (sar) before God and man. You have won.' (Aryeh Kaplan translation).
This change of name takes place not once but twice. After the encounter with Esau, and the episode of Dina and Shechem, God told Jacob to go to Beth El. Then we read: “After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him. God said to him, ‘Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.’ So He named him Israel” (Gen. 35:9-10).
Note, first, that this is not an adjustment of an existing name by the change or addition of a letter, as when God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, or Sarai’s to Sarah. It is an entirely new name, as if to signal that what it represents is a complete change of character. Second, as we have seen, the name change happened not once but twice. Third – and this is the puzzle of puzzles – having said twice that his name will no longer be Jacob, the Torah continues to call him Jacob. God Himself does so.
So do we, every time we pray to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. How so, when the Torah twice tells us that his name will no longer be Jacob? Radak suggests that “your name will no longer be called Jacob” means, “your name will no longer only be called Jacob.” You will have another name as well. This is ingenious, but hardly the plain sense of the verse. Sforno says, “In the Messianic Age, your name will no longer be called Jacob.” This, too, is difficult. The f