Home>Jewish Living

Torah Sparks

Parashat Lekh Lekha
November 1, 2014 – 8 Heshvan 5775

Annual (Genesis 12:1-17:27): Etz Hayim p. 69; Hertz p. 45
Triennial (Genesis 14:1 – 15:21): Etz Hayim p. 77; Hertz p. 50
Haftarah (Isaiah 40:27 – 41:16): Etz Hayim p. 95; Hertz p. 60

Prepared by Rabbi Adam Rosenbaum
Charleston, South Carolina

God commands Abram to move his family to Canaan, promising him progeny and blessing. Shortly after arriving, a famine forces them to go farther south to Egypt. There, Abram’s wife Sarai is taken by the Pharaoh, who is told that she is Abram’s sister. When the truth is revealed, Abram and Sarai are allowed to return to Canaan with great wealth in hand.

Abram separates himself from his nephew Lot after there is tension among their respective servants. But later, when Lot is captured in battle, Abram organizes his rescue and defeats his captors.

Abram fears that he will die childless, but God promises that his descendants will be great and numerous. But when Sarai appears to be barren, she asks her husband to procreate with her Egyptian maidservant, Hagar. Hagar becomes pregnant, then runs away after Sarai treats her cruelly. God convinces her to return to the household, where she gives birth to a son, Ishmael.

God commands Abram to circumcise both himself and Ishmael as a sign of God’s covenant.

Theme #1: General Abraham

A fugitive brought the news to Abram the Hebrew, who was dwelling at the terebinths of Mamre the Amorite, kinsman of Eshkol and Aner, these being Abram’s allies. When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he mustered his retainers, born into his household, numbering 318, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. (Genesis 14:13-14)

Abram is not only a pioneer of the Promised Land and the first Hebrew (Ivri), but an adept warrior and political player to boot. The training of a child is true training only if he will not depart from what he has been taught. Thus, merely teaching a child while he is small without seeing to it that he should remain a good Jew and diligent student of the Law when he is older cannot be considered “training” in the proper sense of the word -- Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin

Abram harried and mustered up all the men of his household, a total of 318 men. He encouraged them and armed them well, leading them into battle. … Still, they did not have any enthusiasm for battle. Abram addressed them once again and said, “Is there anyone among you who is faint-hearted? Is there anyone who is afraid to go into battle? Let him return now.” … Many of his 318 men took up his offer and returned home. Only a few remained with Abram; one of them was his servant Eliezer. [“Eliezer” = 318 in Gematria] -- Rabbenu Bachya

This is an unusual use of the word “Hebrew.” Elsewhere in biblical stories it is used to identify Israelites only when one is speaking among foreigners. It is not the standard term for the people, which is rather “Israelite” at first and “Jew” later. Perhaps it is used here because there are not yet any other Israelites around, and Abraham himself is the foreigner. -- Richard Elliott Friedman, Commentary on the Torah

Questions for Discussion:

Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin speaks of the importance of ongoing education, and following through with our training even years after we typically expect the learning to end. What are the best methods employed by our Jewish communities to achieve the same goals? Do synagogues and other cooperatives tend to overrate the education of our youth and underrate the education of our adults? How can we find ways to connect adult Jewish education with elementary Jewish education?

Rabbenu Bachya echoes a passage in the book of Deuteronomy in which potential Israelite soldiers are instructed to stay away from combat if they are likely to suffer from different kinds of distraction. Why are rabbinic commentators so eager to make a connection between the stories of our ancestors with subsequent Torah law? Is it useful to think of Abram as a “Torah-observant” person even though the Torah had not yet been revealed? Or does that idea distract from the literal meaning of the stories of Abram’s life?

Friedman notes that Abram’s language is a key marker of his identity. Is language still an important component of defining a people? Is the connection of language stronger in nations other than the United States, a country that spends comparatively few resources in ensuring multilingualism?

Theme #2: A Million Little Pieces

And He said to Abram, “Know well that your offspring shall be strangers in a land not theirs, and they shall be enslaved and oppressed 400 years; but I will execute judgment on the nation they shall serve, and in the end they shall go free with great wealth. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a ripe old age. And they shall return here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” (Genesis 15:13-16)

At the “Covenant Between the Pieces” God causes Abram to sleep and, while dissecting an animal brought for sacrifice, gives Abram a sneak preview of his descendents’ future. Scripture says, “And you will go to your fathers in peace …”. “Fathers” is in the plural, implying that not just Abraham’s father, Terach, would be in paradise, but also Nahor, Terach’s father, as well. But if Nahor were to be in paradise together with Abraham, his grandson, by what merit could Nahor possibly have earned paradise! From this we can conclude that Terach must have made teshuvah and that since “a son confers privileges on his father …” he [Terach must have] earned a place also for Nahor, his father, to be with him in Eden. -- Maharsha

The language “a great, dark” makes no sense. Can there be a great darkness and a tiny darkness? All darkness is equally dark. The commentary Torah Or explains that the word great modifies horror. It was a “great horror” and not a “great darkness.” And horror is appropriately modified by words like tiny and great. Such words must be meant to evoke an image of the great horror that Abraham beheld in his prophetic dream. -- Shearit Menachem

If these words “will I judge” alone held the promise of the many wonders which were wrought at the time of the Exodus from Egypt, how many more miracles must surely come to pass at the time of redemption yet to be, concerning which Scripture brings such a multitude of references, promises and prophecies. -- Saadia Gaon

Questions for Discussion:

Maharsha claims that Abram’s father and grandfather achieve reward in the afterlife because of the righteousness of later generations. Should children feel responsible to be upstanding for the sake of their parent’s reputation? Is this a reasonable expectation? Can it work in reverse? Is this related to the commandment to honor our parents? Must we consider their honor to be our honor as well?

Shearit Menachem speaks of God using fear when making the Covenant Between the Pieces. When is fear useful to inspire others? Is modern society too sensitive to encourage fear tactics? If so, is this a positive or negative trend? Could it be that God should be able to use fear as a motivator while humans must refrain from doing so?

Saadia Gaon senses that the Hebrew Bible is a wellspring of predictions for the future of Israel -- predictions that, one suspects, Saadiah Gaon believes, will come true. Are biblical stories more useful as a repository of communal history or future promises? What are the potential benefits of understanding Scripture the way that Saadiah Gaon does? What are the potential drawbacks?

Find a Kehilla USY Conservative Yeshiva Donate Careers Contact us
Copyright © 2017
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
All rights reserved.
120 Broadway, Suite 1540
New York, NY 10271-0016