Parshat Lech Lecha, Genesis 12:1-17:27
In this week’s Torah portion, Abram (as he is called at the beginning) is told to “Go! Go from your land, from your birthplace, from the house of your father to the land” that God will show him. In return, he is promised that he will become a great nation, have a great name, and be blessed. So Abram goes with his wife, then known as Sarai, his nephew Lot and all the people they had acquired and set off for that unnamed land.
What made Abram go? Was it just because God spoke to him? Was it because of the promise of becoming a great nation? Of becoming “someone important,” a great name as opposed to a “nobody” nomad? Did he discuss it with Sarai? Or with Lot? Or did he just say, “Let’s go!”
The biblical text, of course, does not answer any of these questions, but it is the beginning of the unique relationship that Abraham had with God. From the beginning of this week’s portion to the end, Abram has many experiences with God, but I believe that it is only at the end of the portion, in Genesis 17, when God again reiterates the covenant to make Abram a great nation, changing his name to Abraham and sealing the covenant through circumcision. Now, he gets it and has the “Aha!” moment.
In this later chapter, the covenant is also with Sarai, now Sarah as well, for she too is told that she will be blessed and be the mother of nations.
In noting the name changes, the rabbis suggest that the yud at the end Sarai’s name represents God’s name and has the numerical value of 10. It was divided into two fives, or two hehs, with one converting Abram’s name to Abraham and the other changing Sarai’s name into Sarah. Thus for the covenant to work, for Abraham and Sarah to be able to have Isaac, they both have to have God as part of them. They both have to have the “Aha!” moment.
No matter what our names are, we are part of the covenant as well. We too can have those “Aha!” moments. It can happen in seeing the face of a loved one under a chuppah. It can happen when holding a newborn for the first time. It can happen while standing quietly and lighting Shabbat candles after a hectic week. It can happen while sitting in the synagogue on Shabbat. It can happen on so many occasions if we but try to remember and renew the covenant God made with Abraham and with Sarah. May your “Aha!” moments be many.
Rabbi Sara Rae Perman is the rabbi of Congregation Emanu-El Israel in Greensburg. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.