Torah Gemstones – Lech Lecha (Get Yourself out) Genesis 12:1-17:27
It’s hard to imagine a child born of a father who is one hundred years old as Abraham was, although I did read recently about a ninety-six year old man from India who just became the father of a baby boy. However, Abraham, in the Torah portion Lech Lecha, was not just any father. In fact, he was destined to be the Father of many nations. That promise was given to Abraham at the ripe old age of ninety-nine by God. Since we know that all numbers in Scripture are significant, the fact that Abraham was ninety-nine carries with it all kinds of implications. In this portion, ninety-nine is related to the commandment of circumcision, to Abram’s name change and to the conception of Isaac.
Let’s first look at the change in Abraham’s original name. The meaning of Avram can be defined as a father bringing forth a prolific amount of offspring. This is the foundation for his new name as well. With addition of the letter ה (hey), the name changes to what we have come to understand as the “Father of many Nations”, which is something more significant. Originally, hey meant a breath or a sigh as in “to behold a great sight”, but it can also mean a revelation. The sages tell us God added the letter hey to his own name (יה) to create the physical world and then He poured His Divine nature into that world. The letter hey points to the revelation of the divine nature of God in the present physical age through the person of Abraham.
In addition, we find a very interesting word in Genesis 2:4, “b’hevaram”, which is translated “when they were created”, speaking of the creation of the heaven and the earth. This word can then be re-arranged to spell “in Abraham” (b’avraham). Through Abraham, God’s purpose on earth would be fulfilled in that he would bring forth the seed of God in a physical world. In this way he was part of creation. In this word, b’hevaram, the letter hey is diminished, or is written much smaller than the rest of the letters. Possibly because the physical world has been diminished by sin, is therefore only temporary and will ultimately pass away. Heaven and earth will pass away but the “word” of the Lord will stand forever. But from Abraham would come forth not only physical seed but spiritual seed as well.
There is another connection to Abraham’s seed. When he was ninety-nine God commanded him to be circumcised. This was a commandment established by God as an everlasting covenant between Abraham and God, and between Abraham’s seed and God. In fact, it was the outward sign of the promise of God that related to seed. The guarantee of the covenant, to the seed of Abraham, was the whole of the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession. The root word for circumcision is orlah, which is translated flesh, really meaning a barrier obstructing something beneficial. Cutting away the flesh was a picture of the destruction of the physical nature. This cutting away removed that barrier between God and Abraham and his seed, his physical descendants. Ultimately though, the outward sign of the covenant was the circumcision of the flesh, while the inward sign was the circumcision of the heart. The outward was the physical seed. The inward was the spiritual seed and Abraham was the father of them all.
Related to circumcision and the cutting away of the flesh was the promise of a son. Isaac was the initial seed that would come forth from the loins of Abraham. He was the first of the physical seed of Abraham who would receive the benefits of the covenant circumcision. Now all who come forth, as Abraham’s physical seed, are called those of the “circumcision”. They are connected to the number ninety-nine because that is when the promise was given to Abraham.
Therefore remember your former state: you Gentiles by birth – called the Uncircumcised by those who merely because of an operation on their flesh are called the Circumcised – at that time had no Messiah.
Now that we have a better understanding of the meaning ninety-nine perhaps this parable in the gospel of Luke (15:4,7) will take on new meaning.
“If one has a hundred sheep and loses one – he leave the ninety-nine sheep in the desert and goes after the one lost until he finds it. When he finds it he puts it on his shoulder.”
The concept of lost here is describing those who are separated from the whole, which is represented by the number one hundred.
You were estranged (separated) from the national life of Israel. You were foreigners to the covenants embodying God’s promise. But now, you who were once far off have been brought near through the shedding of the Messiah’s blood. For he himself is our shalom – he has made us both one and broken down the fence which has divided us…in union with him the whole building is held together and it is growing into a holy temple in union with the Lord.
It is the belief that when ten Israelites assemble for worship or study, the Divine presence dwells among them. This is called a minyan and is based on ten. In our example, the number one hundred becomes the fullness of the ten and is the ultimate place the Divine Presence dwells. The community of the circumcised is identified as the ninety-nine and the uncircumcised as the one. The community was not complete until our mediator, Yeshua, tore down the middle wall of partition between circumcised and uncircumcised. It was the Messiah who came to seek and save that which was lost and restore those who have long been separated from the household of Abraham back to the whole of the commonwealth of Israel. Truly Abraham is the father of us all.