We often adopt or are given new names when we pass through various Rites of Passage, Confirmation, Religious profession, Change of Gender, Witness protection, to name a few. What does it mean when God changes a name? The most famous ones I can think of is Abram.
This post was inspired by an email which came this morning advertising Hebrew lessons and gave the following explanation as an example of the learning to be expected:
Abram is composed of two words Av and Ram and means “the father is lofty”. This is an exalted name, but it is haughty and not fitting for the patriarch of a new people. Abraham, on the other hand, contains the words Av and Hamon, which is a reference to the phrase “I have made you ancestor of a multitude of nations” (Gen. 17:5). The change is minor, the only difference being one Hebrew letter: ה (pronounced hey). This letter is has been inserted into the middle of the word ram essentially turning “lofty” into “multitude”. But the impact is major. The emphasis is no longer on the individual distinction of one leader, but on the collective greatness of the entire multitude. This is a theme continues throughout the entire Hebrew Bible.
This piqued my interest but I was not satisfied enough to take this assessment as the definitive answer and turned firstly to a Google search on Abram to Abraham that yielded more scholarly insight which in turn took me to the Compete Hebrew Bible at Chabad and Rashi’s commentary.
Everything turns on the letter ה (pronounced hey) which adds multitudinous meaning to the events surrounding the incident of the change of name.
I am going to post what Rashi’s Commentary reads: Rashi is quoted.
Red text is my added research
The argument begins at Genesis 12:2
2 And I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will aggrandize your name, and [you shall] be a blessing.
Rashi: And I will make you into a great nation:
Since traveling causes three things
- : it diminishes procreation,
- it diminishes money, and
- it diminishes fame (lit. name),
therefore, he required these three blessings, namely that
- He blessed him concerning children,
- concerning money,
- and concerning fame.
(Other editions: And this is the meaning of and I will aggrandize your name.
I will add a letter to your name, for until now, your name was אַבְרָם. (Abram)From now on [your name will be] אַבְרָהָם, (Abraham)and(Abraham) אַבְרָהָם equals 248, corresponding to a person’s limbs. (Found in an old Rashi . — [from Gen. Rabbah 39:11; Tan. Buber, Chaye Sarah 6)
( Note: hay or hei (h) is the 5th letter of the Hebrew Alphabet, it’s Gematria is 5 and represents divine breath revelation and light, the pictograph of hay is that of a human stick figure. Abram’s gematria was 243 and by adding ‘hei’ to his name – AbraHam it added 5 to this giving 248 – the number of positive commandments in the Torah )
Another slant on this “and be perfect” –
Rashi: Now you are missing [control over] five organs: two eyes, two ears, and the male organ. I will add a letter to your name, and the numerical value of your letters [of your name] will be 248, corresponding to the number of your organs (Tan. Lech Lecha 16, Ned. 32b).(versus number of limbs see above – and exist both on the physical and spiritual plane)
the father of a multitude of nations: אַב הֲמוֹן is an acrostic of his name [They see Father]. (Gen. Rabbah 46:7). The “resh” that was in it [his name] originally, denoting that he was the father only of Aram, which was his native place, whereas now [he became] the father of the whole world (Ber. 13a): nevertheless the “resh” that was there originally was not moved from its place.
(Note resh or r is the 20th letter of t he Hebrew Alphabet it’s gematria is 200, its pictograph is a human head)
Rashi:and I will bless you: with money (Genesis Rabbah 39:11).
Rashi:and [you shall] be a blessing: The blessings are entrusted into your hand. Until now, they were in My hand; I blessed Adam and Noah. From now on, you may bless whomever you wish. (Gen. Rabbah) (ad loc.). Another explanation: “And I will make you into a great nation”: This is [the basis] of saying “the God of Abraham.” “And I will bless you”: This is [the basis] of saying “the God of Isaac.” “And I will aggrandize your name”: This is [the basis] of saying “the God of Jacob” [in the initial benediction of the Silent Prayer]. You might think that [the first benediction of the Silent Prayer] should be concluded [by mentioning] them all. Therefore, Scripture states: “and [you shall] be a blessing”: with you they will conclude, and not with them. [i.e., the closing of the blessing is “the shield of Abraham,” and not “the shield of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”] [from Pes. 117b]
3 And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse, and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you.”
Rashi:shall be blessed in you: There are many aggadoth, but this is its simple meaning: A man says to his son, May you be like Abraham. And so is every instance of [the words] “shall be blessed with you” in Scripture. And the following [text] proves this (below 48:20):“With you, Israel shall bless, saying: May God make you like Ephraim and like Manasseh.” – [from Sifrei, Naso 18]
4 And Abram went, as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him, and Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran.
And the Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Please raise your eyes and see, from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward.
Rashi:after Lot had parted: As long as the wicked man was with him, the Divine speech withdrew from him (and above, when Lot was with him, and it is written (12: 7): “And the Lord appeared to Abram,” [we must assume that] at that time, he was righteous, and this is easy to understand). [from Tan. Vayeze 10]
15 For all the land that you see I will give to you and to your seed to eternity.
16 And I will make your seed like the dust of the earth, so that if a man will be able to count the dust of the earth, so will your seed be counted.
Rashi: that if a man will be able: Just as it is impossible for the dust to be counted, so will your seed not be counted. [from Targum Onkelos]
I realize that I have provided not a little reading, however it seemed to make it more complex as I attempted to comment on the commentary. This narrative concludes in chapter 17 with the visit of the Angels and the Annunciation of the birth of Isaac.
Because, through the act of circumcision, God gave Abraham super-natural control over his eyes, ears, and procreative organ. Once Abraham was circumcised and had control over his entire body, he was fit to truly procreate and give birth to the Jewish people. Gal Einai Revealing the Torah’s Inner Dimensions
Having read and digested what we might or can of this we may deduce that in Judaic terminology when Abram became Abraham he became a whole person both Spiritually and physically with potential control over his earthly shell. he moved from being the father of Amram to the father of humankind. He walked and talked with God as long as he was upright and not in the presence of evil. keeping bad company can grossly affect our devotions and our obedience to the tenets of Faith, such that in the Old Testament terminology the Holy spirit withdraws.
- From Abram to Abraham – What is the Big Deal?
- The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary
- Hebrew for Christians
- Gal Einai Revealing the Torah’s Inner Dimensions