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Lech Lecha

From Avram to Avraham

Adapted from Torah Or by Rabbi Yossi Marcus[1]

"And G-d said to Avram go to you...."2]
"No longer shall your name be Avram But Avraham shall be your name. For the father of many nations have I made you"[3]


Behold. Avram’s soul is on the level of wisdom that is hidden from any perception—seichel hanehlam mikol rayon.

Hence his name—Av Ram—meaning, Lofty Father.

Father, in general,  refers to Chochmah, the unarticulated flash of insight, since it is the progenitor of all thought, emotion and deed. Lofty father, refers to Chochmah that is lofty and exalted, entirely beyond any perception.[4]

Now the message of Go to you is that this lofty level must descend so that it can be experienced by lower worlds and souls. The completely hidden must be revealed. This is a description not only of Avraham’s journey but of the entire scheme of creation in general and that of each soul.

How does this revelation take place? Firstly there must be the creation of lower realities. This is achieved through filtering, tzimtzum.

Light must be preceded by darkness—

and it was evening then morning: day one.[5]

In order to create yesh, beings that experience a sense of independent existence, there must be Evening, darkness. This is followed by Morning, enlightenment. We then have a yesh that experiences bittul, nullification, which allows for day one:

Unlike the other days which are described as second, third etc., the first day is called Day One, alluding to the goal of creation, where the Oneness and onlyness of G-d is experienced by a nullified yesh.

This is alluded to in the word echad, One, which is made up of the letters alef, ches, daled. The ches and the daled, numerically equivalent to eight and four respectively, allude to the universe: seven heavens and one earth, and the four corners of the world. The alef represents the Aluf of the world, the Master of the world. Echad, then, means that all of the universe is one with G-d, i.e., all of existence is merely an expression of Him. Echad implies a oneness despite the “presence” of otherness. (The word yachid, by contrast, means single or alone, alluding to a singularity that does not recognize otherness. See Tanya vol. 2.)    

The revelation, however, must be preceded by Circumcision, the removal of the foreskin of the heart.[6] In this way, the darkness is subdued so that the revelation can take place without the risk of its energy being siphoned by darkness.

Hence we read that after the circumcision, Avraham is called, Father of Nations.[7] Why are the nations suddenly mentioned at this point? “Nations” refers not only to the peoples of the world, but also to the elements of nature in general. For it was through the circumcision that Avraham experienced the revelation that would allow for the processing and elevation of nature.

This began the process of elevation that would extend throughout history.[8] As the Talmud says,[9] Israel was exiled to the far corners of the world so that they would bring in converts. This refers not only to human converts, but also to the “conversion” of the natural elements, food and drink etc., and their elevation to holiness.

Before Avraham, the world existed in a state of Tohu,[10] chaos. The climate of the world was one of great intensity, which led to the “shattering of the vessels,” the flood etc. With Avraham began the era of Tikkun, rectification, where the fallen sparks of intense light are gradually elevated.

ascent and descent

So, in a sense, the transition from Avram to Avraham is a descent. Yet, this descent is initiated by the additional Hey (Avraham) that Avraham received, which is symbol of revelation. For every descent and extension must be preceded by a great revelation.

For example, we see that a wise person must prepare himself before he imparts the profundity of his wisdom. An idea may be clear to him in his mind but for him to communicate to others he must think deeply to develop a method through which to clothe his wisdom in language that his listener can relate to. He must be able to find the truth of his idea as it is expressed even in much lower phenomena.   

Thus it is written that King Solomon spoke three thousand parables[11] for one concept. Because of his immense brilliance he was able to lower himself three thousand degrees beneath his level of wisdom and enclothe his wisdom in terms that even the simplest person could understand.

But in order to achieve this descent, the wise person must reach deep into himself, to a level that is far beyond his Chochmah, so that he can extend and articulate his Chochmah.

This all is a metaphor for the kabbalistic idea that Atik[12] is revealed in Binah,[13] not Chochmah. For it is the light of Atik—which is beyond Chochmah—that produces the expansiveness and articulation of Binah. Chochmah itself could not produce such descent. (As in the metaphor of the person, where he must draw from higher in order to transmit lower.)

