Metaphors in the Torah: "Lech Lecha" part 1 (Genesis: 12.1 – 17.27)


Illustration: "Abraham Journeying into the Land of Canaan"

By Gustave Dor'e 


Because Abraham is such a pivotal character in the development of Judaism, I have decided to devote two, rather long, articles to his story. In this first article we shall discuss: his name; higher and lower levels of understanding; sex and why so much emphasis is placed on the beauty of Sarah; and, finally, the symbols and meaning related to circumcism.

In part 2 we shall discuss why Abraham and his descendants needed to serve as slaves in Egypt and the relation to: “Alchemy” (the word: “Chem” is the ancient name the Egyptians used to described themselves and is related to the color: ‘black” and the black soil after the annual flooding of the Nile.)


Genesis: 12.1 – 17.27

In this week’s Torah portion we begin with the story of: “Abraham”, who at this point in time is still only known by the name: “Abram”.  People’s names are very important in the Torah, especially when those names are later changed to something else. In the Torah portion: “Noach” we were given a little information about Abram and his family, but now, Abram becomes the main character of a narrative which shall spread out over several chapters.  


In previous articles we discussed the connection between land, trees, fruit and education. We mentioned that, even in modern times, the earth is considered a school and that in universities one can still hear references to “fields of study”. We noted that in the story the Garden of Eden we are told that fruit contains knowledge and we talked about the connection between trees/branches and sources of knowledge.


The name Abram is a combination of the Hebrew words for: “father” and: “thunder”. Since a father is a source of seeds and thunder can be described as “the voice of the sky”, we might then be able to conclude that the name: “Abram” suggests: “a source of ideas, or teachings, from a higher level of understanding”. What should also be recalled here is that in the Book of Deuteronomy Moses said his words were like a heavy rainfall; hence, Moses was like a cloud.



That being said, there is also a great deal of evidence to suggest that the first three letters of the name: Abram are from the Babylon word for: “eagle feather” and “strength”. This becomes significant when we recall from the article on Noah that: “a bird” is a metaphor for: “a spiritual intermediary” and we mentioned that the name of the wife of Moses was: “Zipporah” which means: “a female bird”.


The “strength” aspect enters the conversation because, apparently, in ancient times they compared the hair covering the body of men to the feathers covering the body of a bird, hence: “feathers” were associated with: “strength” and “hair” was associated with: “weakness”. Nevertheless, I would like to put off a full-blown discussion of this topic until we get to the story of Esau, the hairy brother of Jacob, later on in this series of articles.


Regardless, based on the previous references, my conclusion is that Abram is being taken from the schools of Ur and the Babylonians and is being “transferred” to the school of the Canaanites and, in particular, the religious school of the Hittites. What I also believe is very important to note is that Abram is the 20th generation since Adam and we mentioned in a previous  commentary that when sending the Israelites to wander in the desert God said that those below the age of twenty still did not know the difference between good and evil.


This then implies that “the Hebrew nation” is entering a new stage in their development and that Abram will now learn to distinguish between good and bad according to God’s ways. Thus, it is the opinion of certain scholars, that the story of Abram should be contrasted with the story of the Tower of Babel which immediately precedes it.


In other words: we explained in the last article that: “The Tower of Babel” represents: “the attempt by men to reach a higher level of understanding thru their own efforts and knowledge” and this is symbolized by the use of bricks instead of stone. Abram, however, moves to a new location (i.e. land) and begins to receive his knowledge directly from God, although not immediately (so just to repeat: in previous articles we talked about how, even in modern times,: “the earth/land” is considered a metaphor for: “a school” and we also spoke of the meaning of the phrase: "a land of milk and honey"). Nevertheless, it will take 3 generations in this new location until the descendants of Abraham receive the name: “Israel” which means: “straight to God”.


In future articles about Jacob’s sons, we shall go much more deeply into the meanings of numbers, but for now, I would just like to mention that we already spoke of the connection between: “the number seven” and: “resting on the Sabbath” and we concluded that the Sabbath was NOT a day for studying the Torah and it certainly was NOT a day for studying the Talmud.


We demonstrated thru examples in the narrative that the Sabbath represented a day when men accepted the limits of trying to educate themselves and allowed God, the teacher of higher levels of understanding, to speak (Thus, we discussed that: Mount Moriah is a metaphor for: “teachings of a higher level”).        



Thus, the statement, “God will provide on his mountain” is a reference to: “'God: the teacher' providing his people with the final, and very highest, level of their education”.


Again, this was not to suggest that religious studies were not important, only that there was a limit to how much man could teach himself.


We also mentioned the connection between: “the number ten” and: “the commandments” as well as: “the ten plagues”, which in Hebrew are called “hits”. Thus “the number ten” should be associated with: “teaching the distinction between good and evil”.


