In Blble studies, Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
commentator. In Genesis chapter 35, we read that Jacob and family edge closer to home, to Isaac in
Hebron. Along the way from Paddan-Aram, God appears to the patriarch and confirms what an angelic
messenger had told him earlier – a name change was in the offing: “Your name shall not be called any
more Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.”
“And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-
Aram, and blessed him. And God said unto him, Your name is Jacob.
Your name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be your
name. And He called his name Israel.”
Abravanel contrasts Jacob’s name change to Israel versus Abram’s becoming Abraham – really a world
of difference. Let’s start with the operative verse for Abraham: “Neither shall your name any more be
called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham…”
Abravanel teaches that whoever refers to Abraham by his original name contravenes divine will. This is
because the Creator completely uprooted and rescinded the first patriarch’s birth name. The same
applies to Sarah’s name change from Sarai.
Jacob’s change to Israel, Abravanel learns, needs to be understood in a different light; it’s a revision.
Importantly, the appellation given to the third patriarch by his father Isaac was not voided. Here’s the
Abram’s and Sarai’s names changed as a direct result of entering God’s covenant, at the time of
Abraham’s circumcision. Consequently, it fit to erase both of their originally given names, as they
received them in a wholly non-kosher and morally defiled milieu. The moment that Abraham and Sarah
entered into the divine covenant, they received a spiritual boon. Thus, those early names, tainted by
pagan culture, fell by the wayside forever.
Jacob’s circumstances were night and day from Abraham’s and Sarah’s. Isaac had designated Jacob’s
name when he ushered his son into the Abrahamic covenant. That appellation resonated with holiness
and divine inspiration. Hence, it would be wrong to uproot that sacred appellation and have Israel
supplant it, even though Heaven’s angel called Jacob by the name of Israel, for good reason. “Your name
shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and men, and have prevailed.”
To conclude, the name Israel complements and supplements Jacob, but does not replace it. Here’s a
caveat. Israel should be viewed as the primary name, Jacob the secondary one. This hierarchy reflects
the givers’ respective identities. Since a divine angel renamed the patriarch, that trumps Isaac’s