What’s Our Name?
The Jewish people have been known by many names. Among them we can find Israel and Yehudi. But the first name used by the Torah is Ivri-Hebrew. Each name signifies a specific trait and virtue. Israel describes our mastery over other forces. Yehudi describes our recognition of, and gratitude to, G‑d. But what does the name Ivrisignify?
To answer this question, we must examine the first time Ivri is used in the Torah. We find it in this week’s parsha, in which the Torah relates how Abram was told that his nephew Lot was taken captive:
And the fugitive came and told Abram, the Ivri… that his brother’s son [Lot] was taken captive…
Across the River
The meaning of the word Ivri, Rashi explains, is “He came from across the river.”
Rashi is referring to the Euphrates, on the other side of which was Abraham’s birthplace. Hence the name Ivri describes Abraham’s crossing of the river in order to come to the Land of Canaan, in fulfillment of G‑d’s command to him, “Lech Lecha,-Go for yourself from your land, from your birthplace and from you father’s house to the land that I will show you.”
The question has been asked why the Torah waited until the episode of the abduction of Lot to tell us that Abram came from across the river?
A second question can also be raised, which is why is it important for us to know that Abram came from across the river? How does that add to our knowledge of the first Patriarch, Abram (whose name was later changed to Abraham)?
Descended from Eiver
Other commentators explain the title Ivri differently. According to the Radak (a 12th Century sage in France) it means that he descended from Eiver, a great-grandson of Noah. Abraham was singled out as a descendant of Eiver, although there were many others. Radak explains, that he alone preserved Eiver’s language (hence, the name Hebrew), while Eiver’s other descendants switched to Aramaic. For example, Laban, Abraham’s cousin and also a descendant of Eiver, was called the Aramean because he changed his language from Ivri to Aramaic.
This explanation also needs to be clarified: Why did the Torah not mention that Abraham was an Ivri until now? And why is it significant to know that he spoke Hebrew as opposed to Aramaic?
Abraham on One Side
The Midrash records a third explanation of the title Ivri:
Rabbi Yehudah says: “The entire world was on one side and he was on the other side”
Commentators explain that Abraham was the only one who fought against idolatry and preached Monotheism to the pagan and decadent world that stood on the other side of the issue.
This explanation satisfactorily answers our question as to why this piece of information is necessary. It reveals to us what made Abraham unique, singled out for G‑d’s love and admiration and the first Patriarch of the Jewish people.
However, this only strengthens our first question, why did the Torah wait until Abraham’s war against the four kings, who abducted his nephew Lot, to describe him as an Ivri.
Fighting the Battles of the Future
One way of answering these questions and also to tie together all three explanations of the appellation Ivri is to reflect on the ramifications of Abraham’s war against the Four Kings and his rescue of Lot.
According to the Midrash, the Four Kings represented the future Four Empires that would exile and subjugate the Jewish people.
“Rabbi Avun Said: Just as it [the history of Abraham] began with the four kingdoms, so it ends with four kingdoms.’”
It follows that Abraham’s success waging war against the Four Kings was a portent of the future. This is consistent with the famous Midrashic statement: “The actions of the Patriarchs are a portent of events for the children [i.e., the Jewish people].”
Abraham’s nephew Lot would later go on to live in Sodom. When Sodom was destroyed and Lot saved, the Torah relates that he fathered a son named Moab. This son was the progenitor of the righteous Ruth, who converted to Judaism and was the ancestress of the Davidic dynasty, a line that will culminate with Moshiach.
In other words, Lot’s future was inextricably tied up with the emergence of Moshiach, who will bring the Four Exiles to an end.
In what way was Abraham empowered to fight the battles that inaugurated the process that will lead to the Final Redemption? And why was Abraham singled out for this mission? Why not Isaac or Jacob, or some of the other great Jewish personalities and leaders? In other words, what made Abraham unique?
Two Kinds of Victory
The answer lies in his title of Ivri. One can fight a battle in two ways:
The first is to defeat the adversary, but without eliminating the ability of the adversary to regroup and challenge the erstwhile victor. Indeed, this has been the historical record of many wars: victories followed by defeat at the hands of the loser.
