Lech-Lecha

Lech-Lecha, Lekh-Lekha, or Lech-L’cha (לֶךְ-לְךָ — Hebrew for “go!” or “leave!” or “go for you” — the fifth and sixth words in the parshah) is the third weekly Torah portion (parshah) in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading. It constitutes Genesis 12:1–17:27. Jews read it on the third Sabbath after Simchat Torah, generally in October or November.

Summary

The calling of Abram

Abram Journeying into the Land of Canaan (engraving by Gustave Doré from the 1865 La Sainte Bible)

God told Abram to leave his native land and his father’s house for a land that God would show him, promising to make of him a great nation, bless him, make his name great, bless those who blessed him, and curse those who cursed him. (Genesis 12:1–3) Following God’s command, at age 75, Abram took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and the wealth and persons that they had acquired in Haran, and traveled to the terebinth of Moreh, at Shechem in Canaan. (Genesis 12:4–6)

Abram’s Counsel to Sarai (watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

God appeared to Abram to tell him that God would assign the land to his heirs, and Abram built an altar to God. (Genesis 12:7) Abram then moved to the hill country east of Bethel and built an altar to God there and invoked God by name. (Genesis 12:8) Then Abram journeyed toward the Negeb. (Genesis 12:9)

Wife as sister

Famine struck the land, so Abram went down to Egypt, asking Sarai to say that she was his sister so that the Egyptians would not kill him. (Genesis 12:10–13) When they entered Egypt, Pharaoh’s courtiers praised her beauty to Pharaoh, and she was taken into Pharaoh’s palace. Pharaoh took Sarai as his wife. (Genesis 12:14–15) Because of her, Abram acquired sheep, oxen, donkeys, slaves, and camels, but God afflicted Pharaoh and his household with mighty plagues. (Genesis 12:16–17) Pharaoh questioned Abram why he had not told Pharaoh that Sarai was Abram’s wife, but had said that she was his sister. (Genesis 12:18–19) Pharaoh returned Sarai to Abram and had his men take them away with all their possessions. (Genesis 12:19–20)

Abraham and Lot Divided the Land (illustration from the 1897 Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us by Charles Foster)

Abram and Lot divide the land

Main article: Abraham and Lot’s conflict

Abram, Sarai, and Lot returned to the altar near Bethel. (Genesis 13:1–4) Abram and Lot now had so many sheep and cattle that the land could not support them both, and their herdsmen quarreled. (Genesis 13:5–7) Abram proposed to Lot that they separate, inviting Lot to choose which land he would take. (Genesis 13:8–9) Lot saw how well watered the plain of the Jordan was, so he chose it for himself, and journeyed eastward, settling near Sodom, a city of very wicked sinners, while Abram remained in Canaan. (Genesis 13:10–13)

God promised to give all the land that Abram could see to him and his offspring forever, and to make his offspring as numerous as the dust of the earth. (Genesis 13:14–17) Abram moved to the terebinths of Mamre in Hebron, and built an altar there to God. (Genesis 13:18)

War between the four kings and the five

The Mesopotamian Kings Amraphel of Shinar, Arioch of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer of Elam, and Tidal of Goiim made war on the Canaanite kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Zoar, who joined forces at the Valley of Siddim, now the Dead Sea. (Genesis 14:1–3) The Canaanite kings had served Chedorlaomer for twelve years, but rebelled in the thirteenth year. (Genesis 14:4) In the fourteenth year, Chedorlaomer and the Mesopotamian kings with him went on a military campaign and defeated several peoples in and around Canaan: the Rephaim, the Zuzim, the Emim, the Horites, the Amalekites, and the Amorites. (Genesis 14:5–7) Then the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Zoar engaged the four Mesopotamian kings in battle in the Valley of Siddim. (Genesis 14:8–9) The Mesopotamians routed the Canaanites, and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled into bitumen pits in the valley, while the rest escaped to the hill country. (Genesis 14:10) The Mesopotamians seized all the wealth of Sodom and Gomorrah, as well as Lot and his possessions, and departed. (Genesis 14:11–12)

A fugitive brought the news to Abram, who mustered his 318 retainers, and pursued the invaders north to Dan. (Genesis 14:13–14) Abram and his servants defeated them at night, chased them north of Damascus, and brought back all the people and possessions, including Lot and his possessions. (Genesis 14:15–16)

When Abram returned, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh, the Valley of the King. (Genesis 14:17) King Melchizedek of Salem (Jerusalem), a priest of God Most High, brought out bread and wine and blessed Abram and God Most High, and Abram gave him a tenth of everything. (Genesis 14:18–20) The king of Sodom offered Abram to keep all the possessions if he would merely return the people, but Abram swore to God Most High not to take so much as a thread or a sandal strap from Sodom, but would take only shares for the men who went with him. (Genesis 14:21–24)

The covenant between the pieces

Some time later, the word of God appeared to Abram, saying not to fear, for his reward would be very great, but Abram questioned what God could give him, as he was destined to die childless, and his steward Eliezer of Damascus would be his heir. (Genesis 15:1–3) The word of God replied that Eliezer would not be his heir, Abram’s own son would. (Genesis 15:4) God took Abram outside and bade him to count the stars, for so numerous would his offspring be, and because Abram put his trust in God, God reckoned it to his merit. (Genesis 15:5–6) God directed Abram to bring three heifers, three goats, three rams, a turtledove, and a bird, to cut the non-birds in two, and to place each half opposite the other. (Genesis 15:9–10) Abram drove away birds of prey that came down upon the carcasses, and as the sun was about to set, he fell into a deep sleep. (Genesis 15:11–12) God told Abram that his offspring would be strangers in a land not theirs, and be enslaved 400 years, but God would execute judgment on the nation they were to serve, and in the end they would go free with great wealth and return in the fourth generation, after the iniquity of the Amorites was complete. (Genesis 15:13–16) And there appeared a smoking oven, and a flaming torch, which passed between the pieces. (Genesis 15:17) And God made a covenant with Abram to assign to his offspring the land from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates: the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites. (Genesis 15:18–21)

