Journeying with G-d – Laekh L’kha

In Parshat Laekh L’kha, haShem instructs Avram to go to the land that He would show him. He leaves Charan with his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot, and crosses into Shekhem, a place whose associated verb means “to make a sustained effort.” There haShem appears to him. Moving on from there, Avram pitches his tent between Baet El (meaning house of G-d) and ha\ai (העי). The name of this town comes from the verb \aWaH (עוה) which means to curve, twist, twist away, overturn and lay waste. Usually translated as ruins, it could just as well mean “one’s twisting away.” So Avram finds himself between the house of G-d and twisting away.

Perhaps the text is implying that Avram’s enthusiasm was limited. Were this to be true why would his name, a combining of Abh (אב) and RaM (רם), be the exalted father. Furthermore, since the word for father, Av (אב), comes from the verb /aBhaH (אבה), allegorically Avram means “a person’s heightened desire to give forth of oneself.” On the other hand, in Hebrew, Lot (לוט) means “one who curses.” Taking into consideration the Akkadian cognate, Lot means “one’s holding himself back while cursing.” It isn’t just a coincidence that this is the opposite of the allegorical meaning of Avram. Because on the level of allegory, each person represents a different archetype, or human characteristic. Avram and Lot act as opposing forces within the same individual. This is the reason why they find themselves between Baet El, the house of G-d, and ha-ai, the place of twisting away.

A quick perusal of other archetypes demonstrates a consistent theme, that of human beings struggling to engage life experience on a regular basis. When Noach was born, his father Lamekh said: “This-one shall give us rest (comfort) from our doings and from the toil of our hands…” Many other names between Noach and Avram, also exemplify this struggle:

Arpakhshad (ארפכשד) – one’s fluttering about experience in a frenzy1
S’rug (שרוג) – one’s being entangled by the various aspects of experience
Nachor (נחור), one’s being prodded by much experience2
Terach (תרח), one’s taking a respite and allowing time to pass

Three options emerge after taking a respite: Avram, one’s heightened desire to give forth of oneself; another Nachor, representing our still being prodded by much experience; and Haran (הרן). His name, from the verb HaRHaeR (הרהר) meaning to think, meditate and reflect upon; means one’s incessantly thinking about one’s options. Lot, and his holding back while cursing, comes forth as a consequence of Haran’s incessant thinking. Additionally, incessantly thinking fathers Milkah (מלכה)3, one’s deliberating, and Yiskah (יסכה)4, one’s being hedged in.

Being like Avram, with a heightened desire to give forth of oneself to experience, is clearly the better of the three options. He represents our tremendous potential. It is this potential, this desire to engage life, that G-d speaks to and with whom G-d makes promises for a better future. But Avram’s moving forward with Lot and their inability to get to Baet El, instead finding themselves between there and ha-Ai, speaks of the tremendous challenges that we face. Because this metaphorical twisting away is not only a twisting away from G-d, from religion and spiritual practice, but more importantly since the YHWH comes from the verb meaning to be and exist, it represents a twisting away from life itself.

To succeed in life, it is not only necessary to make a full and unabashed commitment, it is also necessary to charge ahead with zeal. If Lot were to represent healthy skepticism, we could tolerate him. But he does not. This is evidenced not only by Avram’s recognition that he must go, but also of where he ends up. Lot decides to set his tent in Sodom (סדם), the place whose name means “brooding uncertainty.”5 Like its sister city, Gamorah (עמורה) which means “feeling overwhelmed,”6 Sodom represents the deep recesses of emotional uncertainty that undermine our ability to act. Until Lot is completely removed from the story line, we continue to be plagued by him. In this part of the story, Avram, our heightened desire to give forth of ourselves, has been given priority in our minds. But Lot continues to live in the shadows, subtly undermining our ability to function and reach our potential.

But Lot – our holding ourselves back while cursing, Sodom – our brooding uncertainty, and Gamorah – our feeling overwhelmed are not our only problems. As an archetype, Avram only represents our desire, our potential. But that potential needs to be activated. That activation comes through his wife Sarai (שרי). The Hebrew verb Sarah (שרה), from which comes the name Yisrael (ישראל), does not exactly mean to wrestle, nor does its associated noun exactly mean princess. The verb Sarah means to fix on something either visually or physically. To the extent that it means to fix on something physically, it could be used to mean wrestle. To the extent that it means to fix on something visually, its male counterpart, Sar (שר), means an overseer. It is a title for particular members of the royal court. Avram’s wife, Sarai, means one’s multiple attempts at overseeing or focusing on many things. It is this ability to oversee and focus that enables a person to tap the potential represented by Avram, our heightened desire to give forth to experience.

But Sarai is barren, she is unable to bear children. Therefore, allegorically she is unable to focus on any one thing because she is attempting to see too many things. This is why she was so desirable to the overseers of Pharaoh (פרעה) when they descended into Mitsrayim (מצרים). Pharaoh means one’s chaotically attempting to attend to too many things in experience.7 The word for Egypt, Mitsrayim, comes from the root TsoR (צור, to narrow in upon) possibly because upper Egypt consisted of two narrow strips of arable land on either side of the Nile. Metaphorically, it represents our distractedly focusing in upon the many things narrowing in from experience. Attempting to see too many things is overwhelming and so G-d, in bringing forth existence, plagued Pharaoh and his attempts to do so.

Perhaps, there is another way for a person with a heightened desire to give forth to experience, to focus? To that end, Sarai gives Hagar to Avram. The verb Gur (גור) commonly means to sojourn and convert, but literally it means to draw in toward something. Therefore, Hagar (הגר) represents one’s ability to draw in closer toward specific things while traversing through experience. When combined with a heightened desire to give forth to experience, we are enabled to be attentive to things as we advance toward them. This is the allegorical meaning of Yishmael (ישמעאל). Hagar, in approaching things more closely, essentially transforms Sarai into Sarah, from one’s multiple attempts at overseeing or focusing on multiple things to the ability to focus on one particular thing. Hagar calls G-d, El Ro’i (אל ראי), the G-d of my seeing. The word El, understood as the generic name for G-d, literally means “the initiator, who advances things forward.” Metaphorically, El either represents one’s advancing forward in experience or what is advancing forward in experience. Hagar calls the well, B’aer l’chai ro’i (באר לחי ראי). The verb associated with the word for well means to explain something clearly or to elucidate. Therefore the well means: a clear elucidation for the sake of life, as a result of my seeing.

Our primary purpose is to engage life and to make the most of those interactions. To achieve that goal, we must have a desire to give forth of ourselves as Avram. We must be able to focus on particular things like Sarah. Like Hagar, we must not be afraid to draw in toward the many things found in our day to day experiences. Like Yishmael, we must remain attentive to those things advancing forward toward us as we advance forward, toward them. As a fruit, P’Ri (פרי) scatters about to sow its seeds, we must sow the seeds of experience like Yishamael, as a PeRe/ (פרא). After all, this is how one is able to see G-d and the things that G-d initiates for us. In so doing, we can have a clearer understanding of G-d and the world around us. The word B’rit literally means a clear agreement or understanding. But a full understanding cannot be attained from the sidelines. We must be willing to extend our wings so that we may traverse the full extent of what is stirred up in experience. The unattested verb /aBhaR (אבר) means to give forth of oneself and extend outward. Its piel form means to extend out one’s wings so as to take flight. The verb HaMaH (המה) means to stir up and the word for a stirred up grouping of people or things is HaMoN (המון). So we too must transform ourselves from Avram to Avraham, from a person with a heightened desire to give forth of ourselves to experience, to one who spreads out his wings in pursuit of those things in experience that G-d, the initiator of experience, has stirred up for us.

1 – Arpakhshad (ארפכשד), one’s fluttering about experience in a frenzy. From RaPhaPh (רפף) to vibrate, shake, tremble, flap, flutter, vacillate + K’ (כ) as + ShaD (שד) from ShaDaD (שדד) to overpower, ruin, plunder, destroy, but literally meaning “to throw back and forth.”
2 – Nachor (נחור), one’s being prodded by much experience. NaChuR (נחור) be stabbed, from NaChaR (נחר) to stab, from ChaRaH (חרה) to poke at repeatedly > to poke through, to make a hole, to puncture
3 – Milkah (מלכה), one’s deliberating. The verb MaLaKh (מלך) to rule evolved from MaLaHh (מלח) to balance > to sail. It is more appropriately translated as to deliberate > to act deliberately. As can be seen in the Akkadian to consider, discuss, advise, look after, mind, and confer.
4 – Yiskah (יסכה), one’s being hedged in. From SaKhaKh (סכך) to cover over snugly, from SuKh (סוך) to hedge in.
5 – Sodom (סדם), brooding uncertainty. Based on allegorical context, DoM (דום) be still and silent, and SDM (סדם) in Arabic meaning affliction, sorrow, sadness, grief, nebula, and nebulous.
6 – Gamorah (עמורה), feeling overwhelmed. Based on allegorical context and Arabic copious, abundant, overflow, lavish, heap up, and to overwhelm emotionally.
7 – Pharaoh (פרעה) one’s chaotically attempting to attend to too many things in experience. From (Ex5:4)(CrII28:19) to cause to disengage, cause disorder, chaos and Arabic > to be free, available, collect one’s thoughts, devote and apply oneself, and do one’s best.

A.F.L Beeston, M.A. Ghul, W.W. Muller, J. Ryckmans ()1982) Sabaic Dictionary. Publication of the University of Sanaa, Yar

Ernest Klein (1987) A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company

Hans Wehr. Ed by J Milton Cowan (1979) Hans Wehr A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic. Ithaca, NY: Published in the United States by Spoken Languages Services, Inc with permission of Otto Harrassowitz

Jeremy Black, Andrew George, Nicholas Postgate, eds., A Concise Dictionary ofAkkadian, 2nd corrected printing (Santag Arbeiten und Untersuchungen Zur Keilschriftkunde, 5; Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2000)

Marcus Jastrow (1996) A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushlami, and the Midrashic Literature.New York: The Judaica Press

J. Payne Smith’s (1999) A Compendious Syriac Dictionary. Published by Wipf and Stock

David Kantrowitz (1991 – 2009) Judaic Classics version 3.4. Institute for Computers in Jewish Life, Davka Corp., and/or Judaica Press, Inc.

G. del Olmo Lete & J. Sanmartin (2003) A Dictionary of the Ugaritic Language in the Alphabetic Tradition. Leiden: Brill. Translated by Wilfred G.E. Watson

Wolf Leslau (1976) Concise Amharic Dictionary. University of California Press. Berkeley and Los Angeles.

About the Author
David Kolinsky is a retired physician born and raised in Monsey, New York. While living in Monterey California, David initially lived as a secular, agnostic Jew. However, in his spare time, he delved into twenty years of daily study of Hebrew etymology and Torah study culminating in the writing of an etymological dictionary of Biblical Hebrew and a metaphorical translation of Torah. Abandoning his agnostic views, David was simultaneously a spiritual leader of the world's smallest conservative synagogue, a teacher in his local reform synagogue, and a gabbai at Chabad. He is currently sheltering in place with his family in his new home in Plano, Texas.
Related Topics
Related Posts