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Parsha Notes: Noah and Lech L’cha

October 13, 2013

In the genealogical lists from Adam to Abraham, most of the names are at least Hebrew in form, if not in meaning. They have recognizable, three-letter Hebrew roots and binyanim, except for Shem’s son Arpachshad, who has what is apparently a Persian name!

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From Wikipedia:

Samuel ben Meir (Troyes, c. 1085 – c. 1158) after his death known as “Rashbam”, a Hebrew acronym for: RAbbi SHmuelBen Meir, was a leading French Tosafist and grandson of Shlomo Yitzhaki, “Rashi.”

The Rashbam explains that Moses named Hoshea “Joshua” as part of his honorific appointment as Moses’s attendant, much in the same way Joseph was dubbed Avreich and later Tzaf’nath Pa’neiah by the Pharaoh, a later Pharaoh gave Jehoiakim his name, and Nebuchadnezzar renamed  Zedekiah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Till this day, the practice in Europe is that monarchs may grant new honorific titles and names to their subjects, and they often take new names upon ascending the throne.

I had always wondered why G-d saw fit to rename Abraham, Jacob, and Sarah, and ordain Isaac and Ishmael’s names when he foretold their births.

I would suggest that G-d named His chosen ones also as a sign that that were set aside for His service.

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The last two sections of Lech L’cha (Genesis 16-17) are strikingly parallel to the last two sections of Wayera (21-22).

In chapter 16, Abraham is blessed with a  son (Ishmael) who is named as per G-d’s word son, Sarah is upset by the developments, and Hagar is forced to leave the household and receives an angelic revelation.

In chapter 17, Abraham and his progeny are bidden to join in an eternal b’rith, a covenant, with God. Then Abraham and his son born in the previous chapter are faced with a critical test of faith: they are told to perform a form of painful and bloody sacrifice, and they pass the test, demonstrating their commitment to follow G-d’s commandment, resulting in their receiving blessings from G-d.

In chapter 21, Abraham is blessed with a son (Isaac) who is named as per G-d’s word son, Sarah is upset by the developments, and Hagar is forced to leave the household and receives an angelic revelation. In the next paragraph, Abraham and his progeny are bidden to join in an eternal b’rith, a covenant, with the Philistines.

In chapter 22, Abraham and his son born in the previous chapter are faced with a critical test of faith: they are told to perform a form of painful and bloody sacrifice, and they pass the test, demonstrating their commitment to follow G-d’s commandment, resulting in their receiving blessings from G-d.

The difference between the two s’daroth is that in Wayera the story of Isaac’s birth and the aqeda is interrupted with the story of  Abraham’s forging a covenant with the Philistines, in stark contrast to chapter 17, wherein Abraham forges a covenant with G-d and receives the land in promise. This also does not fit with the later sinaitic command to explicitly not enter into a covenant with the inhabitants of the land of Canaan!

Rashbam points out that this was a mistake on Abraham’s part, and thus caused G-d, so to speak, to test Abraham in a much graver manner: by 1. commanding him to perform human sacrifice, an abominable practice of the pagan Canaanites against which Abraham preached, and by 2. having his son Isaac die, and making Abraham question G-d’s previous promises to make him into a great nation.

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