Sarah Presenting Hagar to Abraham (1699 painting by Adriaen van der Werff)

Hagar and Ishmael

Having borne no children after 10 years in Canaan, Sarai bade Abram to consort with her Egyptian maidservant Hagar, so that Sarai might have a son through her, and Abram did as Sarai requested. (Genesis 16:1–3) When Hagar saw that she had conceived, Sarai was lowered in her esteem, and Sarai complained to Abram. (Genesis 16:4–5) Abram told Sarai that her maid was in her hands, and Sarai treated her harshly, so Hagar ran away. (Genesis 16:6)

An angel of God found Hagar by a spring of water in the wilderness, and asked her where she came from and where she was going, and she replied that she was running away from her mistress. (Genesis 16:7–8) The angel told her to go back to her mistress and submit to her harsh treatment, for God would make Hagar’s offspring too numerous to count; she would bear a son whom she should name Ishmael, for God had paid heed to her suffering. (Genesis 16:9–11) Ishmael would be a wild donkey of a man, with his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him, but he would dwell alongside his kinsmen. (Genesis 16:12) Hagar called God “El-roi,” meaning that she had gone on seeing after God saw her, and the well was called Beer-lahai-roi. (Genesis 16:13–14) And when Abram was 86 years old, Hagar bore him a son, and Abram gave him the name Ishmael. (Genesis 16:15–16)

The covenant of circumcision

When Abram was 99 years old, God appeared to Abram as El Shaddai and asked him to walk in God’s ways and be blameless, for God would establish a covenant with him and make him exceedingly numerous. (Genesis 17:1–2) Abram threw himself on his face, and God changed his name from Abram to Abraham, promising to make him the father of a multitude of nations and kings. (Genesis 17:3–6) God promised to maintain the covenant with Abraham and his offspring as an everlasting covenant throughout the ages, and assigned all the land of Canaan to him and his offspring as an everlasting holding. (Genesis 17:7–8) God further told Abraham that he and his offspring throughout the ages were to keep God’s covenant and every male (including every slave) was to be circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin at the age of eight days as a sign of the covenant with God. (Genesis 17:9–13) If any male failed to circumcise the flesh of his foreskin, that person was to be cut off from his kin for having broken God’s covenant. (Genesis 17:14)

And God renamed Sarai as Sarah, and told Abraham that God would bless her and give Abraham a son by her so that she would give rise to nations and rulers. (Genesis 17:15–16) Abraham threw himself on his face and laughed at the thought that a child could be born to a man of a hundred and a woman of ninety, and Abraham asked God to bless Ishmael. (Genesis 17:17–18) But God told him that Sarah would bear Abraham a son, and Abraham was to name him Isaac, and God would maintain the everlasting covenant with him and his offspring. (Genesis 17:19) In response to Abraham’s prayer, God blessed Ishmael as well and promised to make him exceedingly numerous, the father of twelve chieftains and a great nation. (Genesis 17:20) But God would maintain the covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah would bear at the same season the next year. (Genesis 17:21) And when God finished speaking, God disappeared. (Genesis 17:22) That very day, Abraham circumcised himself at the age of 99, Ishmael at the age of 13, and every male in his household, as God had directed. (Genesis 17:23–27)

The Caravan of Abram (watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

[edit] In inner-biblical interpretation

Genesis chapter 12

Joshua 24:2 reports that Abram’s father Terah lived beyond the River Euphrates and served other gods.

While Genesis 11:31 reports that Terah took Abram, Lot, and Sarai from Ur of the Chaldees to Haran, and Genesis 12:1 subsequently reports God’s call to Abram to leave his country and his father’s house, Nehemiah 9:7 reports that God chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldees.

Genesis chapter 15

While Leviticus 12:6–8 required a new mother to bring a burnt-offering and a sin-offering, Leviticus 26:9, Deuteronomy 28:11, and Psalm 127:3–5 make clear that having children is a blessing from God; Genesis 15:2 and 1 Samuel 1:5–11 characterize childlessness as a misfortune; and Leviticus 20:20 and Deuteronomy 28:18 threaten childlessness as a punishment.

In early nonrabbinic interpretation

Genesis chapter 12

Acts 7:2–4 reported that God appeared to Abram while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and told him to leave his country and his people, and then he left the land of the Chaldeans to settle in Haran. And then after Terah’s death, God sent Abraham to Canaan.

Philo interpreted Abram’s migration allegorically as the story of a soul devoted to virtue and searching for the true God. (On the Migration of Abraham 15:68.)

In classical rabbinic interpretation

Genesis chapter 12

A midrash asked why God chose Abram. Rabbi Hiyya said that Abram’s father Terah manufactured idols and once went away and left Abram to mind the store. A woman came with a plateful of flour and asked Abram to offer it to the idols. Abram took a stick, broke the idols, and put the stick in the largest idol’s hand. When Terah returned, he demanded that Abram explain what he had done. Abram told Terah that the idols fought among themselves and the largest broke the others with the stick. “Why do you make sport of me?” Terah cried, “Do they have any knowledge?” Abram replied, “Listen to what you are saying!” (Genesis Rabbah 38:13.)

