Sharing Torah Insights

Calling out in the Name of God

Posted on י״ז במרחשון ה׳תשע״א (October 25, 2010) | in Lech Lecha | by

Our parasha traces the very beginning of a new epoch in human history – the beginning of Avraham Avinu’s relationship with Hashem, his role in the world, and a brit binding Hashem and all of Avraham’s descendents. Our parsha sweeps us across many lands and through many of the situations Avraham faced, but one motif stands out:

וַיַּעְתֵּק מִשָּׁם הָהָרָה, מִקֶּדֶם לְבֵית-אֵל—וַיֵּט אָהֳלֹה; בֵּית-אֵל מִיָּם, וְהָעַי מִקֶּדֶם, וַיִּבֶן-שָׁם מִזְבֵּחַ לַיהוָה, וַיִּקְרָא בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה. בראשית יב:ח

“From there he moved on to the hill country east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east, and he built there an altar to God and called out in the name of God.” (ּBereishit 12:8)

Avraham again calls out in the name of God in 13:4, and once more in 21:33. In his father’s footsteps, Yitzhak follows suit in 26:25.

What is the relationship between building an altar and calling out in God’s name? In order to understand that, we must understand what calling out in God’s name even means.

Onkelos on all four verses translates “calling” as “praying.” Therefore, calling out in God’s name means to pray to God. Many rishonim, including Rashi and the first opinion cited by the Ibn Ezra, agree with this explanation. Then, in this sense, there is no real connection between prayer and the construction of the altar, since we know that prayer can take place anywhere.

Other rishonim (the Ramban and the second opinion in the Ibn Ezra) play around with the syntax of our verses to yield the following read: “and he called upon others to pray to God.” Calling out to God means being His representative in this world and invite others to pray to God. In this sense, the altar was constructed as a central place from where to preach and spread awareness of the Creator. Calling out in God’s name is not merely a single act but a lifelong mission.

Rav Yehudah Rock notes that in Dvarim, the makom hamikdash is referred to as the place where God will rest His name, or specifically, “l’shaken sh’mo sham.” (12:11) L’shaken, here translated as “to rest,” is the verb form of the word “shekhina,” the Divine presence. Shekhina, however, is never used in the noun form in Tanakh, only later by the Rabbis. In Tanakh, it appears exclusively as a verb. The noun form used instead is “shem.” So in fact, we have been mistranslating the word shem. Shem not only means name, as well as fame, but can mean the glory of the Divine presence. 1

This completely transforms our understanding of our forefathers’ actions. They traveled from place to place building altars, not just as a means of prayer or sacrificial worship, but as a focal point where God’s presence and glory could be revealed and realized to the local inhabitants. They called upon people not just to pray or to worship in a narrow sense; they transformed people’s perception and awareness of Hashem. It’s like they went to Nowheresville and built shuls, and JCCs, and schools, and youth groups, and they made Hashem a living reality for their congregants. When they “called out in the name of God,” they made God present in a time and place where He was not.

Our sages teach us: maaseh avot, siman l’banim, the actions of our forefathers are a sign for us, their sons. We, too, must build altars today in 2010. We must create a makom Shekhina, a “resting place” for the Divine presence,” in places devoid, and transform people’s relationship with and perception of the Almighty. And, with help of Hashem, we must successfully call out in His name.

[cross-posted on divreidavid]

  1. i.e. shem=shekhina. This informed understanding of the word shem might explain the enigmatic sin of Bavel. The psukim read that the inhabitants said, “Let us make a shem for ourselves,” and God responds decisively, which is strange if all they wanted was a nice big tower and for people to know about it…who could judge them? Certainly not I. But they didn’t just want to make for themselves “a name,” they wanted to make their own Divine presence, to replace God. This textual clue is the impetus for the midrashic understanding of Bavel’s sin being avodah zarah.

Facebook comments:

Leave a Reply

Recent Posts

What’s your goal on Seder night? What are we actually trying to do on Seder night? What is the goal of...

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Support myDvar