The Talmud (appreciate if someone can edit the location) says that one way to change one's mazal is to change his / her name.

Avram became Avraham; Sarai became Sarah and Ya'akov became Yisrael.

Did each of these people have their mazal changed as a result? If so, in what way?

  • 3
    Well, Avraham and Sarah had a son.
    – Scimonster
    Commented Oct 16, 2018 at 17:45
  • @Scimonster valid point. The question is if there's a correlation. I.e., did that name change cause that to occur.
    – DanF
    Commented Oct 16, 2018 at 17:47
  • 1
    For Avraham and Sarah check out Rashi on Bereishit 15:5
    – Joel K
    Commented Oct 16, 2018 at 17:48
  • Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/11031/9682
    – DonielF
    Commented Oct 16, 2018 at 18:32
  • @DanF There's correlation, the question is causality! ;-) Commented Oct 18, 2018 at 8:27

1 Answer 1


The Talmud states that changing one's name can tear up the decree against them, and derives this from Sarah who had a child after her name was changed:

Rosh Hashana 16b

וא"ר יצחק ד' דברים מקרעין גזר דינו של אדם אלו הן צדקה צעקה שינוי השם ושינוי מעשה צדקה דכתיב וצדקה תציל ממות צעקה דכתיב ויצעקו אל ה' בצר להם וממצוקותיהם יוציאם שינוי השם דכתיב שרי אשתך לא תקרא את שמה שרי כי שרה שמה וכתיב וברכתי אותה וגם נתתי ממנה לך בן שינוי מעשה דכתיב וירא האלהים את מעשיהם וכתיב וינחם האלהים על הרעה אשר דבר לעשות להם ולא עשה וי"א אף שינוי מקום דכתיב ויאמר ה' אל אברם לך לך מארצך והדר ואעשך לגוי גדול ואידך ההוא זכותא דא"י הוא דאהניא ליה

R. Isaac further said: Four things cancel the doom of a man, namely, charity, supplication, change of name and change of conduct. Charity, as it is written, And charity delivereth from death. Supplication, as it is written, Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them out of their distresses. Change of name, as it is written, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be; and it continues, And I will bless her and moreover I will give thee a son of her. Change of conduct, as it is written, And God saw their works, and it continues, and God repented of the evil which he said he would do unto them and he did it not. Some say that change of place [also avails], as it is written, Now the Lord said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and it proceeds, and I will make of thee a great nation. And the other [ — why does he not reckon this]? — In that case it was the merit of the land of Israel which availed him. (Soncino translation)

The Talmud elsewhere cites Avraham overcoming his "mazal" to have a child as proof that there is no mazal for Israel:

Shabbat 156a

ואף רב סבר אין מזל לישראל דאמר רב יהודה אמר רב מניין שאין מזל לישראל שנאמר ויוצא אותו החוצה אמר אברהם לפני הקב"ה רבש"ע בן ביתי יורש אותי אמר לו לאו כי אם אשר יצא ממעיך אמר לפניו רבש"ע נסתכלתי באיצטגנינות שלי ואיני ראוי להוליד בן אמר ליה צא מאיצטגנינות שלך שאין מזל לישראל מאי דעתיך דקאי צדק במערב מהדרנא ומוקמינא ליה במזרח והיינו דכתיב מי העיר ממזרח צדק יקראהו לרגלו

Rab too holds that Israel is immune from planetary influence. For Rab Judah said in Rab's name: How do we know that Israel is immune from planetary influence? Because it is said, and he brought him forth from abroad. Abraham pleaded before the Holy One, blessed be He, ‘Sovereign of the Universe! one born in mine house is mine heir.’ ‘Not so,’ He replied, ‘but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels.’ ‘Sovereign of the Universe!’ cried he, ‘I have looked at my constellation and find that I am not fated to beget child.’ ‘Go forth from [i.e., cease] thy planet [gazing], for Israel is free from planetary influence. What is thy calculation? Because Zedek [Jupiter] stands in the West? I will turn it back and place it in the East.’ And thus it is written, Who hath raised up Zedek from the east? He hath summoned it for his sake. (Soncino translation)

Another midrashic source goes a step further and says that it was specifically Avraham's name change that allowed him to overcome the mazal:

Bereishit Rabbah 44:10

אמר רב שמואל בר רב יצחק המזל דוחקני ואומר לי אברם אין את מוליד א"ל הקב"ה הן כדבריך אברם לא מוליד אברהם מוליד שרי אשתך לא תקרא שמה שרי שרי לא תלד שרה תלד

In other words, it was specifically Avram that could not have a child, but Avraham could have a child.

A slight issue with this is that Avraham already had a child (Yishmael) before his name-change. This is addressed by R. Eliyahu Mizrachi who argues that the midrash does not mean that Avram could not have a child at all; rather, it means that he could not have a child who would be fitting to inherit him:

Mizrachi Bereishit 15:5

ואינו ר"ל אברם אינו מוליד כלל שהרי הוליד את ישמעאל טרם שנקרא שמו אברהם אלא ה"פ אברם אינו מוליד בן הראוי ליורשו אברהם מוליד בן הראוי ליורשו

As for Yaakov, the Talmud elsewhere tells us that his name was not actually changed; rather, he was just given an additional name:

Berachot 12b

כיוצא בו אתה אומר לא יקרא שמך עוד יעקב כי אם ישראל יהיה שמך לא לא שיעקר יעקב ממקומו אלא ישראל עיקר ויעקב טפל לו

Similarly you read: Thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name. This does not mean that the name Jacob shall be obliterated, but that Israel shall be the principal name and Jacob a secondary one. (Soncino translation)

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