When Hashem approaches Avraham and commands him, “Lech Lecha”, to go, leave your family, your community, leave everything behind and go to Eretz Canaan, He knows the challenge is a big one. And it is for that reason that Hashem promises Avraham that if he follows through it will be worth it.
Hashem tells him:
(ב) וְאֶעֶשְׂךָ לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל וַאֲבָרֶכְךָ וַאֲגַדְּלָה שְׁמֶךָ וֶהְיֵה בְּרָכָה:
I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a source of blessing for others.
Rashi notes that this is because a person who is travelling has concerns about his family and his livelihood, so Hashem promises He will take care of Avraham financially, and He will make sure he is able to start a family.
But there is one promise Hashem makes that is puzzling:
I will make your name great.
The Bnei Yissachar, Rav Zvi Elimelech Shapira of Dinov asks: Since when is fame something that Avraham wanted?! Fame isn’t a value in general, and it certainly wasn’t something Avraham Avinu was looking for in his life.
So, what is this bracha all about?
And he offers a beautiful answer by reminding us of the power of a name.
The ARIZAL writes that when naming a child, parents receive ruach haKodesh, some level of Divine inspiration. Meaning, that the name one is given is not given only by one’s parents, but also with the help of HKBH Himself. The name we are given is meant to reveal the POTENTIAL that is dormant within us.
The Mekubalim even point out that the letters in the word SHEM, שם, are the same letters are the word SHAM, there. Meaning, the name of a person tells us something about WHERE THEY CAN BE, WHAT’S REALLY THERE deep inside this child.
And if this is true, then every individual, when they receive their name, has an opportunity in front of them, to live up to the spiritual potential latent within that name.
And he adds that this is why we find such a focus in Chazal on names:
- We know that one of the reasons Am Yisrael merited being redeemed from Egypt, even at a time when their spiritual level had sunk, was because [as the Medrash says] “Lo shinu es Shmam”. With all the turmoil Am Yisrael faced in Egypt, they never stopped using their Jewish names, they maintained their Jewish identity.
- The Reishis Chochma writes that at the end of a person’s life, they ask you, “what’s your name?” And this is the reason the SHELA brings the minhag to recite a pasuk at the end of shemone esrei that begins with the first letter of your name and ends with the last letter, as a way of constantly reminding ourselves of our name.
And, of course, this is not about knowing the technical word that is one’s name. Rather, our names are a reminder of the importance of knowing who we are and who we can be. Reminding ourselves of the potential that is latent inside of us.
So, no matter how low Am Yisrael had fallen, if they remembered their names, they knew who they were, and they could always find their way back.
And with this, now we can understand what HKBH was promising Avraham. Because what was Avraham’s worry?
Who am I to be chosen by you, G-d? How can I be expected to be this amazing person you are asking me to be?
And Hashem responds to him, “Avraham, don’t worry. As you join Me on this journey, “V’Agadla Shemecha” “I’m not asking you to be anything other than YOURSELF.”
Hashem ISN’T promising Avraham that he will be famous!
He’s telling him, “Avraham, if you are willing to follow Me, to take this journey, with all of the ups and downs it will entail, I promise you that it will provide you with the opportunity TO LIVE UP TO YOUR NAME. To be the greatest Avraham you could possibly be. Because, Avraham, I just want you to be yourself.”
The Lubavitcher Rebbe writes: What was the commandment of “Lech Lecha”? Go to yourself? He should have just said “LECH” GO, “el ha’aretz asher areka” to the place I will show you. Why add LECHA?
And he answers that Hashem was telling Avraham that if he wanted to find success in life, he would have to remove the concerns about what others think, what others expect, and go LECHA, go figure out who YOU are. Because once you’re able to BE YOU, then you can bring all of yourself to the world and really make an impact.
This is the lesson of LECH LECHA. Never stop being true to yourself. Know that if you can recognize the incredible gifts Hashem has given you and be proud of them, there is nothing you can’t accomplish. Because when we KNOW our name, when we KNOW who we are, then we don’t have to worry about what others think or expect of us. You can just be you.