What we did not discuss, however, was the connection between: “the number five” and: “redemption”. In short: Leah “buys back” the sexual favors of her husband by trading her son’s fruit with Rachel. This leads to the birth of her 5th son Issachar whose name means: “man for hire”.


Later we shall discuss the buying back for five shekels of: “the firstborn son” which we noted, in Hebrew, also means: “first fruit of the field”. Later, we shall also discuss the Year of Jubilee in which a man’s land is returned to him at the end of a fifty year period. Thus, it is my personal opinion that, in Judaism, the concept of: “redemption” should be associated with: “a man’s source of knowledge being returned to him” and NOT something physical like money or land (except in the sense that the earth/land is a school).


Putting all these numbers together we see that Abram, at age seventy-five, represents a man at the stage of seven times ten plus five, which suggests to me that mankind, thru Abram, is going to have a source of knowledge restored to him (the number five) by the direct inspiration of God (the number seven) concerning the difference between good and evil (the number ten). We shall also see later that the number seventy should be associated with teachers of the law.

Probably one of the most important themes in the Torah is sex. We have shown that God is a teacher and that the Hebrew word for: “heaven” also means: “sky”.  We also mentioned that: “heaven” represents: “a very high level of understanding” and that the wife of Moses was named: “Zipporah” which means: “a female bird”.


This then implies that: “a man’s wife” functions as: “a medium between him and God”. In addition, we discussed that Eve was called “the mother of all life” and explained this was a metaphor for: “a source of understanding”.


Besides the fact that we are told Abram will listen to the voice of Sarai twice in the Torah, I believe the important issue is that sixty-five year old Sarai (and later eighty-nine year old Sarah) is described as beautiful and sexually desirable to both the Egyptians and the men of Gerer.


The first issue we must consider then is: Why would God even concern himself with such a superficial issue such as: “beauty”? Especially when we are told in the story of Samuel anointing David that God does not look at outside appearances, but only the heart.


More important than this, however, is that when discussing sexual improprieties with the Children of Israel, Moses explains it was because of sexual offences that the seven tribes in the land of Canaan will be expelled and we have already noted the connection between: “the number seven” and: “communications with God”. Finally, the Hebrew word for “know” is used throughout the Torah to describe the sexual act.


In the story of Joseph, we are clearly told God communicates through men’s dreams and, even in modern times, children are taught to pray at the sides of their beds. What becomes quite obvious is that in the Torah: “a bed” is a metaphor for: “an altar” and: “sex” is a metaphor for: “praying and requesting knowledge from God”.


Thus, we can better appreciate why King David was so furious when Saul’s son was murdered in his bed. “A king” functions as: “a medium between God and his people” and: “a bed” represents: “an altar”; hence Saul’s son was murdered while in the very act of attempting to seek guidance from God.


If all this makes sense and is acceptable to the reader, then we can conclude that when the Torah speaks of “beauty” it is referring to: “the level of skill of the medium”. Furthermore, we can better appreciate Abram’s request that he be described as a brother (i.e. a co-religionist) and not a husband (i.e. a priest).


Apparently then, mediums can switch masters and apply their skills to whoever requests them. Accordingly, in ancient times, there were temple prostitutes who played an important role in the prayer process. In the books of the prophets, this connection between sex and prayer can be found in the phrase: “whoring after foreign Gods”. Thus, we should understand that when sixty-five year old Sarai entered Egypt, it was obvious to Pharaoh’s advisers that she was a highly skilled spiritual medium and NOT a contestant in the Miss Middle East beauty pageant.


When Pharaoh’s household becomes barren, it must be recalled that Pharaoh was not merely the political leader of Egypt but was also considered to be a God. Therefore, what we are being told is that God stopped sending omens and dreams to the Egyptians and we have already discussed in previous articles the connection between fruit, children and the word of God in the celebration of the holy day of: “Shavuot”.


Accordingly, it is my personal opinion, that the name: “Hebrews” does not mean: “those who crossed over” as is generally taught in schools. My feeling is the name: “Hebrews” means: “The Pregnant People” and this suggests that, as the custodians of God’s word, the Hebrews were implanted with the seeds of God’s ideas.


Thus, in the book: Songs of Solomon: "the nation of Israel" is described as: "God’s wife" and, as already mentioned, when Israel follows the teachings of other religions this is referred to as “whoring after other Gods”.


This is not as strange a hypothesis as it may first appear. The root of the word: “a Hebrew” means: “pregnant” and in modern times we have the expression: “the room was pregnant with thought” indicating the connection between  a new idea and an embryo.


Another important story in Lech Lecha is the parting of ways between Lot and his uncle Abram. The key to the story of the argument between the servants of Abram and Lot is that in ancient times the word for: "grass" also meant: "ideas". In addition to this, the Hebrew word pronounced: “mid-bar”, which is usually translated as: “desert”, actually means: “a place to graze sheep”. Furthermore, the spelling of this same word is also the present tense of the verb: “to talk”.


