Lech Lecha

In the two previous Parshiot (Bereishit and No’ach), the Torah gave us a description of the beginnings of mankind.  In our Parsha Avram our Patriarch and Sarai our Matriarch were blessed and their given names were changed from their original form.  HaShem makes a covenant in blood with Avram and Sarai promising that an heir will be born through Sarai.  This heir will be the next link in a chain of special men and women who will eventually bring redemption to the world.  It is significant that Avram and Sarai’s names changed as part of a new covenant.

The name Avram, or Av Aram (the father from Aram) represented the high status he acquired in his home country.   His name changed to Avraham (meaning father of a multitude of nations [Bereishit 17:5]) by adding the letter “Heh.”   Sarai, which means “my princess” ends with the possessive suffix “Yod,” implying that she owed her status to Avraham.  The exchange of that letter to the letter “Heh” signified that she was a princess to all nations, a status attained on her own merit (17:15-16)

The RaDaK (acronym for Rabbi David Kimchi [1160-1235] of Provence, France) teaches us that the names used in the Torah are not “simply convenient conventions, but reflect the true nature of each creature and its role in the scheme of the universe.”  Thus, the significance of the addition of these two letters is critical.  The true nature of both Avraham and Sarah were revealed to those around them.

How important is a name?  There is a principle of Torah study that when one attempts to understand the meaning of a concept or in our case, a name, one must find the first time it appears in the Torah.  In this way we can observe how the naming process would unfold.  Let us look back to the very beginning of the naming process.

Adam was called upon to give names to all living creatures, for he was such a high spirit that he was capable of revealing their essential characters.  In the process he noticed that almost every species of life had a partner, a counterbalance.  He (or possibly “it”) was without his own counterbalance.  When Adam requested a companion, the feminine side Adam’s essence was removed (2:20-25).  Adam, the male, then named woman and man as we see from verse 23:

“And Adam said, ‘This time it is the bone of my bones and the flesh of my flesh. This being shall be called “Isha – Woman,” for from “Ish – Man” was she taken.’ “

Adam chose Aish – fire as the root word for both man and woman.  The placement of the letter “Yod” in the middle of Aish formed the word Ish – man.  And the placement of the letter “Heh” at the end of Aish forms the word Isha – woman.  Together, these two additional letters spell “Y-ah” one of the names of HaShem (as in Hallelu Y-ah – praise HaShem).  This placement of HaShem into the fire of man and woman brings a sense of calm and holiness to a potentially volatile union of forces.

“…Man is unique among all living beings in the characteristics symbolized by fire: verve and enthusiasm, lust and initiative.  These characteristics enable Man to achieve dominance, attain wisdom, and develop culture.  But the same fire can cause mass destruction that has marred humanity almost since the beginning of time.   Controlled and directed, that fire can create spiritual kingdoms that surpass the angels.”

(Commentary to Artscroll Pentateuch, page 13)

The first couple in the world were blessed with the ability to transcend their own “fire” and rise above it to a more spiritual and creative level.  So too, the first Jewish couple in the world were dramatically changed by their name changes.

The qualities that they each displayed were of such a high caliber that HaShem chose them to enlighten the world.  Avram was elevated to the status of Avraham – Av L’Hamon Goyim (Father of a multitude of nations) and Sarai to the status of Sarah – princess to all nations of the world.  The removal of the “Yod” in Sarai and the insertion of the letters “Heh” into both their names elevated them out of their provincial standing into their new global capability.

A name change leading to an elevation of status was not restricted only to Avraham and Sarah.  When Ya’akov (Jacob) struggled with the Ish (the man [whom we all understand to have been the Angel of Esau]), he too, was blessed with a name change.

“…No longer will it be said that your name is Ya’akov (heel, or deceiver), but Yisra’el, for you have striven with the Divine and with man, and overcame.”


Ya’akov became Yisra’el and was elevated to a higher status than the other two Patriarchs.  Ya’akov/Yisra’el became the culmination of the struggles of Adam and Chava, of Avraham and Sarah, and of Yitzchak and Rivkah.  By his blending the potentials of the previous generations, the world was worthy of receiving HaShem’s extraordinary redemptive power through HaShem’s Chosen People, Israel.

Shabbat Shalom,

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Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
Bereishit (Genesis) 12:1-17:27
Haftorah – Isaiah 40:27-41:16
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