The Mishnah taught that Abraham suffered ten trials — starting at Genesis 12:1 — and withstood them all. (Mishnah Avot 5:3.) The Babylonian Talmud reported that some deduced from Genesis 12:1–2 that change of place can cancel a man’s doom, but another argued that it was the merit of the land of Israel that availed Abraham. (Babylonian Talmud Rosh Hashanah 16b.)

Rabbi Aha said in the name of Rabbi Samuel ben Nahman (or others say Rabbi Alexandri’s name) in Rabbi Nathan’s name that Abraham knew (and observed) even the laws of the courtyard eruv. Rabbi Phinehas (and others say Rabbi Helkiah and Rabbi Simon) said in the name of Rabbi Samuel that Abraham knew even the new name that God will one day give to Jerusalem, as Jeremiah 3:17 says, “At that time they shall call Jerusalem ‘The Throne of God.’” Rabbi Berekiah, Rabbi Hiyya, and the Rabbis of Babylonia taught in Rabbi Judah’s name that a day does not pass in which God does not teach a new law in the heavenly Court. For as Job 37:2 says, “Hear attentively the noise of His voice, and the meditation that goes out of His mouth.” And meditation refers to nothing but Torah, as Joshua 1:8 says, “You shall meditate therein day and night.” And Abraham knew them all. (Genesis Rabbah 49:2, 64:4.)

Rabbi Berekiah noted that in Genesis 12:2, God had already said, “I will bless you,” and so asked what God added by then saying, “and you be a blessing.” Rabbi Berekiah explained that God was thereby conveying to Abraham that up until that point, God had to bless God’s world, but thereafter, God entrusted the ability to bless to Abraham, and Abraham could thenceforth bless whomever it pleased him to bless. (Genesis Rabbah 39:11.)

Rabbi Eleazar interpreted the words, “And in you shall the families of the earth be blessed (וְנִבְרְכוּ, venivrechu)” in Genesis 12:3 to teach that God told Abram that God had two good shoots to graft (lihavrich) onto Abram’s family tree: Ruth the Moabitess (whom Ruth 4:13–22 reports was the ancestor of David) and Naamah the Ammonitess (whom 1 Kings 14:21 reports was the mother of Rehoboam and thus the ancestor or good kings like Hezekiah). And Rabbi Eleazar interpreted the words, “All the families of the earth,” in Genesis 12:3 to teach that even the other families who live on the earth are blessed only for Israel’s sake. (Babylonian Talmud Yevamot 63a.)

Rav Judah deduced from Genesis 12:3 that to refuse to say grace when given a cup to bless is one of three things that shorten a man’s life. (Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 55a.) And Rabbi Joshua ben Levi deduced from Genesis 12:3 that every kohen who pronounces the benediction is himself blessed. (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 38b.)

Resh Lakish deduced from Genesis 12:5 that the Torah regards the man who teaches Torah to his neighbor’s son as though he had fashioned him. (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 99b.)

Similarly, Rabbi Leazar in the name of Rabbi Jose ben Zimra observed that if all the nations assembled to create one insect they could not bring it to life, yet Genesis 12:5 says, “the souls whom they had made in Haran.” Rabbi Leazar in the name of Rabbi Jose ben Zimra interpreted the words “the souls whom they had made” to refer to the proselytes whom Abram and Sarai had converted. The midrash asked why then Genesis 12:5 did not simply say, “whom they had converted,” and instead says, “whom they had made.” The midrash answered that Genesis 12:5 thus teaches that one who brings a nonbeliever near to God is like one who created a life. Noting that Genesis 12:5 does not say, “whom he had made,” but instead says “whom they had made,” Rabbi Hunia taught that Abraham converted the men, and Sarah converted the women. (Genesis Rabbah 39:14.)

The Mishnah equated the terebinth of Moreh to which Abram journeyed in Genesis 12:6 with the terebinths of Moreh to which Moses directed the Israelites to journey in Deuteronomy 11:30 to hear the blessings and curses at Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal (Mishnah Sotah 7:5; Babylonian Talmud Sotah 32a), and the Talmud equated both with Shechem. (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 33b.)

Rabbi Elazar said that one should always anticipate misfortune with prayer; for it was only by virtue of Abram’s prayer between Beth-el and Ai reported in Genesis 12:8 that Israel’s troops survived at the Battle of Ai in the days of Joshua.” (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 44b.)

The Rabbis deduced from Genesis 12:10 that when there is a famine in town, one should emigrate. (Babylonian Talmud Bava Kamma 60b.)

Rav deduced from Genesis 12:11 that Abram had not even looked at his own wife before that point. (Babylonian Talmud Bava Batra 16a.)

Reading the words, “And it came to pass, that, when Abram came into Egypt,” in Genesis 12:14, a midrash asked why the text at that point mentioned Abraham but not Sarai. The midrash taught that Abram had put Sarai in a box and locked her in. The midrash told that when Abram came to the Egyptian customs house, the customs officer demanded that Abram pay the custom duty on the box and its contents, and Abram agreed to pay. The customs officer proposed that Abram must have been carrying garments in the box, and Abram agreed to pay the duty for garments. The customs officer then proposed that Abram must have been carrying silks in the box, and Abram agreed to pay the duty for silks. The customs officer then proposed that Abram must have been carrying precious stones in the box, and Abram agreed to pay the duty for precious stones. But then the customs officer insisted that Abram open the box so that the customs officers could see what it contained. As soon as Abram opened the box, Sarai’s beauty illuminated the land of Egypt. (Genesis Rabbah 40:5.)

