SALT - Monday, 9 Kislev 5778 - November 27, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg
The Torah in Parashat Vayishlach tells the story of Yaakov’s nighttime wrestle with a mysterious assailant, who is generally identified as an angel sent by God.  After Yaakov triumphed, he demanded that the angel grant him a blessing, and the angel responded by proclaiming, “Your name shall no longer be called ‘Yaakov,’ but rather ‘Yisrael’…” (32:29). 
Rashi explains, “You are destined to have the Almighty reveal Himself to you in Beit-El and change your name…”  In other words, the angel did not change Yaakov’s name to Yisrael, but rather blessed him that God should change his name later in a prophetic revelation in Beit-El.  Indeed, as we read later in this parasha (35:10), God appeared to Yaakov when he went to Beit-El to erect an altar, and He announced that his name would now be “Yisrael.”  Rashi makes a similar remark in his commentary to Sefer Yeshayahu (44:26), where he writes that God fulfilled the angel’s wish by agreeing to change Yaakov’s name.  Consistent with his comments in Parashat Vayishlach, Rashi clearly indicates that the angel did not actually change Yaakov’s name, but rather extended a blessing that Yaakov’s name would be changed in the future, which it was.
Some have questioned Rashi’s comments in light of the fact that the name “Yisrael” is used in reference to Yaakov in between these two accounts – meaning, after the angel’s blessing, and before God’s revelation to Yaakov in Beit-El.  The Torah tells that after Dina was abducted and defiled by Shekhem, her brothers were angered “ki nevala asa be-Yisrael” (34:7) – a disgraceful act was perpetrated against “Yisrael.”  The name “Yisrael” is used here even before God’s prophecy to Yaakov announcing the name change, clearly suggesting that the angel did not simply wish that Yaakov should be known by this name, but actually changed the name already at that point.
This question is easily resolved by the theory advanced by Rabbi Menachem Leibtag, claiming that the narratives in Parashat Vayishlach are written out of chronological sequence.  Rabbi Leibtag compellingly notes several indications that the story of Dina’s abduction, and her brothers’ violent act of revenge, occurred after the story of Yaakov’s prophecy in Beit-El.  The Torah’s account gives the impression that the story of Shekhem occurred soon after Yaakov’s return to Eretz Yisrael and peaceful encounter with Esav, and then later, after Shimon and Levi attacked the city, Yaakov proceeded southward to Beit-El, where he received his prophecy, and then continued onward to his father’s home in Chevron, losing Rachel along the way.  However, for several reasons, as Rabbi Leibtag explains, it seems likely that these accounts are written out of chronological order.  For example, if the story of Shekhem took place soon after Yaakov’s return to Eretz Yisrael, Shimon and Levi were at that time around the age of thirteen, considerably younger than the age at which we would expect them to launch a daring, violent attack on an entire city.  Moreover, it seems difficult to understand why Yaakov would settle in Shekhem before fulfilling his vow to erect an altar in Beit-El, and before reuniting with his father in Chevron.  It is more likely that Yaakov merely purchased a plot of land near Shekhem upon returning to the Land of Israel (33:19), but did not actually reside there until much later.  According to this theory, we easily understand why the name “Yisrael” is used in the story of Shekhem, as it in truth occurred after God’s revelation to Yaakov in Beit-El.