Online Torah

Back to Shiurim List

Vayetze 5763

By: Rav Ari Shames

This week's shiur is going to be a bit different from the standard in that I think I have a good question but I do not have an answer.

In this week's parsha we read about the birth of most of the shvatim, eleven out of twelve to be precise with the birth of Binyamin in next week's parsha. We read of the various names that were given to the shvatim in perekim 29-30.

I would like to pose a question which I have not seen any treated by the classical mefarshim and I would be interested in any answers that my readers would like to suggest.

A simple examination of the names will reveal a pattern or common denominator:

Reuven- Hashem has seen my suffering, now my husband will love me.

Shimon- Hashem knows that I am hated and has heard my prayer.

Levi- Now my husband will accompany me.

Yehdah- This time I will thank God, as explained by Rashi that she thanks god for having more that her fair share of children.

Dan- Hashem has judged me and heard me.

Naftali- I have struggled with my sister and won.

Gad- This one is a bit ambiguous but at least according to one explanation in Rashi his name stems from the "begidah"- betrayal meaning that Yaakov betrayed Leah by living with her maid. Of course we need only remind ourselves that the background to this relationship was Leah giving her maid to Yaakov in order keep up her "statistics".

Asher- I am most fortunate

Yisachar- Hashem has repaid me for giving my maid to my husband.

Zivulun- Now my husband will make my tent his main home.

Yosef- May Hashem give me another child.

Each and every one of the shvatim is named in a manner that is meant to express the rivalry between Rachel and Leah. Leah expresses her displeasure with her marriage and her sense of justice and later triumph. Rachel talks about her frustration and desperation in not being able to have children. Both of the women use their maids as elements in order to increase their numbers.

My question is simply: why?

I am not questioning the real issues that bothered both of the Imahot. I believe that they were expressing real human needs and emotions that as their descendents we are to learn of how they dealt with such challenges.

I am neither questioning the overall motive of trying to have as many children as possible. This we could explain has to do with general Pru urevu issues or as chazal point out, in this case they knew that there were to be twelve children and each one wanted to have the most.

(Although from a simple reading of the pesukim it would seem that the only real motive that they had was to try to have more children than the other regardless of how many there were to be in the end).

My question is focused on the naming of the children. Why did the Imahot choose to name their children in this way.

If we examine other places in the Torah where we are told of the reasons for people's names we can divide them up into two major groups.

1. Names that have something to do with the birth of the child. This is clear in the cases of Yaakov, Amon, Moav, Peretz and in a wider sense true as well for Yitzchak, Moshe and the children of Moshe. In all of these case the name reflects either the birth of the child or events that preceded the birth or took place immediately after the birth.

2. Names that reflect the life of the character. This is the case for Noach in a positive manner and Peleg on the negative side. (Pleg's name seems quite peculiar and, as a teacher of mine once put it, it would be like naming one's child "Atom Bomb Bernstein"). In these cases the parent is focusing on the child's life mission.

Note: I am not referring to cases in which the Torah tells us of a persons name without any explanation and Chazal interpret the name( for example Nimrod). This is a totally different question and one that needs separate treatment.

I was going to suggest an answer based on the past, present and future. While some of the names are focused on the past, such as those mentioned as category I above others are focused on the future, such as those listed as category II. Our case is a focus on the present, on the ongoing rivalry between Rachel and Leah.

This answer, I believe, is lacking in that I don't really see the message involved. I therefore turn to you and ask for your help. (If I get enough answers before Shabbat I'll send them out to the list so that you can all enjoy them).

I believe that we must take the naming process very seriously. If we remember Adam was presented with the entirety of the animal kingdom and given the tasks of naming each animal. His task was not simply to label each and every creature but to describe its very essence. After he finished the process he was unable to find himself a mate and Chava was created and name as the "Mother of all life". There is significance in the process of naming. In another example we find the renaming of Avraham, Sarah and Yaakov. Clearly the name that one is assigned is to carry such weight that in these cases Hashem felt that the original would not do and made the needed changes.

Looking forward to your input,

Rav Shames

P.S. on a methodological note I would just like to point out that leaving something with a question mark is perfectly legitimate. Some questions do not have easy answers and others have no answers at all.


Midreshet HaRova

Location: 50 Chabad Street, Old City, Jerusalem

Mailing Address: P. O. Box 1109, Jerusalem 9101001, Israel

Telephone: 972-2-626-5970    Fax: 972-2-628-4690    Email:

© 2020 All rights reserved.  Design by Studio Bat Amit, Development by Coda