FROM THE TORAH
In this third portion of the Torah, Sedra Lech-Lecha, the focus of the universal Eternal is directed upon one man, Abram, and his family and descendants. At the age of 75, he must leave his homeland, with his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot, to settle in the land of Canaan, which is granted to his descendants. In his new status he would enable blessing for all the families of the earth. Nonetheless, famine drives Abram and Sarai to find food in Egypt. Aware of his vulnerability under the murderous aegis of Pharaoh, Abram enlists Sarai to deflect potential harm, and the Eternal intervenes to both protect them and enrich Abram. In Canaan wealth undermines the harmony of Abram and Lot and their herdsmen, yet Abram in his role as a warrior lord later rescues Lot from captivity. Abram recognizes the issue of succession, as long as he and Sarai lack a direct heir, but the Eternal assures him of offspring in a disclosing vision of their future, by a covenant, between the halves of animals. Sarai and Abram continue to struggle with Sarai’s childless status as Abram sires a son for them through the surrogacy of Sarai’s maidservant. Further signs of the covenant are represented in the change of the names of Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah, circumcision for all of the males of their household and descendants, and the foretelling of the birth by Sarah of their son and heir, Isaac, when Abraham is 100 years old and Sarah is 90.
The Saga of Abraham and Sarah until the Promise of Isaac
THE ETERNAL CALLS ABRAM
The Eternal calls Abram to leave his home and homeland for the land of Canaan
and grants the land of Canaan to his offspring.
The Eternal says to Abram: “Get yourself (Lech-Lecha) out of your homeland, out of your father’s house, to the land that I shall show you” (Genesis 12:1). I shall make you into a great and renowned nation. I shall bless you and whoever blesses you; whoever curses you I shall curse; all the families of the earth shall be blessed through you. So, at the age of 75, Abram leaves his homeland Charan. He takes Sarai his wife and his nephew Lot (cf. Genesis 11:31-32), all the property that they have acquired, “and the souls which they made in Charan” (Genesis 12:5).
They head to the land of Canaan (cf. Genesis 11:31). Abram crosses into the land as far as Shechem, as far as the Terebinth of Moreh. The Canaanite was then in the land. The Eternal appears to Abram and says, “To your offspring I grant this land” (Genesis 12:7), whereupon Abram builds an altar there to the Eternal. He moves from there to the hill country, pitching his tent between Beth El on the west and Ai on the east. There again he builds an altar to the Eternal, invoking the Name of the Eternal. Abram then journeys in stages toward the south.
ABRAM AND SARAI IN EGYPT
Abram and Sarai go down to Egypt to escape famine,
and the Eternal protects them from Pharaoh.
When there is famine in the land, Abram goes down to sojourn in Egypt to find food. As he draws near to Egypt, he voices to Sarai his apprehension that, as his wife, her beauty would prompt the Egyptians to kill him and capture her. “Say that you are my sister,” he entreats her, “in order that I might live and be treated well because of you.”
Indeed, when Abram enters Egypt and the Egyptians see how very beautiful Sarai is, Pharaoh’s servants tell Pharaoh, and she is taken to his palace. Pharaoh treats Abram well because of her, and Abram acquires flocks, herds, asses, slaves, and camels. But the Eternal afflicts Pharaoh and his household severely on account of the matter of Sarai, wife of Abram. Pharaoh cries out to Abram: Why have you done this to me? Why did you not tell me that she is your wife but instead that she is your sister, so that I took her as my wife! Now take your wife and go! Pharaoh had men escort Abram and his wife off along with all that he possessed.
ABRAM AND LOT SEPARATE
Abram and Lot separate for the sake of peace between their herdsmen;
Lot settles in Sodom while Abram remains in Canaan.
From Egypt, Abram returns, together with his wife, his property and Lot, to the south. Rich in cattle, silver and gold, Abram then proceeds in stages from the south to the place where his tent was before, between Beth El and Ai, to the site of the altar that he had established earlier (cf. Genesis 12:8), and there Abram invokes the Name of the Eternal. Lot, who went with Abram, also possessed flocks and herds and tents, and the land could not bear the habitation together of two so abundant of possessions. Quarreling breaks out between their respective herdsmen. The Canaanite and the Perizzite were then dwelling in the land.
Abram entreats Lot: Let there not be quarreling between us brothers. “Is not all of the land before you?” Let us separate: “If you go to the left, I will go to the right; if you go to the right, I will go to the left” (Genesis 13:9). Lot chooses the well-watered plain of the Jordan. This was before the Eternal destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. Then it could be likened to the garden of the Eternal. It was like the land of Egypt, all the way to Zoar. Thus Lot journeys eastward, while Abram remains in the land of Canaan. Lot settles in the cities of the plain, pitching his tent near Sodom, whose people were exceedingly evil and sinful against the Eternal.
PROMISE OF THE LAND REPEATED
The Eternal promises the land to Abram and his numerous offspring;
Abram moves to the Terebinths of Mamre in Hebron.