The second kind of war is one in which there is not only a physical victory for one side, but also an ideological victory. The adversary’s ideology is also defeated and eliminated.
How does one accomplish that?
The answer is that it is only possible when the victor does not allow himself to be tainted by the mindset of the vanquished. If the victor compromises even one iota of his philosophy, it will be only a matter of time before he will also be vanquished.
If this is true in the physical sense, it is certainly true in the spiritual sense.
No Compromises
 Abraham was uniquely endowed to start the process that will lead to the Final Victory of Moshiach.  He was not a compromiser when it came to principles. Abraham did not equivocate in the slightest when it came to destroying idol worship and the immoral behavior that result from an idolatrous belief system.  
Thus, the Midrash points out, Abraham stood on one side and the rest of the world on the other side. Even after Abraham influenced others to reject idol worship, they failed to abandon all of idolatry’s underlying tenets. They did not succeed in uprooting all of their inner moral weaknesses.
This explains why most of the thousands of adherents to Abraham’s ways strayed after his passing. Even his second wife, Hagar, had returned to her idolatrous ways, although she later recanted and Abraham remarried her.
Abraham alone had totally transformed his character and expunged even the most subtle and residual traces of idolatry and immorality. And with the passage of time Abraham never experienced a relapse; on the contrary, his love and devotion for G‑d only grew.
The Ultimate Language of Communication
Another manifestation of Abraham’s expunging anything even remotely and subconsciously negative that would prevent him from initiating the process of victory over evil, was the fact that he spoke the language of Eiver.
While everyone else who had descended from Eiver reverted to Aramaic, Abraham zealously retained and preserved the language of Eiver, which was Lashon Hakodesh, the holy tongue.
The Jerusalem Talmud states that Aramaic is a language best suited for dirges; expression of sadness and grief. The Holy Tongue, by contrast, is best suited for communication. It is the language with which G‑d created the world and the language through which He communicated the eternal teachings of Torah.
When people are prisoners of Galus-exile they cannot freely communicate. This is true even in the literal sense. In our many exiles, we were precluded from speaking freely.
The precious freedom of speech which we enjoy in our country today (although coming   under assault from some) is a freedom which we should not take for granted.
One may suggest that our freedom of speech is a “sample” of the future, where Divine speech will be fully revealed and our ability to express ourselves, both physically and spiritually, will be unfettered.
Abraham was then the only one of Eiver’s descendants who did not lose that ability to speak his mind clearly, unequivocally and forcefully. His values where not bottled up within him, but he wore them on his proverbial sleeve. He was an Ivri not only in his thought processes but also in his ability to communicate the post Galus message to all.
Crossing the River
Another area in which his transcendent mindset manifested itself was in crossing the river. Crossing the river, in the literal sense, refers to his compliance with G‑d’s directive to him to leave his land, birthplace and father’s house. This means that he was able to break out of the mold that defined him in ways still connected to what he had left behind. His was a total break away from Galus.
So Abraham’s standing on one side of the divide, communicating clearly through speaking the language of Eiver, and physically uprooting himself, empowered him to initiate the process that will lead us to the Final Redemption.
We can now understand why the Torah first mentions his title of Ivri in the context of the Four Kings’ abduction of Lot. This was his initiation into the battle against the forces of exile. Abraham was now going to plant the seed of Geulah-Redemption that would enable him to prevail over the Four Kings (read: the Four Exiles] and save Lot [read: Moshiach]. Towards this end, he had to show that he was an Ivri,  totally above and free from the constraints of exile. 
It is interesting to note that the words Eved-Ivri-the Hebrew servant, have the numerical value of 358, the same as Moshiach. Abraham, G‑d’s servant, the ultimate Eved Ivri, inaugurated the spiritual path toward Moshiach.
Our task today is to complete this process by totally purging all traces of our exile mentality, communicating the message of Redemption clearly, and preparing to uproot ourselves to gather at the rebuilt Bais Hamikdash with Moshiach, imminently!