In parsha Miketz, in chapter 42 Jacob is referred to by the name יעקב several times. then in chapter 43, starting in sentence 6, it switches to ישראל and uses that a couple of times. Is there any midrash or chidush in the literature about why that switch occurs? Rashi has nothing to say about sentence 6.

If I had to guess, when Jacob is at a time of stress (sentence 6 asks his sons "why have you done badly by me") the text alludes to his time of struggle with the angel. But that is pure speculation.

1 Answer 1


The Netziv in Ha'amek Davar on 43:6 writes as follows:

ויאמר ישראל. כתיב כאן שם ישראל כי בא בכאן ללמדם דעת לדורות הבאים אשר יהיו בגלות ויעמדו להיות נשפט לפני אדונים שלא לדבר יותר מהתשובה על השאלה

And Yisrael said - It writes here the name Yisrael because it is coming to teach to future generations who will be in exile and about to be judged before their masters not to speak more than the answer to the question.

So according to the Netziv the sudden change is to allude to future generations that they will have to expect a time of exile and it is a guide as seen by the brothers' experience in Egypt, how best to navigate the ruling party.

This theme is also employed by the Rogatchover Gaon in his Tzafnas Paneach:

ויאמר ישראל. גם כאן התחיל גדר מקור להגלות, ואז נקרא ישראל שם האומה הכללית

And Yisrael said - Here, too, marks the beginning of the source (of the Jewish nation) to be exiled, and thus (Yaakov) was called Yisrael, the name of the general nation.

So, the Rogathchover observes that once all the brothers were set to go down to Egypt in marked the entry point of the exile and was consequently, an appropriate time to switch Yaakov's name to Yisrael, as it is the name that we as a Jewish nation define ourselves.

Alternatively, Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsh notes:

ויאמר ישראל – עד לכאן, מאז אבדן יוסף, הוא נזכר תמיד כ״יעקב״. שכן השם ״יעקב״ מציין את מצב הרוח המדוכא, בו חש אדם כושל התלוי באחרים, וה״צולע״ אחרי המאורעות; ובמקום להנהיג את המאורעות הוא נגרר אחריהם. אולם היהודי האמיתי חש מדוכא רק כל עוד אינו יודע מה הוא חייב לעשות. שני דברים בלבד יכולים להביא יהודי צדיק לדכדוך נפש: א. תחושת אשמה. ב. ספק מה עליו לעשות, ולא מה עלול לקרות לו. כל עוד נתון יעקב בספק וחש שאסור לו לשלוח את בנימין, הרי הוא מופיע כ״יעקב״. אך ברגע שמתברר לו ההכרח הגמור לכך, והוא מגיע להכרה שחיי בנימין יהיו בסכנה בין אם ילך עם אחיו ובין אם יישאר בבית, מתיישב ומתחזק יעקב בתוככי עצמו והופך ל״ישראל״. משעה שהיהודי מכיר שאין כח אנושי היכול לעזור לו, הוא אומר לעצמו: ״גּוֹל עַל ה׳⁠ ⁠״ וגו׳ (תהלים לז, ה); מה שכבד עליך מדי לשאת לבדך, ״תגולל״ על ה׳. דווקא את מה שקשה לעשות אך אין להמנע ממנו, אותו יעשה היהודי בכח ואומץ מחודשים; שכן במקום בו תקצר יד האדם, שם מתחילה שררת ה׳, כפי שמעיד השם ״ישראל״. משום כך אין לישראל שום תלונה נוספת, מלבד להוכיח את בניו על שהזכירו ללא צורך לעריץ המצרי שיש להם עוד אח צעיר בבית.

And Yisrael said - Here, since the loss of Yoseph, he is always remembered as "Yaakov". For the name "Yaakov" indicates the depressed mood, in which a failed person feels dependent on others, and the sense of "lameness/crippling" after the events. And instead of leading the events he is dragged after them. But the true Jew feels depressed only as long as he does not know what he must do. Only two things can bring a righteous Jew to depression: 1) A sense of guilt, and 2) Doubt as to what he should do, not what might happen to him. As long as Yaakov is in doubt and feels that he is not allowed to send Binyamin, he appears as "Yaakov." But as soon as he realizes the absolute necessity for this, and he comes to the realisation that Binyamin's life will be in danger, whether he goes with his brother or stays at home, Yaakov settles down and becomes stronger within himself and becomes "Yisrael." Since the Jew recognises that there is no human power that can help him, he says to himself: "Leave it all to Hashem" (Tehillim 37:5) - What is too heavy for you to bear alone, will "roll" on to Hashem. What is difficult to do but should not be avoided, the Jew will do with renewed vigour and courage; For where the human hand will be shortened, that is where the dominion of G-d begins, as the name "Yisrael" indicates. That is why Yisrael has no other complaint other than to prove to his sons that they unnecessarily mentioned to the Egyptian tyrant that they had another younger brother at home.

Therefore, Rav Hirsch notes that this represented a watershed moment in Yaakov's development. It demonstrated a strengthening of faith on the part of Yaakov. Whereas previously he was perhaps "held back" (at least on his level), when he realised that he could let Binyamin go as it is dangerous either way, there is now a paradigm shift as Yaakov leaves it all in the hands of Hashem and therefore now deserves the appellation "Yisrael".

  • I think the explanation by Rav Hirsch is particularly insightful, and it is the sort of reference I was looking for. Dec 3, 2021 at 19:12

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .