Torah Metaphors: Lech Lecha (Part 1)

General Introduction:

Just to make it absolutely clear, this is not a standard Torah commentary based on the teachings of the rabbis that one would obtain in a yeshiva. My background is in English and Comparative Literature and what we will be doing in this series of articles is examining the Torah in a similar fashion one might examine the writings of Shakespeare. Accordingly, if you wish to make a comment on the article, I would like to request that you present your arguments utilizing an academic format, based on the text, and not quote outside sources. It is the purpose of these articles to introduce an alternative and, hopefully, a fresh perspective to what is written in the Torah and not merely to reheat and serve up the same ideas that have been presented again and again during the last thousand years. Finally, I would just like to add that the inspiration for these articles comes from the works of the English psychologist Maurice Nicoll and that the source I used for the Torah was the website:


Genesis: 12.1 – 17.27

In this week’s Torah portion we continue with the story of Abraham, who at this point in time is still only known by the name Abram.  People’s names are very important in the Torah, especially when those names are later changed to something else. In previous articles we discussed the connection between land, trees, fruit and education. We mentioned that, even in modern times, the earth is considered a school and that in universities one can still hear references to “fields of study”. We discussed that in the story the Garden of Eden we are told that fruit contains knowledge and we discussed the connection between trees/branches and sources of knowledge.

The name Abram is a combination of the Hebrew words for father and thunder. Since a father is a source of seeds and thunder can be described as “the voice of the sky”, we might then be able to conclude that the name Abram suggests: “a source of ideas, or teachings, from a higher level of understanding”. What should also be recalled here is that in the Book of Deuteronomy Moses said his words were like a heavy rainfall; hence Moses was like a cloud.

My conclusion, based on the previous references, is that Abram is being taken from the schools of Ur and the Babylonians and is being “transferred” to the school of the Canaanites and, in particular, the religious school of the Hittites. What I also believe is very important is that Abram is the 20th generation since Adam and we mentioned in a previous  commentary that when sending the Israelites to wander in the desert God said that those below the age of twenty still did not know the difference between good and evil. This then implies that “the Hebrew nation” is entering a new stage in their development and that Abram will now learn to distinguish between good and bad according to God’s ways.

Later, when we will discuss Jacob’s sons, we shall go much more deeply into the meanings of numbers, but for now I would just like to mention that we already spoke of the connection between the number seven and resting on the Sabbath and we concluded that the Sabbath was not a day for studying the Torah and it certainly was not a day for studying the Talmud. We demonstrated that the Sabbath represented a day when men accepted the limits of trying to educate themselves and allowed God, the teacher of higher levels of understanding (which we mentioned was implied by the name Mount Moriah), to provide them with the final levels in their education. Again, this was not to suggest yeshiva study is not important, only that there was a limit to how much man could teach himself.

We also mentioned the connection between the number ten and the commandments as well as the ten plagues, which in Hebrew are called “hits”. Thus the number ten should be associated with the distinction between good and evil. What we did not discuss, however, was the connection between the number five and redemption. In short: Leah “buys back” the sexual favors of her husband by trading her son’s fruit with Rachel. This leads to the birth of her 5th son Issachar whose name means: man for hire. Later we shall discuss the buying back of the first born son (which we noted, in Hebrew also means first fruit of the field) for five shekels and we shall also discuss the Year of Jubilee in which a man’s land is returned to him each fifty years. Thus, in my personal opinion, in Judaism the concept of redemption should be associated with a man’s source of knowledge being returned to him.

Putting all these numbers together we see that Abram, at age seventy five, represents a man at the stage of seven times ten plus five, which suggests to me that mankind, thru Abram, is going to have a source of knowledge restored to him (the number five) by the direct inspiration of God (the number seven) concerning the difference between good and evil (the number ten). We shall also see later that the number seventy should be associated with teachers of the law.

