From Fall Man to Full Man: Avraham’s Added He
(( from Lech-L’cha to Vayera ))
In Parshat Lech-L’cha, G-d changes Avram’s name to Avraham by adding one letter he. The gematria value of Avram is 243; of Avraham, 248. The number 243 also represents the word gamar, meaning “finished,” or “completed.” (The name Esau may be similarly interpreted as “done.”) Until Avraham, no man had upheld the responsibility to reiterate the holy within himself. The creation of Adam, in which G-d breathed Divine Light into humanity, did not yet translate into human beings of G-dly affect. The letters of gamar can be re-arranged into gorem: “to cause, to be the cause.” Until Avraham, men believed themselves the cause of life’s consequences, their own primary movers. They saw themselves as self-made men, complete in their self-ownership, all grown up with no need for a Father. And so man’s interactions with G-d became a tug-of-war instead of a partnership.
With the number 248 representing Avraham, we find our new man to be rachem, “compassionate.” The Talmud says that if a person claims to be a son of Avraham but does not demonstrate compassion, we must question whether he is truly a son of Avraham (see: Yevamot 79a). Rachem is a derivative of the noun rechem (womb). A G-dly person is a Heavenbound haven for the infinitude of growth. These three letters also recombine to form the acronym ramakh, standing for the total skeletal infrastructure of the body (and the number of positive commandments in the Torah.) When we pray for health, we pray for health of the soul and body. Lastly, 248 also spells makhar: the future, tomorrow. Our new man of compassion is the creator of sight sought for eternity.
Of course the Holy Name of our G-d contains two letters he. When G-d gave Avraham his letter he, promising to bless his offspring through his name, He also gave a second he to Sarai, transforming her into Sarah, linking wife and husband to each and other and to G-d in covenant. And yet when G-d later grants their grandson Yaakov his own covenantal name, He reclaims and reverses the three letters of Sarai to begin the name Yisrael. G-d does not forget our humble roots. G-d sees our unseen backdrop.
Rosh HaShanah celebrates the breathing of G-d’s light into humanity, and our grateful reception of that breath. G-d created man on Rosh HaShanah; man evolved into G-dly righteousness through Avraham. It took forty generations from Adam to produce the man whom G-d wanted. So why on Rosh HaShanah do we read of G-d casting one of his sons into the wilderness and commanding the other to be bound like a ram?
Through the story of the Shunamite son, the haftarah that we read to accompany Parshat Vayera suggests that the rabbis view resurrection to be a central theme of that Torah portion. On Rosh HaShanah, we read two particular stories excerpted from Vayera. On the first day, we read about the banishment of Ishmael to the lowly sands of the desert; on the second, we read of the near-sacrifice of beloved son Isaac on the altar of G-d. What connects these stories to the very day we commemorate our Creation over the abyss of spaceless space?
There in Vayera, G-d again says to Avraham—for a second time—lech l’cha. Go further, come closer to Me and My intent. Go to the land of Moriah, lech l’cha el-eretz ha-moriah. The mountain Moriah is the centerpoint of creation. The midrash says that the even shatia, the foundation stone, a rock like no other, is the touchstone from where G-d formed the earth. It will become the location of the kodesh kodashim of the First Temple, and there will be placed the holy dvir of the second temple. There the kohen HaGadol will call for G-d on Yom Kippur, from the very place of akeidat Yitzchak.
It seems odd that we would accompany our new year celebrations with the story of G-d commanding his chosen man to place his children in peril. But these stories do not conclude with loss. Avraham’s children are resurrected; Ishmael and Yitzchak are touched by G-d, angels interceding to save their fate. With Avraham’s faith well-demonstrated, G-d intervenes so that Avraham’s sons would live to become fathers. Seeing them led to the edge and returning alive, transformed, we are blessed with a glimpse of the glimmering light in death anywhere. What appears lost may be on its path to fulfilment. Messianically, everyone will return to our life-world.