"Abram was 99 years old when G‑d appeared to Abram and said, 'I am G‑d Almighty; walk in My ways and be perfect'." (Gen. 17:1)

"Walk in My ways…": Abraham had been walking in G‑d's ways for virtually his whole life. But the level of holy living to which G‑d wished to elevate him now was infinitely more exalted. Relatively, then, he would only now begin to truly walk in G‑d's ways. Furthermore, had Abraham not risen to the occasion and accepted G‑d's formal covenant, it would have indicated that, retroactively, he had not really been walking in G‑d's ways all these years, but had evidently been motivated by other concerns. Passing this test would prove that Abraham had indeed been walking in G‑d's ways all along. Through this covenant, Abraham was to attain a higher…level of divine consciousness…

The lesson for us here is that a person should never rest on his laurels; if his previous accomplishments are to be proven genuine, he should constantly strive to enhance the quality of his relationship and commitment to G‑d.

"…be perfect.": Through this covenant, Abraham was to attain a higher, more perfect level of divine consciousness. This ascent of consciousness was necessary in order for Abraham to father Isaac. Until now, Abraham possessed the consciousness of the world of Atzilut. At this level, one is not aware of himself per se; one is aware only of himself as part of G‑d and identifies totally with G‑d. However, inasmuch as Abraham personified only one of G‑d's attributes, that of chesed ("loving-kindness"), his consciousness was limited by this self-definition. To "become perfect" here means that G‑d will grant Abraham infinite divine consciousness, which transcends that of the world of Atzilut.

G‑d waited until Abraham was 99 years old before formalizing His covenant with him in order to allow him to demonstrate his willingness to circumcise himself even at such an advanced age.

"No longer shall you be named "Abram"; rather, your name shall be "Abraham", for I have made you the father of a multitude [in Hebrew, "av hamon"] of nations." (Gen. 17:5) Our primary responsibility is to influence the immediate locale in which divine providence has placed us…

G‑d added the letter hei to Abram's name, making it "Abraham". At first, Abram's influence extended only to Aram, his locale; his name was a contraction of the words "Ab [A] ram" - "the father of Aram". Now, G‑d wished Abram's influence to extend over the entire world; He therefore named him "Abraham" - a contraction of the words "Ab (ra) Ham[on]" - "father of the multitudes". Yet, the reish of his original name remained - he was called Abraham, rather than Abram. (Rashi)

The reish was retained in Abraham's since, even after he became the "father of the world", he remained chiefly the father of Aram.

The practical lesson here is this: Although, as heirs of Abraham, we have the power and the obligation to influence the entire world, we must remember that our primary responsibility is to influence the immediate locale in which divine providence has placed us - to be "the father of Aram," and only then "father of the world".

Spiritually, Ab-Ram refers to the level of Abraham's divine consciousness before his name change. "Ab" (meaning "father") refers to chochma, the first flash of insight that ultimately fathers emotions and expression; "ram" means "sublime" or "exalted". Ab-Ram thus refers to abstract insight, a level of perception too high to be applied to any situation or manifest in the world in any way.

The added hei in Abraham signifies the ability to apply this sublime consciousness, even "to the multitudes", i.e., even in the context of the plurality of Creation. The hei signifies this because of its expansive shape, indicating revelation. Yet, the fact that the reish is retained in Abraham's new name indicates that even in its practical manifestation, the abstract insight loses nothing of its original luminance. Abraham - and the Jewish people, who inherit his unique type of soul - thus has the power to unite heaven and earth, without compromising on the reish, the sublimity of heaven.

[Based on Sichot Kodesh 5741, vol. 1, p. 396-7; Likutei Sichot, vol. 3, p.30; vol. 25, pp. 65-69]

Copyright 2001 Chabad of California/www.lachumash.org