Probably one of the most important themes in the Torah is sex. We have shown that God is a teacher and that the Hebrew word for heaven also means sky.  We also mentioned that heaven represents a very high level of understanding and that the wife of Moses was named Zipporah which means bird. This then implies that a man’s wife is a medium between him and God. In addition, we discussed that Eve was called “the mother of all life” and explained this was a metaphor for a source of understanding. Besides the fact that we are told Abram will listen to the voice of Sarai twice in the Torah, I believe the important issue is that sixty five year old Sarai (and later eighty nine year old Sarah) is described as beautiful and sexually desirable to both the Egyptians and the men of Gerer.

The first issue we must consider then is: Why would God even concern himself with such a superficial issue such as beauty? Especially when we are told in the story of Samuel anointing David that God does not look at outside appearances, but only the heart. More important than this, however, is that when discussing sexual improprieties with the Children of Israel, Moses explains it was because of sexual offences that the seven tribes in the land of Canaan will be expelled and we have already noted the connection between the number seven and communications with God. Finally, the Hebrew word for “know” is used throughout the Torah to describe the sexual act.

In the story of Joseph we are clearly told God communicates through men’s dreams and, even in modern times, children are taught to pray at the sides of their beds. What becomes quite obvious is that in the Torah a bed is a metaphor for an altar and sex is a metaphor for praying and requesting knowledge from God. Thus we can better appreciate why King David was so furious when Saul’s son was murdered in his bed. A king is a medium between God and his people and a bed represents an altar; hence Saul’s son was murdered while in the very act of attempting to seek guidance from God.

If all this makes sense and is acceptable to the reader, then we can conclude that when the Torah speaks of “beauty” it is referring to the level of skill of the medium. Furthermore, we can better appreciate Abram’s request that he be described as a brother (i.e. a co-religionist) and not a husband (i.e. a priest). Apparently then, mediums can switch masters and apply their skills to whoever requests them. Accordingly, in ancient times there were temple prostitutes who played an important role in the prayer process. In the books of the prophets, this connection between sex and prayer can be found in the phrase: “whoring after foreign Gods”. Thus, immediately, when sixty five year old Sarai entered Egypt, it was obvious to Pharaoh’s advisors that she was a highly skilled spiritual medium and not a contestant in the Miss Middle East beauty pageant. When Pharaoh’s household becomes barren, it must be recalled that Pharaoh was not merely the political leader of Egypt but was also considered to be a God. Therefore, what we are being told is that God stopped sending omens and dreams to the Egyptians and we have already discussed in previous articles the connection between fruit, children and the word of God in the celebration of the holy day of Shavout.

Accordingly, it is my personal opinion then that the name “Hebrews” does not mean “those who crossed over” as is generally taught in schools. My feeling is the name “Hebrews” means “The Pregnant People” and this suggests that, as the custodians of God’s word, the Hebrews were implanted with the seeds of God’s ideas. Thus, in the book: Songs of Solomon the nation of Israel is described a God’s wife and, as already mentioned, when Israel follows the teachings of other religions this is referred to as “whoring after other Gods”. This is not as strange a hypothesis as it may first appear. The root of the word Hebrew means pregnant and in modern times we have the expression “the room was pregnant with thought” indicating the connection with a new idea and an embryo.

Another important story in Lech Lecha is the parting of ways between Lot and his uncle Abram. As mentioned in previous articles: the key to the story of the argument between the servants of Abram and Lot is that in ancient times the word for grass also meant ideas. In addition to this the Hebrew word pronounced: midbar, which is usually translated as desert, actually means: a place to graze sheep and the spelling of the word is also the present tense of the verb to talk.

When examining the curse of Ham and the idea of slavery, we drew the connection between working and studying and pointed out that in ancient times a vineyard was a metaphor for a religious school. Thus, combining all these different images we can see that the real issue between Lot and Abram was different views about teaching God’s word and that these two Biblical characters, both of whom actually met with and spoke to God’s angels, did not get into a fight merely about herding sheep. After all, this is the Torah we are discussing, not The Farmer’s Almanac…

Finally, we spoke about water/rain being compared to the words of Moses and that too much water was not a good thing. In addition we spoke about higher and lower levels of understanding and Moses describing the Israelites as “fallen ones” after providing them with water from the rock. Hence it is not too difficult to appreciate that when Lot selects the well watered valley where Sodom is located, while Abram remains on the higher plain, this suggests that Lot has slipped to a lower understanding of God’s word, based upon the explanations of men. Especially when, in a previous article, we showed that the Hebrew word for rain also means materialism. Furthermore, the Hebrew name of the valley is Jordan, which means to go down.