Sarai Is Taken to Pharaoh’s Palace (watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

Rabbi Azariah and Rabbi Jonathan in Rabbi Isaac’s name taught that Eve’s image was transmitted to the reigning beauties of each generation (setting the standard of beauty). 1 Kings 1:4 says of David’s comforter Abishag, “And the damsel was very fair” — יָפָה עַד-מְאֹד, yafah ad me’od — which the midrash interpreted to mean that she attained to Eve’s beauty (as עַד-מְאֹד, ad me’od, implies אָדָם, Adam, and thus Eve). And Genesis 12:14 says, “the Egyptians beheld the woman that she was very fair” — מְאֹד, me’od — which the midrash interpreted to mean that Sarai was even more beautiful than Eve. Reading the words, “And the princes of Pharaoh saw her, and praised her to Pharaoh,” in Genesis 12:15, Rabbi Johanan told that they tried to outbid each other for the right to enter Pharaoh’s palace with Sarai. One prince said that he would give a hundred dinars for the right to enter the palace with Sarai, whereupon another bid two hundred dinars. (Genesis Rabbah 40:5.)

Rabbi Helbo deduced from Genesis 12:16 that a man must always observe the honor due to his wife, because blessings rest on a man’s home only on account of her. (Babylonian Talmud Baba Metzia 59a.)

Rabbi Samuel bar Nahmani said in the name of Rabbi Johanan that leprosy resulted from seven things: slander, bloodshed, vain oath, incest, arrogance, robbery, and envy. The Gemara cited God’s striking Pharaoh with plagues in Genesis 12:17 to show that incest had led to leprosy. (Babylonian Talmud Arachin 16a.)

Genesis chapter 13

A Baraita deduced from the words, “like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt,” in Genesis 13:10 that among all the nations, there was none more fertile than Egypt. And the Baraita taught that there was no more fertile spot in Egypt than Zoan, where kings lived, for Isaiah 30:4 says of Pharaoh, “his princes are at Zoan.” And in all of Israel, there was no more rocky ground than that at Hebron, which is why the Patriarchs buried their dead there, as reported in Genesis 49:31. But rocky Hebron was still seven times as fertile as lush Zoan, as the Baraita interpreted the words “and Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt” in Numbers 13:22 to mean that Hebron was seven times as fertile as Zoan. The Baraita rejected the plain meaning of “built,” reasoning that Ham would not build a house for his younger son Canaan (in whose land was Hebron) before he built one for his elder son Mizraim (in whose land was Zoan, and Genesis 10:6 lists (presumably in order of birth) “the sons of Ham: Cush, and Mizraim, and Put, and Canaan.” (Babylonian Talmud Ketubot 112a.)

Rabbi Issi taught that there was no city in the plain better than Sodom, for Lot had searched through all the cities of the plain and found none like Sodom. Thus the people of Sodom were the best of all, yet as Genesis 13:13 reports, “the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners.” They were “wicked” to each other, “sinners” in adultery, “against the Lord” in idolatry, and “exceedingly” engaged in bloodshed. (Genesis Rabbah 41:7.)

The Mishnah deduced from Genesis 13:13 that the men of Sodom would have no place in the world to come. (Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:3; Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 107b, 109a.)

Genesis chapter 14

Rabbi Levi, or some say Rabbi Jonathan, said that a tradition handed down from the Men of the Great Assembly taught that wherever the Bible employs the term “and it was” or “and it came to pass” (וַיְהִי, wa-yehi), as it does in Genesis 14:1, it indicates misfortune, as one can read wa-yehi as wai, hi, “woe, sorrow.” Thus the words, “And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel,” in Genesis 14:1, are followed by the words, “they made war,” in Genesis 14:2. And the Gemara also cited the instances of Genesis 6:1 followed by Genesis 6:5; Genesis 11:2 followed by Genesis 11:4; Joshua 5:13 followed by the rest of Joshua 5:13; Joshua 6:27 followed by Joshua 7:1; 1 Samuel 1:1 followed by 1 Samuel 1:5; 1 Samuel 8:1 followed by 1 Samuel 8:3; 1 Samuel 18:14 close after 1 Samuel 18:9; 2 Samuel 7:1 followed by 1 Kings 8:19; Ruth 1:1 followed by the rest of Ruth 1:1; and Esther 1:1 followed by Haman. But the Gemara also cited as counterexamples the words, “And there was evening and there was morning one day,” in Genesis 1:5, as well as Genesis 29:10, and 1 Kings 6:1. So Rav Ashi replied that wa-yehi sometimes presages misfortune, and sometimes it does not, but the expression “and it came to pass in the days of” always presages misfortune. And for that proposition, the Gemara cited Genesis 14:1, Isaiah 7:1 Jeremiah 1:3, Ruth 1:1, and Esther 1:1. (Babylonian Talmud Megillah 10b.)

Rav and Samuel equated the Amraphel of Genesis 14:1 with the Nimrod whom Genesis 10:8 describes as “a mighty warrior on the earth,” but the two differed over which was his real name. One held that his name was actually Nimrod, and Genesis 14:1 calls him Amraphel because he ordered Abram to be cast into a burning furnace (and thus the name Amraphel reflects the words for “he said” (amar) and “he cast” (hipil)). But the other held that his name was actually Amraphel, and Genesis 10:8 calls him Nimrod because he led the world in rebellion against God (and thus the name Nimrod reflects the word for “he led in rebellion” (himrid)). (Babylonian Talmud Eruvin 53a.)