When examining the curse of Ham and the idea of slavery, we drew the connection between working and studying and pointed out that in ancient times a vineyard was a metaphor for a religious school. Thus, combining all these different images we can see that the real issue between Lot and Abram was different views about teaching God’s word and that these two Biblical characters, both of whom actually met with and spoke to God’s angels, did not get into a fight merely about herding sheep. After all, this is the Torah we are discussing, not The Farmer’s Almanac…


We also spoke about: “water/rain” being compared to: “the words of Moses” and that too much water was not a good thing. In addition, we spoke about higher and lower levels of understanding and Moses describing the Israelites as “fallen ones” after providing them with water from the rock. Hence, it is not too difficult to appreciate that while Lot selects: "the well-watered valley” where Sodom is located, Abram remains on the higher plain. This suggests that Lot has: “slipped down to a lower understanding of God’s word”, based on the explanations of men. Especially when, in a previous article, we showed that the Hebrew word for: “rain” also means: “materialism” and we understand that the Hebrew name of the valley in which Sodom is located is: “Jordan”, which means: “to go down”.


Probably, one of the most important aspects of Lech Lecha is the commandment to circumcise the children (Due to all the recent controversy over this issue, I would urge you to re-read this section for yourself, so that you can better appreciate what is at stake here). In regards to the circumcision itself, the Hebrew word for: “foreskin” actually shares the same root with the word for: “fruit that has come from a tree less than three years old”. Hence, “the foreskin” represents: “knowledge that is not fully developed” and it is my belief that: “the number three” should be associated with this concept of “full development”.

In addition to this, the root of the Hebrew word for: “circumcise” has the meaning: “to remove the meat which blocks”. Thus, immediately, we can understand that the brit mila ceremony represents the removal of undesirable knowledge which prevents us from teaching God’s word accurately to future generations, because in all the discussions about the covenant God refers again and again to Abraham teaching God’s ways to his descendants (we have mentioned in other articles that the Hebrew word for meat/flesh also means preaching or gospels).


The new name: “Abraham”, which is usually translated as: “father of the nations” is a reference to Abraham as: "a source of seeds". But, as we already discussed, the first part of this name means: “strong feathers”, not: “father”.

Hence: “father of the nations” is describing the role Abraham will play in history, but is not actually the translation of his name.


Almost everyone is familiar with the modern-day expression: “an apple does not fall far from the tree” which, basically, means: "most fathers teach their sons to behave as they do". Thus, God, the father, has provided his ways to Abraham. Abraham. in turn, is then commanded to teach God’s ways to his descendants in as pure a fashion as he possibly can and this is the sole obligation Abraham has in keeping his side of the covenant (It is my opinion that the act of circumcism is not actually an obligation, but rather it is: "a physical sign" that the terms of the covenant have been accepted by Abraham and his descendants).

Thus the penis, representing the source of the seeds in Abraham, must be altered slightly because, apparently, the foreskin represents incorrect or undeveloped ideas, which will prevent Abraham from teaching God’s ways accurately. Therefore, what the ceremony is suggesting is that if these false teachings are not removed, then the descendants of Abraham will not be able to maintain, and pass on to others, the purity of God’s word.

Accordingly, this is the connection between the brit mila ceremony and the land. In other words: If one is unable to teach God’s ways accurately and produce apples which are identical to the apples of God the father, then what is the point of operating a school? Hence, anyone who is not circumcised is no longer to be considered one of God’s people and no longer has the right to teach God’s ways, since, unless these undeveloped ideas are removed, it would be impossible to function as a pure source of God’s word.


Also, I would just like to mention that we discussed the connection between the number eight and Jacob returning to the land at eighty years of age and Moses returning to Egypt at eighty years of age. We concluded that Adam was created on the eighth day because this represented a new type of man. Thus, Adam was not the first man; Adam was the first man with God’s spirit.

Hence, the baby is circumcised on: "the eighth day" because this represents: "a new type of teaching" that God has given to the descendants of Abraham and we showed in the Beresheit commentary that: "a day" is a metaphor for: "a source of knowledge".


Thus, in conclusion, we can see that the Torah uses a variety of methods to explain and reinforce the same basic themes over and over again: there are the family relationships which parallel the planting cycle of seeds, fields and plants. There are lower and higher levels of understanding expressed in the geography of the land. There is the theme of maintaining the purity of the word of God, represented by sex, virginity, whoring and, as we shall soon see, by homosexuality.

In part two we shall examine the significance of certain lands and, specifically: Why were the Children of Israel sent to Egypt and not, for example, Syria or Saudi Arabia?

Dror Ben Ami is the author of the book:

THE MISUNDERSTANDING: An Introduction to Metaphors, Images and Symbols Found in the Old and New Testaments