Probably, one of the most important aspects of Lech Lecha is the commandment to circumcise the children (Due to all the recent controversy over this issue, I would urge you to re-read the section for yourself, so that you can better appreciate what is at stake here). In regards to the circumcism itself, the Hebrew word for foreskin actually shares the same root with the word for fruit that has come from a tree less than three years old. Hence, it represents knowledge that is not fully developed and it is my belief that the number three should be associated with this concept of “full development”.

In addition to this, the root of the Hebrew word for circumcise has the meaning: “to remove the meat which blocks”. Thus, immediately, we can understand that the brit mila ceremony represents the removal of undesirable knowledge which prevents us from teaching God’s word accurately to future generations, because in all the discussions about the covenant God refers again and again to Abraham teaching God’s ways to his descendants (we have mentioned in other articles that the Hebrew word for meat/flesh also means preaching or gospels).

The new name Abraham, which means “father of the nation” is a reference to Abraham as a source of seeds. We discussed in a previous commentary the modern day expression: “an apple does not fall far from the tree” which, basically, means most fathers teach their sons to behave as they do. Thus, God, the father, has provided his ways to Abraham. Abraham is to take this knowledge and to establish some sort of religious academy which is represented by the land. Furthermore, Abraham is commanded to teach God’s ways to his descendants in as pure a fashion as he possibly can.

Thus the penis, representing the source of the seeds in Abraham, must be altered slightly because, apparently, the foreskin represents incorrect or undeveloped ideas, which will prevent Abraham from teaching God’s ways accurately. Therefore, what the ceremony is suggesting is that if these false teachings are not removed, then the descendants of Abraham will not be able to maintain, and pass on to others, the purity of God’s word. Accordingly, this is the connection between the brit mila ceremony and the land. In other words: If one is unable to teach God’s ways accurately and produce apples which are identical to the apples of God the father, then what is the point of operating a school? Hence, anyone who is not circumcised is no longer to be considered one of God’s people and no longer has the right to teach God’s ways, since, unless these undeveloped ideas are removed, it would be impossible to function as a pure source of God’s word.

Also I would just like to mention that we discussed the connection between the number eight and Jacob returning to the land at eighty years of age and Moses returning to Egypt at eighty years of age. We concluded that Adam was created on the eight day because this represented a new type of man. Thus Adam was not the first man; Adam was the first man with God’s spirit. Hence, the baby is circumcised at eight days because this represents a new type of teaching that God has given to the descendants of Abraham and we showed in the Beresheit commentary that a day is a metaphor for a source of knowledge.

Thus, in conclusion, we can see that the Torah uses a variety of methods to explain and reinforce the same basic themes: there is the family relationships which parallels the planting cycle of seeds, field and plants. There is lower and higher levels of understanding expressed in the geography of the land. There is the theme of maintaining the purity of the word of God, represented by sex, virginity, whoring and, as we shall soon see, by homosexuality. In part two will shall be examine the significance of certain lands and, specifically: Why were the Children of Israel sent to Egypt and not, for example, Syria or Saudi Arabia?

Dror Ben Ami is the author of the book: THE MISUNDERSTANDING: An Introduction to Metaphors, Images and Symbols Found in the Old and New Testaments.

About the Author
Dror Ben Ami has studied English and Comparative Literature at Georgetown University, George Washington University and the University of Haifa. Building on research begun almost forty years ago, Mr. Ben Ami has written a complete commentary on Biblical Law (i.e. the Hebrew Torah) and is currently working on a complete commentary of the four gospels. Living in Israel since 1980, Mr. Ben Ami brings a unique perspective to scripture, answering many questions that few people have the background, or the knowledge, to even ask....