"And He Called out in the Name of God"

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

Student Summaries of Sichot of the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion


This shiur is dedicated in memory of Barry (Baruch) Saltzman z"l.

"And He Called out in the Name of God"
Adapted by Dov Karoll

There is a phrase that appears several times in our parasha with one connotation, but when the same phrase appears elsewhere, it has a totally different connotation.

Twice in Parashat Lekh Lekha and once in Parashat Vayera, the Torah describes Avraham as calling out (vayikra) in the name of God:

And Avram moved on to the mountains east of Beit El… he built there an altar and called out in the name of God. (12:8)

And he went on his journeys… to the place of the altar which he had made there at first, and Avram called out there in the name of God. (13:3-4)

And he planted a tamarisk tree in Be'er Sheva, and he called out there in the name of God, Lord of the universe. (21:32)

The same phrase appears in Parashat Ki Tisa:

And God descended in the cloud and stood with him [Moshe] there, and [H/he] called out in the Name of God. (Shemot 34:5)

There is a fundamental difference between these two groups, reflected by the punctuation (as expressed by the cantillation marks). In the verse from Ki Tisa, the cantillation marks connect the words "vayikra, and [H/he] called out" and "ve-shem, in the Name," separating the latter word from the final word, "Hashem, God." To utilize our punctuation system, it would be broken up as follows: "and he called out in the Name, of God." The proclamation described here is "calling out in the Name," and the Name is the Name of God.

There is a dispute among the commentators as to who is calling out. According to Ibn Ezra (Peirush Arokh s.v. va-yikra) and Rashbam (s.v. va-yikra), God is calling out, in fulfillment of the verse earlier in the parasha, where God tells Moshe: "I will proclaim (ve-karati) the Name of God before you" (33:19).

Rashi (s.v. va-yikra) quotes the translation of Onkelos, "And he called out in the name of God." According to the Siftei Chakhamim supercommentary (letter reish, s.v. de-mukhach), Rashi means to explain that it is Moshe who is calling out to God. If we adopt this approach, Moshe's calling out in the Name is meant as an attempt to raise his own level. Moshe Rabbeinu has, of course, reached a very high level before this, but the Divine Revelation involved in this incident elevates him to new heights. Rav Soloveitchik quoted the Rambam as having said that before this incident, Avraham Avinu was on a higher spiritual level than Moshe Rabbeinu, and from this point and on, Moshe Rabbeinu had attained a higher spiritual level.

Let us analyze the difference between Moshe's "calling" (according to Rashi's understanding) and Avraham's. Moshe is not calling out to other people; he is in a cloud, so to speak, with God. He is "calling out in the Name," striving to come even closer to God. Moshe here calls out in the Name, with a level of clarity that even he had not attained earlier.

The calling out in the name of God in Avraham's case is entirely different. Here the punctuation differs: "Vayikra, and he called out" is one clause, and the words "be-Shem Hashem, in the Name of God" are connected as a single phrase. What is described here is a calling out, which is in the name of God. Avraham is calling out to those around him, proclaiming his message in the name of God. As the Rambam (Hilkhot Avodat Kokhavim 1:3) describes, based on the verse cited above ("And he called out there in the name of God, Lord of the universe," 21:32), Avraham would go from city to city proclaiming his message of truth, of the unity of God. Avraham's calling out in the name of God denotes the transmission to others of the message of God's dominion and oneness.

What is the difference between the two references in this week's parasha to calling out in God's name? The first incident (12:8) comes right after Avraham arrived to the land, whereupon he immediately called out in the name of God. As the Ramban (s.v. vayikra) explains, Avraham, as a stranger in the land, takes on the challenge of trying to influence those around him.

He is not yet rooted in the land, and he tries to impact upon the residents as an outsider. According to the Rambam (Avodat Kokhavim 1:3), Avraham at this point already has quite a following, and is leading a triumphant march of many followers, successfully spreading the word of God. The Ramban, on the other hand, emphasizes that Avraham was a wanderer until he reached the land of Israel. While he must grant that Avraham and Sara had "all the property they had attained," as well as "the people they had gathered while in Charan" (12:5), that group was, as a whole, in a state of wandering.

After settling in the Land of Israel, Avraham was forced to descend to Egypt due to famine. When Avraham finally returned from Egypt, the Torah describes him as "very rich, with livestock, silver and gold" (13:1), as well as property and slaves. Whatever his status had been earlier, by this point Avraham had become a wealthy man, and conceivably could have been become bogged down in dealing with his wealth. Yet, at least according to the second explanation in Rashi (s.v. asher), the Torah emphasizes that he once again called out in the name of God, in the same place he had done so earlier.

According to the Rambam, Avraham was now even wealthier than he had been upon his initial arrival in Canaan, but this was merely a quantitative change. According to the Ramban, on the other hand, this difference is qualitative: Avraham has gone from leader of a small, wandering clan, to the leader of a powerful, significant estate. Nonetheless, his priority remains calling out in the name of God, as it had been before.

Let us return to the Rambam's description of Avraham's development.

He had no teacher, nor was there anyone to inform him…. However, his heart was exploring and gaining understanding. Ultimately, he appreciated the way of truth and understood the path of righteousness through his accurate comprehension….

When he came to Charan, he began to call out in a loud voice to all people and inform them that there is one God in the entire world and it is proper to serve Him…. When the people would gather around him and ask him about his statements, he would explain them to each person according to his understanding, until they turned to the path of truth. Ultimately, thousands and myriads gathered around him. These are "The men of the house of Avraham"….

Note that the "calling out in the name of God" to others comes only at the second stage of Avraham's development. At first, Avraham engaged in his own search for God, and only afterward did he spread that message to others.

This two-step process is comparable, in certain ways, to the years one spends in the Yeshiva and the years that follow. While in Yeshiva, a person should engage in a "calling out in the Name of God" of Moshe's type, which is comparable to the first stage of Avraham's life. You should try to build up your own relationship with God, calling out to Him and asking Him to bring you closer. You strive to raise your learning, and your level of Divine service generally.

After you leave the Yeshiva, you must not, of course, abort progress on this first plane, and you must constantly strive to grow in your worship of God. However, the emphasis switches to spreading the messages you have gained, to calling out in the name of God in the sense that Avraham Avinu did, helping others recognize the truth you have been privileged to know. After setting a solid foundation for yourself, you then have both the opportunity and the responsibility to help others to gain from those same lessons.

[This sicha was delivered at seuda shelishit of Parashat Lekh Lekha, 5762 (2001).]