So the root of Binah and its revelation is drawn from Atik. The Hey draws from the crown of the Yud.

kotzo shel yud), embodies Atik. Hence the Hey draws from the crown of the Yud, referring to the fact that Binah, or Hey, draws its power from Atik, the crown of the Yud.

So when Avraham receives the extra Hey in his name, he is empowered with the light of Atik, the light of Kesser. He is therefore able to descend.

Yet through this descent he experiences an ascent from the “perceived G-d” to “G-d.”

In describing the first altar built by Avraham in this parsha, the Torah says, And he built an altar to G-d, Who had appeared to him. A few verses later, the Torah describes another altar that Avraham built to G-d. The first verse describes Avraham relating to G-d subjectively, the G-d that had appeared to him. He then ascended to a level where he related to G-d as He is.[14]

So Go to you, which can mean go up or go down, actually means both.  On the one hand Avraham experiences descent in this parsha and at the same time experiences ascent.

This convergence is reflected in the date of the seventh of Cheshvan, around which this parsha is always read. The seventh of Cheshvan is the day in between the end of the intensely spiritual Tishrei period and the rest of the year. (It is the day that the last pilgrims would finally reach their homes following the festival. In the land of Israel, the prayer for rain would not be said—though rain was needed immediately after the Sukkot—so that those returning to their homes would not be rained upon.) It thus symbolizes the convergence of ascent, Tishrei, and descent, the rest of the year.[15]


chakim vilo bichochmah yediah. Yet the Torah descended into physical properties. When you take an Esrog or other physical object in the performance of a mitzvah it is as if you are holding the supernal wisdom.

That the wisdom of Torah can achieve such descent is because of its source in the light of Kesser. Indeed Kesser is the numeric equivalent of 620, alluding to the 613 commandments of the Torah and the seven commandments of the sages, which are the 620 pillars of light.[16]

So the revelation of the section of the Torah that speaks of the sanctification of the first born, for example, is a greater revelation than the manifestation of that section of the Torah as it exists in the supernal wisdom. The same is true of all of Torah. For on the physical plane, the Torah contains the light of Kesser. Hence our actions here on the physical plane, such as giving tzedakah, have cosmic repercussions in the higher worlds.

[Adapted and summarized by Rabbi Yosef Marcus.]

[1] First maamar of Torah Ohr, Lech Lecha, by Rabbi Shneur Zalman, "the Alter Rebbe.".

[2] Genesis 12:1

[3] Genesis 17:5.

[4] See Zohar 1:79b.

[5] Genesis 1:5.

[6] See Deuteronomy 10:16.

[7] Genesis 17:5.

[8] With Avraham began the two millennia of Torah. However, it was only after the actual giving of the Torah that physicality was made susceptible to holiness. Avraham’s Divine worship serves as a preparation and a “taste” of the post-Sinai era. The Jewish nation first had to go through the slavery of Egypt before the Torah could be given.

[9] Pesachim 87b. Zohar 1:244a.

[10] Tohu: G-d emanated the sefirot initially as one-dimensional points. This means that each sefirah was a pure manifestation of one of G-d’s attributes. Although in this form each sefirah was extremely intense, this scheme was incomplete, for in order for any two entities to interrelate and interact, each must possess something of the other. Their common ground for communication and cross-fertilization is the presence of each one in the other. For example, in order for two people to communicate, each has to have a “place” in his mind where he can, at least to some extent, picture what it is to be the other person. Through this mini-presence of the other person within himself, he can understand what the other person is saying and couch what he wants to say to him in terms that he will be able to understand. This was lacking in the original scheme of the sefirot. Since there was no interaction, this version of creation, or world, was called Tohu (“chaos”), and eventually collapsed. —from Rabbi Moshe Wisnefsky’s commentary on Arizal.

[11] I Kings 5:12.

[12] Atik, meaning ancient or detached, refers to the level that is beyond the sefiros. It is equal to Kesser, crown, in kabbalistic terminology.

[13] Atik, which is associated with delight, is found in Binah, where there is complete comprehesion. Ohr Hatorah, Yom Kippur, p. 1,593.

[14] See also Ohr Hatorah Bereishis, vol. 4, p. 1368.

[15] Lech Lecha 5746.

[16] Pardes 8:3.

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