August 23, 2019 |

Parshat Lech Lecha: Walkthrough

Now God says to Avram, “Leave your land, where you were born, and where your family is, and go to the land that I will show you. There, you will be a great nation, and you will be blessed, and the world will be a better place because of you.”

So Avram (at the age of 75) does as he’s told, and takes his wife Sarai and Lot (his nephew) with him, along with all their property and some close friends, and they headed into Canaan.

He got as far south as Shechem, where God appeared to him and told him that his descendents would inherit this place. He then continued to east of Beit El, where he built an altar and prayed. Then he went on towards the Negev.

There was a famine in the land, however, and Avram went south to Egypt, presumably in search of food. As he got close, he asked his wife Sarai to tell the locals that she was his sister, as he was afraid that if they heard that she was his wife, they would kill him in order to be with her, since she was beautiful.

And in fact, things went exactly as expected: They told the Egyptians that they were brother & sister, Sarai was taken to Pharaoh’s palace, and Avram was given animals (especially nice, considering they had come to Egypt HUNGRY), and servants, and were generally treated royally.

God, however, was not pleased. He struck Pharaoh’s entire palace with disease (and not, shall we say, for the last time) – Pharaoh connected the dots and realized that Sarai was not who she had claimed to be. “Why didn’t you tell us she was your wife?” Pharoah asked Avram. “Now take her & get out of here.” Which they did, taking with them all the nice gifts they had gotten.

So Avram & Lot go back north to the Negev, weighed down with all the gifts from Egypt. They retrace their steps, heading back to Beit El, where Avram again prays.

Now Lot had been with Avram on this whole journey, and he was pretty wealthy at this point as well. With all their animals, their shepherds started fighting with each other over resources, and Avram suggested that rather than fighting, they should part ways. Lot took a look around from the mountains north of Jerusalem, and saw the plains of the Jordan, which unlike today were fertile and green, as (spoiler alert!) God had not yet destroyed Sodom. Lot says, “I’ll take the Jordan valley!” and departs for his new land. (PS: Not a great choice, the people of Sodom were BAD.)

Again God appears to Avram, after Lot leaves, reiterating his promise that all this land will someday belong to him & his heirs – Avram moves south to Hebron and builds an alter there as well.

We now take a short break from the main story to recount a local battle – 4 kings against 5, where Sodom is one of the 5 (and recall, Lot is living there). The 4 kings were tired of being subjugated, and rebelled in a series of battles in the Jordan Valley, near the Dead Sea. When the 4 kings won the war, they took captives, including Avram’s nephew, Lot. One of the refugees from the battle came to tell Avram, who was living in Eilonei Mamrei. Avram heard that Lot was taken captive, gets together a fighting force of 318 people. Together, they chase the 4 kings up the Jordan Valley north of the Sea of Galilee, as far north as Damascus. They reclaim all of the spoils and captives from the 5 kings, and return them to the king of Sodom. The king of Sodom is understandably appreciative, and offers to let Avram keep the spoils, as long as he returns the people to him. But Avram declines, saying, “I don’t even want a shoelace from you – don’t ever say that it was you who made me wealthy!” But he did take some spoils for the guys who came with him, because really, they should get something out of the whole adventure.

After all this, God appears to Avram again and tells him that he will be greatly rewarded. “How exactly will I be rewarded?” asks Avram. “I’m an old man, and I don’t have any children. Usually to have heirs, you need, well, descendents.”

Replies God, “You will yet have children – go outside & look at the stars – as many stars as there are, that’s how many descendents you will have.”

And amazingly Avram believed it – and God was duly impressed.

But Avram pushed on and asks “But how do I know I will inherit it?”

(Note: Hang on, this gets surreal)

At God’s request, Avram splits several animals down the middle, and settles down with the carcasses. A deep, dark scary sleep falls upon him, and God says, “You should know: Your children will be strangers in a strange land, where they will be tortured as slaves for 400 years. But the people they will be enslaved to will get theirs as well, and the Jews will depart with great wealth. Don’t worry though – this will all happen after you yourself are gone. And the fourth generation will return here, since the Emorites haven’t quite done anything wrong yet.” (Don’t worry, Avram might not have understood all this either.)

As the sun was coming up, a pillar of fire and smoke pass between the carcasses, sealing the deal. God promises Avram that He has given his children the land from the Nile to the Euphrates, including all the people currently living there.

Be that as it may, we now return to the plot.

Sarai still hadn’t had any children, and she has an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar. And 10 years into the journey they began at the beginning of this parsha, she gives Hagar to Avram as a second wife, hoping to help God’s promise along.

In short order, Hagar gets pregnant, which infuriates Sarai: “I gave you my maidservant as a wife, and now that she’s pregnant, you don’t seem to care about me – GOD HELP YOU!”. Avram tries to appease his wife, and gives her free reign to do as she pleases with Hagar. Sarai makes life unpleasant for her, and Hagar runs away.

An angel (first one in the Torah!) finds her by a well in the desert, and asks what’s going on. Hagar tells her story, and she is promised that a great nation will come from her as well. She is to call her son Ishmael, which means that God heard her suffering. Ishmael will be a wild man – he will be involved in everyone and everyone will be involved with him, and he will live amidst all his brothers.

Hagar in fact has a son, and calls him Ishmael. Avram is 86 years old.

13 years later, Avram is 99 and God changes his name to Avraham, meaning “father of many nations”.

“I will keep up this covenant”, says God, “and the entire land of Canaan will be yours”. As a symbol of this covenant, God asks Avraham to circumcise all of the males in his family. A baby should be circumcised at 8 days old, as a sign of the eternal covenant.

And while we’re at it, Sarai’s name will now be Sarah, and she will also have a son.

“Ha ha”, thought Avraham. She’s 90 years old, no way.

“How about Ishmael?” Avraham asks.

“No, the covenant will be with Sarah’s son, who you will call Isaac. But I take your point about Ishmael, and I will bless him as well.”

So Avraham takes his son Ishmael (who is 13 years old at this point, if you’re doing the math), and the rest of his household males, and circumcises the lot of them, that self same day.

And so in just under 25 years, Avraham has left his home behind, traveled the length and breadth of the land of Canaan, taken another wife and had a son, had a name change and many conversations with God, in which the message is clear and persistent: You will have a son and through his descendants, you will inherit this land. We pick up the story next week.

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Jack Kustanowitz

Joined: July 15, 2007

Jack is an Internet professional living in Silver Spring, MD. He is a proud alum of the Frisch School in Paramus, NJ as well as Boston University, where he was active at BU Hillel.

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