shemot benei Yisrael habaim - And these are the names of the Children
of Yisrael who came.
The initial letters of these words spell
captivity. This indicates that even while the Jews were in [Egyptian]
captivity, they [nevertheless maintained] the names of the Children of
Yisrael, for they did not change their names. As the Midrash (Pirkei
DeRabbi Eliezer 48) teaches: Three merits allowed the Yisraelim to be redeemed
They did not change their names - they retained
their Hebrew names
They did not change their language from the Holy
Tongue to Egyptian
They did not speak slander or gossip
Various Midrashim, e.g., Vayikra Rabbah 32:5; Shir
HaShirim Rabbah 4:12 speak of four merits for which the Yisraelim deserved to
be redeemed from Egypt, the fourth being that there was not a single instance
Additionally, the conjunctive prefix
vav of the word
"and" these are, indicates a connection between the subject of the
previous narrative, And Yosef died...
(Bereishit 50:26), and our verse, And these
are the names..., namely, he [Yosef] commanded the Jews not to change
their names. Although the Egyptians changed his name to Tzafenat-paneach
he nevertheless told them, "You should not change your names." (Peirush
Yisrael habaim -
Yisrael who came. The initial and final
letters of these two words (when rearranged) for the word
circumcision. And the final letters of
et Yaakov ish, with Yaakov, each man,
when read in reverse spell Shabbat.
This indicates that in the merit of the Shabbat and circumcision, which they
observed while in Egypt, they were redeemed.
Other Midrashim differ, however, and state that after
Yosef's death the Yisraelim in Egypt either voluntarily abandoned the mitzvah
of circumcision (Sifrei, Behaalotecha 67; Tanchuma, Behaalotecha 8), or were
coerced by Pharaoh's decree to abandon it (Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer 29).
Elsewhere, the Baal Turim's comments reflect these other Midrashim.
The verse begins with the letter
vav (=6) and ends
with the letter vav,
alluding to the twelve tribes. This phenomenon may be explained through a
A builder constructed a palace using
only one pillar as a support, and it collapsed. He rebulit it with two
pillars and it caved in; with three pillars, and it crumbled. What did he
do? He built it with twelve pillars and it stood fast.
So, too, with regard to Avraham and Yitzchak, there was
dross among their offspring, i.e., Yishmael and Esav, until Yaakov begot the
twelve tribal progenitors among whom there was no dross.
And so the Chosen People are called
Benei Yisrael, not
Benei Avraham, the Children of Avraham, because
Yishmael is also Avraham's son, or Benei
Yitzchak, because Esav is also Yitzchak's
son (VeChur LaZahav).