“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves’” Gen 12:1–3.
Abram the Hebrew
In his command, “Go from your country” Gen 12:1, the original Hebrew for “go” is lekh lekha, move yourself. Our Father could have commanded lekh, go or move. Adding lekha at the natural level indicates “yours,” that is, with all your people, your herds, all that you own. At the supernatural level it means “yourself,” move yourself, on an interior journey to holiness. They called him ha’ivri, “the Hebrew” Gen 14:13, the one who crossed, from avar, crossed, as on a journey. The Hebrew root is avr.
The Septuagint translates ha’ivri as ho perátes, the one from beyond. This is what it means to be a Hebrew, one who has crossed over from doing his own will to doing God’s will. “Not my will, but thine, be done” Lk 22:42. God called the Hebrew people on a journey to interior holiness.
Modern Hebrew grammar has a present tense, but Biblical Hebrew did not. It used both past and future tenses to indicate a present event. Abraham crossing a river would be vaya avor, literally, “And he did will cross.” Many of God’s sayings are expressed in all tenses. Reading the Old Testament in Hebrew gives a sense of eternity, in which past, present and future are united in one unbounded now.
The journey to interior holiness is a journey to God. In the eternal election, God bound Abram and his descendants to himself. “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.… For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.… You are my witnesses … and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he” Is 43:1–10.
“Abram went, as the Lord had told him” Gen 12:4. At that time he was a married man living in Haran, seventy-five years old, “very rich in cattle, in sliver, and in gold” Gen 13:2, and also “flocks and herds and tents” Gen 13:5, “like the garden of the Lord” Gen 13:10. In his absolute faith and obedience Abram had broken his family ties and become a wanderer in a strange land.
Abram was not an Israelite, a descendant of Jacob-Israel. He was not a Jew, a descendant of Jacob-Israel’s son Judah. He was a Hebrew, a convert to God’s will. He pre-figured a far distant voice: “Not my will, but thine, be done” Lk 22:42.
Perhaps Abram sensed in some way, “He who loses his life for my sake will find it” Mt 10:39. In this Abram foreshadowed Shimeon and Andrew casting a net into the sea when they heard the Son say, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” Mt 4:19. Neither Abram nor the fishermen knew where the journey would lead, but both followed in faith on an interior journey to holiness. When Abram arrived in Canaan God told him, “To your descendants I will give this land” Gen 12:7.
God told Abram to “be a blessing.” It follows from lekh lekha. We are born God’s image and likeness and we die God’s image and likeness. Gen 1:27 § 1701-1709. But on the journey to interior holiness we come closer to our true nature, to who and what we are. This is why we so often experience intense joy when we are closest to God and why sin so often leaves us with a sense of interior discord.
God added, “By you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves” Gen 12:3. All the families of the earth! In these words our Father elected, chose, Abram and all his descendants to witness to Him, and to His work in the world. God’s covenant with Abram seeks a world in which all men live as God’s image and likeness. Abram and his descendants were to be “a light to the nations. God’s revelation through Moses was only for His people Israel. Deut 7:1–5, to protect their souls from the pagan tribes Deut 20:18. But Abram’s mission was for all the families of the earth. Our Father had already planned the arrival of his Mashiakh.
Shall bless themselves. This Hebrew word v’nivrekhu, from the root brk, is better translated as a passive, “Shall be blessed because of you” Gen 12:3. That is also more consistent with the teaching of Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5 that God created the world for our benefit. Rashi, in his commentary on Genesis 12, also observed that Abram’s journey to interior holiness was for his own benefit, as ours is for us. We set aside the shallow and discordant impulses of our fallen nature to let God fulfill our deepest needs.
When God originally gave Abram the eternal election he had promised many descendants Gen 12:2. But several years had passed. Abram cried out to God, “I shall go without children” Gen 15:2. The Hebrew word for “go” here is holekh, a poetic use of the root hlkh, walk. Abram used it to mean that he would die, go forth from the earth, without children. It is the same root from which we get halakh, he walked, which refers to Moses leading God’s people Israel to the promised land of Canaan. Even more important, this root hlkh gives us halakha, the way, the 613 mitzvot that led Israel on its pilgrim journey toward everlasting life. Jesus declared, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” Jn 14:6. “I am the Halakha.”
We recall that God’s people Israel had to cross a body of water, the Red Sea Ex 14:22, before they could receive God‘s law and promised land. They were the descendants of Abram, ha’ivri, “the Hebrew” Gen 14:13, the one who crossed, from la-avor, to cross, as on a journey. The common Hebrew root is avr. The Septuagint translates ha’ivri as ho perátes, the one from beyond. This is what it means to be a Hebrew, one who has crossed over from doing his own will to doing God’s will.
Biblical Hebrew has about 20 different words to denote sin. The usual rabbinic term is avera, from the same root meaning to cross over. One who sins crosses in the opposite direction, becoming less ivri, less Hebrew.
The Eternal Election Survives
God lives in eternity. “I the Lord do not change” Mal 3:6. The passage of time and habit deadens man’s sense of sin but God’s eternal election of Abraham’s descendants visibly remains in full force.
Alice von Hildebrand writes, “It is worth remarking that there are Jews who, having totally abandoned their faith, and viewing the Old Testament as a purely mythical work, are still so deeply marked by the Jewish craving for some sort of redemption that they often spearhead radical leftist causes (communism, abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage). They are ardent idealists who have talked themselves into believing that to wage war on old taboos will open the door to an earthly paradise for which they long. It is a tragic but meaningful derailment. As chosen people, their longing for an ‘absolute’ cannot be extinguished in their souls by shallow satisfactions.”1