Zola Levitt Presents
Rabbi Henri Noach on:
The Hebrew Meaning of Abraham's Name
Rabbi: We see there is a metamorphosis in his identity. Avram, meaning "of Aram," the father of Aram, of a particular civilization becoming the father of a multitude of nations. "Av" in Hebrew does not only mean "father" it also means "principle."
Zola: So Abram changes to Abraham and Abram sort of meant "father of a specific nation" and Abraham means "father of a multitude of nations."
Rabbi: Likewise in the same text, on verse 15, "As for Sarai, thy wife, though shall not call her name Sarai but Sarah shall her name be." Our commentators explain the difference: Sarai means "my princess," the princess of a specific nation; Sarah is the princess of the entire world. In both cases what is a parochial identity--Avram, Sarai--becomes a universal identity.
Zola: Let me ask you, Rabbi, it makes a question occur to me: Abraham and Sarah then become the father and mother of all the nations. But it didn't really happen that way; they're the mother and father of the Jews. Christian theologians would hold, "Ah, but they are also the mother and father of the Messiah who ultimately brings all the Gentile nations into the Israelite covenants."
Rabbi: That is correct. There is no contradiction. Do not forget that Ishmael who was the child of Abraham through Hagar, his concubine, is traditionally both in Jewish and Islamic sources considered the founder of the Islamic, and in particular, of the Arab nations. And Esau, the brother of Jacob, is considered the ancestor of a certain Magdiel in the Bible who is, according to Jewish sources, the founder of Rome and therefore of the Roman/Christian civilization.
But you will note that the Jewish people today, just here in Israel, are a people in a very unusual way. It is a nation, a distinctive nation, that is why we define a Jew as one born of a Jewish parent, in this case of a mother, which defines the national identity of many nations. For example, I have a Dutch passport because my parents are Dutch. However, it is a nation of nations. There are in Israel...the Jews come from 108 different nations. You have Ethiopian Jews living side by side with Jews from the US, from South Africa, from France, and so on and so forth.
So, really, this text where Abraham and Sarah are called the ancestors of a nation of many nations, relates at one and the same time to Gentile nations but in particular to the Jewish nation, a nation of nations. For example, on Friday nights when we recite a blessing sanctifying the wine and inaugurating the Shabbat, one of the texts that we recite is "God who chose us from all the nations..." In other words, the Jews come from all the nations.