Rabbi Berekiah and Rabbi Helbo taught in the name of Rabbi Samuel ben Nahman that the Valley of Siddim (mentioned in Genesis 14:3 in connection with the battle between the four kings and the five kings) was called the Valley of Shaveh (which means “as one”) because there all the peoples of the world agreed as one, felled cedars, erected a large dais for Abraham, set him on top, and praised him, saying (in the words of Genesis 23:6, “Hear us, my lord: You are a prince of God among us.” They told Abraham that he was king over them and a god to them. But Abraham replied that the world did not lack its King, and the world did not lack its God. (Genesis Rabbah 42:5.)

A midrash taught that there was not a mighty man in the world more difficult to overcome than Og, as Deuteronomy 3:11 says, “only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of the Rephaim.” The midrash told that Og had been the only survivor of the strong men whom Amraphel and his colleagues had slain, as may be inferred from Genesis 14:5, which reports that Amraphel “smote the Rephaim in Ashteroth-karnaim,” and one may read Deuteronomy 3:1 to indicate that Og lived near Ashteroth. The midrash taught that Og was the refuse among the Rephaim, like a hard olive that escapes being mashed in the olive press. The midrash inferred this from Genesis 14:13, which reports that “there came one who had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew,” and the midrash identified the man who had escaped as Og, as Deuteronomy 3:11 describes him as a remnant, saying, “only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of the Rephaim.” The midrash taught that Og intended that Abram should go out and be killed. God rewarded Og for delivering the message by allowing him to live all the years from Abraham to Moses, but God collected Og’s debt to God for his evil intention toward Abraham by causing Og to fall by the hand of Abraham’s descendants. On coming to make war with Og, Moses was afraid, thinking that he was only 120 years old, while Og was more than 500 years old, and if Og had not possessed some merit, he would not have lived all those years. So God told Moses (in the words of Numbers 21:34), “fear him not; for I have delivered him into your land,” implying that Moses should slay Og with his own hand. (Numbers Rabbah 19:32.)

Rabbi Abbahu said in Rabbi Eleazar’s name that “his trained men” in Genesis 14:14 meant Torah scholars, and thus when Abram made them fight to rescue Lot, he brought punishment on himself and his children, who were consequently enslaved in Egyptian for 210 years. But Samuel said that Abram was punished because he questioned whether God would keep God’s promise, when in Genesis 15:8 Abram asked God “how shall I know that I shall inherit it?” And Rabbi Johanan said that Abram was punished because he prevented people from entering beneath the wings of the Shekhinah and being saved, when in Genesis 14:21 the king of Sodom said it to Abram, “Give me the persons, and take the goods yourself,” and Abram consented to leave the prisoners with the king of Sodom. (Babylonian Talmud Nedarim 32a.)

Rav interpreted the words “And he armed his trained servants, born in his own house” in Genesis 14:14 to mean that Abram equipped them by teaching them the Torah. Samuel read the word vayarek (“he armed”) to mean “bright,” and thus interpreted the words “And he armed his trained servants” in Genesis 14:14 to mean that Abram made them bright with gold, that is, rewarded them for accompanying him. (Babylonian Talmud Nedarim 32a.)

Melchisedec King of Salem blesses Abram (illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible)

Reading the report in Genesis 14:14 that Abram led 318 men, Rabbi Ammi bar Abba said that Abram’s servant Eliezer outweighed them all. The Gemara reported that others (employing gematria) said that Eliezer alone accompanied Abram to rescue Lot, as the Hebrew letters in Eliezer’s name have a numerical value of 318. (Babylonian Talmud Nedarim 32a.)

midrash identified the Melchizedek of Genesis 14:18 with Noah’s son Shem. (Babylonian Talmud Nedarim 32b; Genesis Rabbah 56:10; Leviticus Rabbah 25:6; Numbers Rabbah 4:8.) The Rabbis taught that Melchizedek acted as a priest and handed down Adam’s robes to Abraham. (Numbers Rabbah 4:8.) Rabbi Zechariah said on Rabbi Ishmael’s authority (or others say, it was taught at the school of Rabbi Ishmael) that God intended to continue the priesthood from Shem’s descendants, as Genesis 14:18 says, “And he (Melchizedek/Shem) was the priest of the most high God.” But then Melchizedek gave precedence in his blessing to Abram over God, and thus God decided to bring forth the priesthood from Abram. As Genesis 14:19 reports, “And he (Melchizedek/Shem) blessed him (Abram), and said: ‘Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God the Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’” Abram replied to Melchizedek/Shem by questioning whether the blessing of a servant should be given precedence over that of the master. And straightaway, God gave the priesthood to Abram, as Psalm 110:1 says, “The Lord (God) said to my Lord (Abram), Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool,” which is followed in Psalm 110:4 by, “The Lord has sworn, and will not repent, ‘You (Abram) are a priest for ever, after the order (dibrati) of Melchizedek,’” meaning, “because of the word (dibbur) of Melchizedek.” Hence Genesis 14:18 says, “And he (Melchizedek/Shem) was the priest of the most high God,” implying that Melchizedek/Shem was a priest, but not his descendants. (Babylonian Talmud Nedarim 32b; Leviticus Rabbah 25:6.)

