In the parasha of Vayishlach Yaakov’s name is changed twice. Both times his new name is Yisrael. He is morphed twice from the ‘One Who Grasps Ankles’ to ‘the One Who Wrestles with G-d.’ The first time he is renamed by the adversary he wrestles with throughout the night (Gen. 32:29). On the second occasion he is renamed by G-d Himself (35:10). So why is his name change presented to us twice and why on these two occassions?

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    IIRC the first time around the angel predicted that in the future his name would be changed. And that is what happened soon thereafter. Oct 7, 2018 at 11:11

3 Answers 3


Ramban on 35:10 notes that before assigning Yaakov his new name, God states plainly "your name is Yaakov," since it wasn't the angel's mission to change Yaakov's name.

R' Samson Raphael Hirsch on 32:29 takes this discrepancy a step further by noting a difference between the verbs in the two verses. The angel says "לא יעקב יאמר עוד שמך", which R' Hirsch interprets as "not Jacob shall they name be expressed any more,"1 while God says "לא יקרא שמך עוד יעקב", which R' Hirsch interprets as "thy name shall no longer be called Jacob."

According to R' Hirsch, the angel's message is not that Yaakov's name is changing, but that the same name Yaakov would now be understood as Yisrael, meaning "God is the All-conquering one." When people see a "Yaakov," apparently a weak member of the "heel" of society, miraculously overpowering stronger-looking foes, it demonstrates that God is all-powerful, and that He can and does intervene to help those who are close to him vanquish any power. When this happens, "Yaakov" teaches the world that "Yisrael."

R' Hirsch doesn't return to the topic on 35:10 to explain why God formalizes the name change at this point. I would suggest that now that Yaakov's family has attained it's full strength at 12 sons, it's hard to see Yaakov personally as a mere heel-grabber anymore. He is clearly the head of a mighty clan. Now, God says, the "Yisrael" message is apparent not in individual surprising victories by a weak-looking Yaakov, but by the evolution of previously-weak Yaakov into the mighty proto-nation of Yisrael.

1. As translated into English by Isaac Levy

  • Genesis 35 seems to retell the same story in Genesis 32. It actually starts by retelling the story at Bethel which is found in Genesis 28. It seems to be a summary of Jacob's different encounters with God. The mystery man/angel who wrestles with Jacob is God, as odd as it may sound or look. This makes sense since Jacob also calls the place Peniel (the face of God) for I saw Elohim face to face and yet my life was spared...
    – Mordecai
    Oct 31, 2021 at 0:13
  • @Mordecai The angel isn’t God, I realize you have a question on here regarding this but you need to stop
    – ezra
    Oct 31, 2021 at 0:39
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    @ezra it's Christian missionary stuff. The argument is trying to show God can take the form of a human
    – Double AA
    Oct 31, 2021 at 1:05
  • @DoubleAA If it's "Christian missionary stuff" then why does the Jewish virtual library also translates the Elohim in Genesis 32 to God instead of angel of God? jewishvirtuallibrary.org/bereishit-genesis-chapter-32
    – Mordecai
    Oct 31, 2021 at 3:31
  • @Mordecai "Elohim" in various contexts means different things. For example, it could also mean "judge," or "powerful being." When referring to G-d it can be as much a descriptor as a "name" (e.g. Nechemiah 9:7). Re: the Christian missionary stuff - Christian missionaries, and quite frankly all of Christianity, are almost criminally deceptive and duplicitous in their misrepresentation of both Judaism and the Jewish Scriptures. Their lies are well-documented, and you would do well to not trust anything you hear about Judaism or the Jewish Scriptures from Christian sources.
    – Yehuda
    Nov 5, 2021 at 11:59

As a reaction to Mordecai:

Gen 28:12 and 16 clearly shows Ya’akov had a prophetic dream/vision. Then in Gen 28:18 and 19 shows he set up a pillar and anointed it, while calling the place Beth-El and making a vow. Now Gen 31:13 refers back to what I just described and 31:11 teaches that in a dream a messenger of the Lord spoke to Ya’akov, a messenger is send to deliver a message in name of the messenger. The words Malach HaShem are like Na’ar Elisheva (2 Kings 5:20).

In Gen 35:1 and 35:7 Ya’akov names the place Beth-El: for there had G-d been revealed unto Ya’akov, in his fleeing from the face of his brother. It becomes clear from these verses that they also refer back to what I described, because G-d revealed Himself through a dream and Ya’akov had this dream after he had to leave his house because of Esav who wanted to kill him.

So far Ya’akov has not seen G-d in a literal or physical way.

