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I was taught that the parshiyot are named for the first significant word (or, rarely, phrase) in the parsha, and obviously names have to be unique. This week's parsha begins "eileh toldot Noach" and is named "Noach". Later we'll get one that begins "eileh toldot Yitzchak" and is named... "Toldot", not "Yitzchak". (Edit: I said "Yaakov" originally, oops!)

Why is this? Does the later one, being about a patriarch, claim the earlier word "toldot"? Is it because the entire Noach story is contained in the earlier parsha so we name it after him? Is there some other reason?

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Please consider splitting this up into two questions. Your second question is much more general and may get more answers under its own title. –  Isaac Moses Oct 27 '11 at 14:25
    
@IsaacMoses, done: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/10942/472 –  Monica Cellio Oct 27 '11 at 14:32
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5 Answers 5

up vote 10 down vote accepted

In a number of his talks, the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt"l points out that this demonstrates that the names of the parshiyos aren't just incipits, but reflect the theme of the parsha (and that this is generally true of the Jewish names of people and things).

The difference is basically this: Parshas Noach is primarily about Noach himself, not so much about his children (whose birth is already mentioned at the end of the previous parshah), so it's more appropriately called by his name. Conversely, Parshas Toldos is not so much about Yitzchak himself - many of the major events of his life have already been discussed in previous parshiyos; here the focus is more on his children ("toldos"), Yaakov and Eisav.

(Likkutei Sichos, vol. 5, pp. 354ff; ibid., vol. 25, pp. 126ff; Sefer Hasichos 5752, vol. 1, pp. 114ff)

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I love the answer. This question has bothered me for a long time and the answer actually explains why many other parshos are called what they are called. –  Gershon Gold Nov 5 '10 at 15:46
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The Lubavitcher Rebbe also points out (in Sefer Hasichos 5752) the different ways Rashi interprets the word Toldot in Parshat Noach and Toldot. In Noach, Rashi (6:9) interprets it as "good deeds": "This teaches that the main progeny of the righteous are their good deeds". In Toldot (25:19), Rashi says, "These are the descendants of Yitzchok. Yaakov and Eisov who are discussed in this parshah". Parshat Noach, which is talking about the deeds of Noach (and not children), is therefore called by his name. The focus of Parshat Toldos is the children of Yitzchok, and is therefore called Toldos. –  Menachem Oct 27 '11 at 17:43
    
Anything that there is to know of importance about Noach's children, is mentioned in parsha Noach... The fact that Noach gave birth to those three sons is also mentioned again at the end of the parsha. –  avi Oct 29 '11 at 18:53
    
@avi: but for them there's a separate section within the parshah, also prefaced with ואלה תולדות נח. –  Alex Oct 30 '11 at 19:28
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Parshat Toldot actually begins "ואלה תולדות יצחק". I have heard that the reason people call the earlier parsha "noach" is because the entire parsha deals with the story of Noach (and the listing of his descendants). "Toldot" on the other hand, although it begins with the story of Yitzchak's life, quickly switches to the story of Yaakov and Eisav as brothers. Therefore, instead of calling the parsha "Yitzchak", we call it "toldot".

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IF you look at the new Mossad HaRav Kook edition of תניא רבתי, in the fourth appendix it lists off the different parshiyos and has different names for the Parshiyos than what we have. It says בראשית, תולדות, אברם etc...

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Interesting. Aside from whether one of them is Sh'lach or Sh'lach L'cha, I don't think I've seen differences in the names before. Does he explain the deviation from the usual naming? –  Monica Cellio Oct 28 '11 at 14:30
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nope, he just says these are the name of the parshiyos. a footnote from mossad harav kook points out that it is not like our way of reckoning the parshiyos, and then mentions another source Machzor Romi which has a third way of naming the parshiyos. –  Reb Chaim HaQoton Oct 29 '11 at 16:33
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Rav Matis Weinberg in Frameworks raises your question and answers that Parshas Toldos is all about who will continue the spiritual legacy of Yitzchak, Yaakov or Eisav? Who will father the generations that follow the same path?

Parshas Noach, despite being all about generations (lots of "begat"s), does not deal with the Jews who are the principal conduit for Hashem's presence in the world, so the generations therein are not as significant.

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The Rambam (Seder HaTefillah) calls the two prashas "Eleh toldot noach" and "Ve'elah toldot yitzchak" keeping them parallel.

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