Rabbi Isaac the Babylonian said that Melchizedek was born circumcised. (Genesis Rabbah 43:6.) A midrash taught that Melchizedek called Jerusalem “Salem.” (Genesis Rabbah 56:10.) The Rabbis said that Melchizedek instructed Abraham in the Torah. (Genesis Rabbah 43:6.) Rabbi Eleazar said that Melchizedek’s school was one of three places where the Holy Spirit manifested itself. (Babylonian Talmud Makkot 23b.)

Rabbi Judah said in Rabbi Nehorai’s name that Melchizedek’s blessing yielded prosperity for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Genesis Rabbah 43:8.) Ephraim Miksha’ah the disciple of Rabbi Meir said in the latter’s name that Tamar descended from Melchizedek. (Genesis Rabbah 85:10.)

Rabbi Hana bar Bizna citing Rabbi Simeon Hasida (or others say Rabbi Berekiah in the name of Rabbi Isaac) identified Melchizedek as one of the four craftsmen of whom Zechariah wrote in Zechariah 2:3. (Babylonian Talmud Sukkah 52b; Song of Songs Rabbah 2:33.) The Gemara taught that David wrote the Book of Psalms, including in it the work of the elders, including Melchizedek in Psalm 110. (Babylonian Talmud Baba Batra 14b–15a.)

Abram Guarding His Sacrifice (watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

Genesis chapter 15

The Gemara expanded on Abram’s conversation with God in Genesis 15:1–21, quoting Abram to ask: “Master of the Universe, should Israel sin before You, will You do to them as You have done to the generation of the Flood and to the generation of the Dispersion?” God replied: “No.” Abram then said to God: “Master of the Universe, ‘Let me know whereby I shall inherit it.’” (Genesis 15:8) God answered: “Take Me a heifer of three years old, and a she-goat of three years old.” (Genesis 15:9) Abram then continued: “Master of the Universe! This holds good while the Temple remains in being, but when the Temple will no longer be, what will become of them?” God replied: “I have already long ago provided for them in the Torah the order of sacrifices, and whenever they read it, I will deem it as if they had offered them before me, and I will grant them pardon for all their iniquities.” (Babylonian Talmud Taanit 27b, Megillah 31b.)

The Gemara expounded on the words, “And He brought him outside,” in Genesis 15:5. The Gemara taught that Abram had told God that Abram had employed astrology to see his destiny and had seen that he was not fated to have children. God replied that Abram should go “outside” of his astrological thinking, for the stars do not determine Israel’s fate. (Babylonian Talmud Nedarim 32a.)

Resh Lakish taught that Providence punishes bodily those who unjustifiably suspect the innocent. In Exodus 4:1, Moses said that the Israelites “will not believe me,” but God knew that the Israelites would believe. God thus told Moses that the Israelites were believers and descendants of believers, while Moses would ultimately disbelieve. The Gemara explained that Exodus 4:13 reports that “the people believed” and Genesis 15:6 reports that the Israelites’ ancestor Abram “believed in the Lord,” while Numbers 20:12 reports that Moses “did not believe.” Thus, Moses was smitten when in Exodus 4:6 God turned his hand white as snow. (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 97a.)

A midrash noted the difference in wording between Genesis 47:27, which says of the Israelites in Goshen that “they got possessions therein,” and Leviticus 14:34, which says of the Israelites in Canaan, “When you come into the land of Canaan, which I gave you for a possession.” The midrash read Genesis 47:27 to read, “and they were taken in possession by it.” The midrash thus taught that in the case of Goshen, the land seized the Israelites, so that their bond might be exacted and so as to bring about God’s declaration to Abraham in Genesis 15:13 that the Egyptians would afflict the Israelites for 400 years. But the midrash read Leviticus 14:34 to teach the Israelites that if they were worthy, the Land of Israel would be an eternal possession, but if not, they would be banished from it. (Genesis Rabbah 95.)

The Mishnah pointed to God’s announcement to Abram in Genesis 15:16 that his descendants would return from Egyptian slavery to support the proposition that the merits of the father bring about benefits for future generations. (Mishnah Eduyot 2:9.)

A midrash taught that Genesis 15:18, Deuteronomy 1:7, and Joshua 1:4 call the Euphrates “the Great River” because it encompasses the Land of Israel. The midrash noted that at the creation of the world, the Euphrates was not designated “great.” But it is called “great” because it encompasses the Land of Israel, which Deuteronomy 4:7 calls a “great nation.” As a popular saying said, the king’s servant is a king, and thus Scripture calls the Euphrates great because of its association with the great nation of Israel. (Genesis Rabbah 16:3.)

Genesis chapter 16

Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai deduced from the words, “and she had a handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar,” in Genesis 16:1 that Hagar was Pharaoh’s daughter. Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai taught that when Pharaoh saw what God did on Sarah’s behalf, Pharaoh gave his daughter to Sarai, reasoning that it would be better for his daughter to be a handmaid in Sarai’s house than a mistress in another house. Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai read the name “Hagar” in to mean “reward” (agar), imagining Pharaoh to say, “Here is your reward (agar).” (Genesis Rabbah 45:1.)

A midrash deduced from Sarai’s words in Genesis 16:2, “Behold now, the Lord has restrained me from bearing; go into my handmaid; it may be that I shall be built up through her,” that one who is childless is as one who is demolished. The Rabbi of the midrash reasoned that only that which is demolished must be “built up.” (Genesis Rabbah 45:2.)