Then what about Gen 32:30 it says Ya’akov saw el panim elohim.. see Judges 13:22 from the context it becomes clear he saw an messenger of the Lord and claimed similar words as Ya’akov. Seen could also have the meaning of becoming aware of something and face-to-face could also mean in a personal way. Ya’akov became aware of G-d through this personal encounter. It’s just like on Mount Sinai it says that people saw G-d while all they saw was a big cloud and lightning etc. and they only heard His voice (Deut 4:12); it doesn’t mean they saw G-d in a literal and physical way, but G-d revealed himself to them by what they could actually behold. Just as G-d revealed Himself to the people through the plagues and miracles in Egypt; i.e. it became clear to them it happened by the hand of G-d, it happened because G-d was behind it; they experienced that G-d was with them in that moment; He made His presence felt.

  • You don't find it odd that Ya'akov comes up with two names both ending with El, that is Bethel(House of Elohim) and Peniel(Face of Elohim) yet in one instance he means God by El and Elohim whereas in another he means a messenger of God by El? In my opinion, it makes no sense for him to make such a big deal about merely wrestling with an angel. His statement only makes sense if he actually saw God disguised as a man, having his glory and omnipotence concealed. I do however understand why human nature doesn't want to accept this because it goes against what they imagine of the Almighty.
    – Mordecai
    Nov 1, 2021 at 7:16
  • @Mordecai no I don’t find it strange, sometimes G-d acts through others or events, yet we give him te credit. The messengers who went to Lot said they came to destroy the city, yet who got the credit? Who got Israel out of Egypt? Moses or G-d? Or was it G-d using Moses… p.s. Moses is also called Elohim Ex 7:1
    – Levi
    Nov 1, 2021 at 18:29
  • The angels came to destroy the city, yet who got the credit? Actually one of those three visitors is HaShem who stays with Abraham while the other two leave and arrive at Sodom in Genesis 19:1. And in Genesis 19:24 it's HaShem who destroys the city. Verse 24 says Then HaShem rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from HaShem out of the heavens. Which is further evidence to plurality in the Godhead. You have one HaShem on the earth and another in the heavens. With Moses, it's also very clear that Moses is not there alone. Israel actually sees God Exodus 24:10.
    – Mordecai
    Nov 2, 2021 at 0:52
  • As to Moses to being called Elohim, it is pretty clear to whom Elohim is referring there. It's not an unknown person which leaves it up to interpretation based on other passages. The reason I believe the Elohim in Genesis 32 is HaShem is because both Genesis 35 and Hosea 12 say that it was the same Elohim in Bethel and the Elohim in Bethel is identified as HaShem in Genesis 28 not Moses, Judges or an ordinary angel or man. Also Jacob himself comes up with Beth-El and Peni-El. Both El(s) must refer to the same person unless Jacob wants to create confusion here.
    – Mordecai
    Nov 2, 2021 at 0:56
  • @Mordecai I also believe it was the same El, i.e. HaShem, yet Hosea also clearly teaches about an angel. In other cases there are also Malachim, Prophets and People acting as Shaliach this is why we see HaShem is the one receiving credits. Let me put it this way, who had a plan with Ya’akov and who is the one behind the story being told/unfold; it’s clearly HaShem, for Ya’akov it was also clear that’s why he named the places the way he did. Yet he never saw HaShem in any physical form; HaShem Himself said so quite clear that no one has seen Him, and that He’s spirit.
    – Levi
    Nov 3, 2021 at 15:42

I don't believe Yaakov's name is changed twice. In Genesis 32, Yaakov calls the place Peniel which means the face of God in a literal sense. He says for I saw Elohim face to face and yet my life was spared. He seems to be pretty clear that it was God he saw and wrestled with. Genesis 35 is simply repeating the same thing after repeating his encounter with God at Bethel which is written in Genesis 28. Hosea 12:3-6 also confirms this by first calling the one who wrestled with Jacob Elohim, then Mal-Ach meaning he appeared in a form of a man or angel in this case but then he confirms that it was the same Elohim or God who appeared to him at Bethel who is identified as YHWH in Genesis 28. Hosea himself also goes on and identifies him as YHWH.

  • No as Rav Hirsch points out the first encounter is with a malach. Indeed, the medrash says that this is the sar eisav Oct 31, 2021 at 1:17
  • @sabbahillel How many times was Jacob returning from Paddan Aram and his name was changed to Israel through an encounter with "Elohim"? Both Genesis 32 and 35 say Elohim. Why do you think they're different and why do you think one is God while the other is an angel?
    – Mordecai
    Oct 31, 2021 at 3:27
  • @Mordecai Because God does not take physical forms, and also because we have a mesorah
    – ezra
    Oct 31, 2021 at 4:35
  • Doesn't that beg the question? If you start with an assumption that contradicts what the text says, you're clearly not going to even consider the possibility of being wrong and will do anything to not accept the plain reading of the text. Pay attention to Genesis 31:11 for example. Jacob sees the "angel" of God, Mal-Ach in Hebrew. But this angel in verse 13 claims to be the God of Bethel, where Jacob has made a vow to him. What do you make of that? Who did Jacob make a vow to at Bethel? Genesis 28 is crystal clear. It was Ha-Shem.
    – Mordecai
    Oct 31, 2021 at 4:56

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