Summary: Parashat Lekh-Lekha (Genesis 12:1-17:27) introduces Abram & Sarai.
G-d called Abram at age 75 to journey from his father’s home to a land unknown. In return G-d pledged to make him a great nation through whom all the families of mankind would be blessed. So Abram left Haran with his wife and nephew and with what he’d already acquired, and set-out for G-d’s Promised Land.
Upon reaching Cana’an, he embarked on a set of local journeys to Shekhem, Beit El and the Negev where he built altars and offered sacrifices to G-d. Due to famine, their entire retinue were forced to relocate to Egypt. There Abram fearing he would be killed by the locals for his wife, asked Sarai to say she was his sister instead.
Because of her beauty, members of the Court informed Pharaoh who brought Sarai into his harem. Abram was rewarded with riches. But soon Pharaoh realised his error and summoned Abram to complain of this deceit. Abram & Sarai and nephew Lot were deported from Egypt, returning to Cana’an enriched.
A feud developed between the financially independent Lot and Abram and between their shepherds, causing the two men to separate ways. Lot took-up residence in the fertile plains near Sodom.
Following years of vassal status, a revolution broke out when 4 kings threw-off the rule of the 5 kings. During the fighting, Lot was taken captive and Abram with 318 men intervened to rescue him. Malkisedek of Shalem greeted Abram with bread and wine and brokered a peace. The King of Sodom was given back the spoils taken from his lands and the captives.
G-d appeared to Abram once more promising him protection. Abram challenged G-d by pointing out he was without heir and that the son of his household servant would inherit him. G-d promised Abram he would have offspring of his own and called him to the Covenant between the Pieces. In a night vision Abram learned his descendants would, after 400 years of servitude, inherit the Land of Cana’an.
Concerned they had no offspring to carry on their legacy, Sarai told Abram to take Hagar her handmaid as a concubine, who fell pregnant. Thereafter, tensions arose between Hagar & Sarai, and Hagar fled to the desert where an Angel comforted her and foretold of the birth and character of her son. Returning to Sarai’s home, Hagar bore Ishmael when Abraham was 86.
In the last part of the parasha, G-d changed Abram’s name to Abraham (father of many nations) and commanded him – age 99 – to perform the Covenant of Circumcision. It would be an everlasting sign between G-d and Abraham’s descendants forming them into a holy nation and granting them a permanent homeland.
G-d changed Sarai’s name to Sarah and foretold to Abraham that he and his wife would within the year have a son together. Thereafter, Abraham circumcised himself, Ishmael and all the males in his household.
Comment: It’s left to the Midrash to provide Abraham’s background – his iconoclasm, his struggles with Nimrod, and his numerous tests of faith. Abram’s name first appears at the end of Parshat Noah as the son of Terakh who moved from Ur Kasdim to Haran. He was married to Sarai (his niece).
In hindsight, the story of Abraham shows everything worked out for the best. But to be first to herald Monotheism in a pagan world was an enormous effort without guarantee of certainty or success. Even after following G-d’s command to move to Cana’an, the reader senses in his constant building of altars a continuous need to seek out the Divine.
When G-d appeared to him in Shekhem, wouldn’t it have been enough to build the Altar and settle there? Instead, he uprooted himself toward the mountains, built another altar and called to G-d. And did so a third time in the Negev. Is it possible Abraham sought-out G-d on each separate occasion because the Divine presence wasn’t a constant in his life? In these early episodes G-d’s communication with Abram seemss intermittent at best.
Maintaining reception with G-d, was perhaps like today’s mobile technology; the challenge is to stay within transmission range. Abraham’s wandering ‘here and there through the Negev’ suggests his connection with G-d wasn’t constant. He had to regularly search new places where the Divine was present and then formalise them with an Altar and offerings.
This would continue into the generations of Isaac, Jacob, Joseph & his brothers until Moshe in his relationship with the Almighty brought Bnei Yisrael to Sinai to hear directly the word of G-d. In so doing, he helped form the nation that would become a living testimony to G-d’s connectivity with our world.
In 2016, when the unexpected and unthinkable happens more and more frequently, and Divine reception is so easily interrupted, how much more must we, like Abraham, seek out G-d if we want to keep our awareness intact. In the end all must work out well, but for the time being, it feels like our certainty and success are far from guaranteed.