The Gemara taught that if one sees Ishmael in a dream, then God hears that person’s prayer (perhaps because the name “Ishmael” derives from “the Lord has heard” in Genesis 16:11, or perhaps because “God heard” (yishmah Elohim, יִּשְׁמַע אֱלֹהִים) Ishmael’s voice in Genesis 21:17). (Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 56b.)

Genesis chapter 17

Rabbi Judah contrasted the words “Noah walked with God” in Genesis 6:9 with God’s words to Abraham, “walk before Me,” in Genesis 17:1. Rabbi Judah compared it to a king who had two sons, one grown up and the other a child. The king asked the child to walk with him. But the king asked the adult to walk before him. Similarly, to Abraham, whose moral strength was great, God said, “Walk before Me.” But of Noah, whose strength was feeble, Genesis 6:9 says, “Noah walked with God.” (Genesis Rabbah 30:10.)

Rabbi taught that notwithstanding all the precepts that Abram fulfilled, God did not call him “perfect” until he circumcised himself, for in Genesis 17:1–2, God told Abram, “Walk before me and be perfect. And I will make my covenant between me and you,” and in Genesis 17:10, God explained that God’s covenant required that every male be circumcised. (Mishnah Nedarim 3:11; Babylonian Talmud Nedarim 31b, 32a.)

Rav Judah said in Rav’s name that when God told Abram in Genesis 17:1, “Walk before me and be perfect,” Abram was seized with trembling, thinking that perhaps there was some shameful flaw in him that needed correcting. But when God added in Genesis 17:2, “And I will make My covenant between me and you,” God set Abram’s mind at ease. (Babylonian Talmud Nedarim 32a.)

Rabbi Hoshaiah taught that if one perfects oneself, then good fortune will follow, for Genesis 17:1 says, “Walk before me and be perfect,” and shortly thereafter Genesis 17:4 reports Abram’s reward for doing so: “And you shall be a father of many nations.” (Babylonian Talmud Nedarim 32a.)

God Renews His Promises to Abraham (watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

Rabbi Ammi bar Abba employed gematria to interpret the meaning of Abram’s name change in Genesis 17:5 from Abram (אַבְרָם) to Abraham (אַבְרָהָם). According to Rabbi Ammi bar Abba, at first God gave Abram mastery over 243 of his body parts, as the numerical value of the Hebrew letters in Abram is 243. Then God gave Abraham mastery over 248 of his body parts, adding five body parts, as the numerical value of the Hebrew letter hei (ה) that God added to his name is five. The Gemara explained that as a reward for Abraham’s undergoing circumcision, God granted Abraham control over his two eyes, his two ears, and the organ that he circumcised. (Babylonian Talmud Nedarim 32b.)

The Mishnah notes that transgressing the command of circumcision in Genesis 17:14 is one of 36 transgressions that cause the transgressor to be cut off from his people. (Mishnah Keritot 1:1; Babylonian Talmud Keritot 2a.)

The Gemara read the command of Genesis 17:14 to require an uncircumcised adult man to become circumcised, and the Gemara read the command of Leviticus 12:3 to require the father to circumcise his infant child. (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 132b.)

Rabbi Hama son of Rabbi Hanina taught that visiting those who have had medical procedures (as Abraham had in Genesis 17:26) demonstrates one of God’s attributes that humans should emulate. Rabbi Hama son of Rabbi Hanina asked what Deuteronomy 13:5 means in the text, “You shall walk after the Lord your God.” How can a human being walk after God, when Deuteronomy 4:24 says, “[T]he Lord your God is a devouring fire”? Rabbi Hama son of Rabbi Hanina explained that the command to walk after God means to walk after the attributes of God. As God clothes the naked — for Genesis 3:21 says, “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife coats of skin, and clothed them” — so should we also clothe the naked. God visited the sick — for Genesis 18:1 says, “And the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre” (after Abraham was circumcised in Genesis 17:26) — so should we also visit the sick. God comforted mourners — for Genesis 25:11 says, “And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that God blessed Isaac his son” — so should we also comfort mourners. God buried the dead — for Deuteronomy 34:6 says, “And He buried him in the valley” — so should we also bury the dead. (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 14a.) Similarly, the Sifre on Deuteronomy 11:22 taught that to walk in God’s ways means to be (in the words of Exodus 34:6) “merciful and gracious.” (Sifre to Deuteronomy 49:1.)

Commandments

According to Maimonides and Sefer ha-Chinuch, there is one positive commandment in the parshah:

  • The precept of circumcision (Genesis 17:10)

(Maimonides. Mishneh Torah, Positive Commandment 215. Cairo, Egypt, 1170–1180. Reprinted in Maimonides. The Commandments: Sefer Ha-Mitzvoth of Maimonides. Translated by Charles B. Chavel, 1:230–31. London: Soncino Press, 1967. ISBN 0-900689-71-4. Sefer HaHinnuch: The Book of [Mitzvah] Education. Translated by Charles Wengrov, 1:85–87. Jerusalem: Feldheim Pub., 1991. ISBN 0-87306-179-9.)

Haftarah

The haftarah for the parshah is:

  • for Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews: Isaiah 40:27-41:16
  • for Karaite Jews: Joshua 24:3–18

In the liturgy

A page from a 14th century German Haggadah

The Passover Haggadah, in the concluding nirtzah section of the Seder, in a reference to Genesis 14:15, recounts how God granted victory to the righteous convert Abram at the middle of the night. (Joseph Tabory. JPS Commentary on the Haggadah: Historical Introduction, Translation, and Commentary, 122. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2008. ISBN 978-0-8276-0858-0. Menachem Davis. The Interlinear Haggadah: The Passover Haggadah, with an Interlinear Translation, Instructions and Comments, 108. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2005. ISBN 1-57819-064-9.)

The name “Elyon” or “God Most High,” which Melchizedek used in Genesis 14:19, is used in Psalm 92:2 to refer to God, and Psalm 92 is in turn recited after the Lekhah Dodi liturgical poem of the Kabbalat Shabbat prayer service. (Reuven Hammer. Or Hadash: A Commentary on Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals, 23. New York: The Rabbinical Assembly, 2003. ISBN 0-916219-20-8.)

A page from the Kaufmann Haggadah

The Amidah draws on God’s words in Genesis 15:1, “Fear not, Abram, I am a shield to you,” to refer to God as “Shield of Abraham.” (Hammer, at 35a.) In the hymn Adon Olam (“Lord of the World”), use of the title “Adon” recalls the merit of Abraham, who first addressed God with the title in Genesis 15:2. (Menachem Davis. The Schottenstein Edition Siddur for Weekdays with an Interlinear Translation, 14–15. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2002. ISBN 1-57819-686-8.)

The Haggadah, in the magid section of the Seder, quotes Genesis 15:13–14 to demonstrate that God keeps God’s promises. (Davis, at 41–42; Tabory, at 89.) Thereafter, the Haggadah reports that Israel “went down to Egypt — forced to do so by the word [of God],” and many commentators think that this statement refers to God’s foretelling in Genesis 15:13 that Abram’s descendants would “be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them.” (Tabory, at 90.) And in the concluding nirtzah section, in a reference to God’s promises to Abram in the Covenant Between the Pieces in Genesis 15:13–21, the Haggadah reports that God “disclosed to the one from the Orient at midnight on Passover.” (Tabory, at 125.)

Following the Kabbalat Shabbat service and prior to the Friday evening (Ma’ariv) service, Jews traditionally read rabbinic sources on the observance of the Sabbath, including Mishnah Shabbat 18:3. Mishnah Shabbat 18:3, in turn, makes clear the precedence of the law of circumcision in Genesis 17:12 over even the observance of the Sabbath. (Hammer, at 25.)

The Weekly Maqam

In the Weekly Maqam, Sephardi Jews each week base the songs of the services on the content of that week’s parshah. For parshah Lech Lecha, Sephardi Jews apply Maqam Saba, the maqam that symbolizes a covenant (berit). It is appropriate because in this parshah, Abraham and his sons undergo circumcisions, a ritual that signifies a covenant between man and God.

See also

Further reading

The parshah has parallels or is discussed in these sources:

Ancient

Biblical

Early nonrabbinic

Philo

Josephus

Classical rabbinic

  • Mishnah: Nedarim 3:11; Sotah 7:5; Sanhedrin 10:3; Eduyot 2:9; Avot 5:3; Keritot 1:1. Land of Israel, circa 200 CE. Reprinted in, e.g., The Mishnah: A New Translation. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 412, 458, 605, 645–46, 685, 836. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-300-05022-4.
  • Tosefta: Berakhot 1:12–13; Shabbat 7:24, 15:9; Yevamot 8:5; Nedarim 2:5; Sotah 5:12; Sanhedrin 13:8; Eduyot 1:14. Land of Israel, circa 300 CE. Reprinted in, e.g., The Tosefta: Translated from the Hebrew, with a New Introduction. Translated by Jacob Neusner. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Pub., 2002. ISBN 1-56563-642-2.
  • Jerusalem Talmud: Berakhot 17a–b; Sheviit 43b; Bikkurim 5b. Land of Israel, circa 400 CE. Reprinted in, e.g., Talmud Yerushalmi. Edited by Chaim Malinowitz, Yisroel Simcha Schorr, and Mordechai Marcus, vols. 1, 6b, 12. Brooklyn: Mesorah Pubs., 2005–2008.
  • Genesis Rabbah 39:1–47:10. Land of Israel, 5th century. Reprinted in, e.g., Midrash Rabbah: Genesis. Translated by H. Freedman and Maurice Simon. London: Soncino Press, 1939. ISBN 0-900689-38-2.

Talmud

Rashi

Medieval

Hobbes

Modern

Mann

Steinsaltz

  • Adin Steinsaltz. Biblical Files, 12–29. New York: Basic Books, 1984. ISBN 0-465-00670-1.
  • Phyllis Trible. “Hagar: The Desolation of Rejection.” In Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives, 9–35. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984. ISBN 0-8006-1537-9.
  • Margaret Atwood. The Handmaid’s Tale. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1986. ISBN 0-395-40425-8.
  • Marc Gellman. “Finding the Right Man.” In Does God Have a Big Toe? Stories About Stories in the Bible, 47–51. New York: HarperCollins, 1989. ISBN 0-06-022432-0.
  • Aaron Wildavsky. Assimilation versus Separation: Joseph the Administrator and the Politics of Religion in Biblical Israel, 5–6, 15, 17–29. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1993. ISBN 1-56000-081-3.
  • Jacob Milgrom. “Bible Versus Babel: Why did God tell Abraham to leave Mesopotamia, the most advanced civilization of its time, for the backwater region of Canaan?” Bible Review. 11 (2) (Apr. 1995).
  • Walter Wangerin, Jr. The Book of God, 13–25. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1996. ISBN 0-310-20005-9.

Card

External links

Texts

Commentaries

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