After Lot separates from Abram, the Eternal says to Abram, “Lift up your eyes and look from where you are, to the north and to the south, to the east and to the west; all that you see, I give to you and to your offspring for ever” (Genesis 13:14-15). Your offspring, says the Eternal, shall be as numerous as the dust of the earth is uncountable: walk the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you. Abram then moves his tent to dwell at the Terebinths of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and there he builds an altar to the Eternal.
WAR OF THE FOUR KINGS AGAINST THE FIVE KINGS
Abram rescues the city of Sodom and his nephew Lot;
Malkitzedek blesses Abram in the name of “God Most High”;
Abram refuses to keep the recaptured property of Sodom for himself.
The four kings—Amraphel of Shinar, Arioch of Ellasar, Kedorlaomer of Elam, and Tidal of Goyim—made war on the five kings—Bera of Sodom, Birsha of Gomorrah, Shinav of Admah, Shemever of Tsevoyim, and the king of Bela, which is Zoar. All of the five kings joined together at the Valley of Siddim, which is the Dead Sea: for twelve years they served Kedorlaomer of the four kings, but in the thirteenth year the five kings rebelled.
In the fourteenth year, the four kings, under Kedorlaomer, subdue the Rephaim, the Zuzim, the Emim, and the Chorites, in their respective territories. On their way back from that campaign, they subdue the Amalekites and the Amorites in their respective territories.
Then the five kings–of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Tsevoyim, and Bela–engage the four kings in battle in the Valley of Siddim. But the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah (two of the five kings) flee and fall among some of the numerous bitumen pits in the Valley of Siddim, while the others flee to the hill country. The victorious four kings make off with all of the wealth of Sodom and Gomorrah and all of their food, along with Lot, the son of Abram’s brother (cf. Genesis 11:27-28), who had settled in Sodom (cf. Genesis 13:12-13).
Abram the Hebrew was dwelling at the Terebinths of Mamre the Amorite, whose brothers Eshkol and Aner were his allies. When a fugitive brings Abram word that Abram’s own kinsman Lot has been captured, he leads forth his followers, born in his household, three hundred eighteen, as far as Dan. They attack at night and pursue the four kings under Kedorlaomer as far as Chovah, which is north of Damascus. Abram brings back all of the property, his kinsman Lot, the women, and the people.
The king of Sodom comes out to meet Abram in the Valley of Shaveh, which is the Valley of the King, and Malkitzedek, king of Salem, a priest (kohen) of El Elyon, “God Most High” (Genesis 14:18), brings bread and wine. Malkitzedek blesses Abram with the words, “Blessed be Abram of El Elyon, Creator of heaven and earth; and blessed be El Elyon, who has delivered your foes into your hand” (Genesis 14:19-20), and he gives him a tenth of everything.
The king of Sodom demands that Abram return to him the people whom Abram rescued, while the king cedes to Abram the property that Abram recaptured. Abram responds, “I raise my hand to the Eternal…that I shall take neither thread nor sandal strap of any that is yours, so that you may not say, ‘I have enriched Abram!’” The only exception was what his servants consumed and the share of Abram’s allies–Aner, Eshkol and Mamre.
GOD COVENANTS ABRAM’S ESTATE
God reassures Abram of future progeny,
but He also foretells exile, oppression, and eventual return,
in the covenant between the pieces.
Then came the word of the Eternal to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your Shield (Magen); your reward will be very great” (Genesis 15:1). But Abram laments his childless state and observes that his heir is currently his servant Eliezer of Damascus. The Eternal assures him that his own progeny would yet inherit him. He takes him outside and says, “Look to heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them,” and He says to him, “Thus shall be your offspring” (Genesis 15:5)! Abram then puts his trust in the Eternal, and it is considered tzedakah (Genesis 15:6), righteousness transcendent.
With respect to the land, He says to Abram, “I am the Eternal, who brought you out of Ur Kasdim to grant you this land as an inheritance” (Genesis 15:7). At Abram’s request, the Eternal provides Abram a way to know that he would inherit the land. He has him bring three heifers, three goats, three rams, a turtledove, and a young dove. Abram cuts them in two, placing each half opposite the other, but he does not cut up the bird. Birds of prey descend upon the carcasses, but Abram drives them away.
As the sun is about to set, a deep sleep falls upon Abram, and a great dark dread. The Eternal says to Abram:
“Know well that your offspring will be a stranger in a land not theirs,
and they shall serve them, and they shall oppress them, for 400 years.
“But, indeed, the nation that they serve I shall judge,
and afterwards they shall emerge with much wealth.
“You shall come to your fathers in peace,
and you shall be buried in good old age.
“The fourth generation shall return here,
for the iniquity of the Amorite shall not be complete until then.”
Then the sun set. It became very dark. A smoky furnace and a fiery torch passed between the pieces. On that day the Eternal made the following covenant with Abram:
“To your offspring do I grant this Land,
from the River of Egypt to the Great River, the River Euphrates:
the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites,
the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim,
the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”
BIRTH OF ISHMAEL
Abram begets his own son
through the surrogacy of his wife’s Egyptian maidservant.
As Sarai had not borne a child to her husband Abram, she offers him her Egyptian maidservant Hagar as a surrogate. “Perhaps I shall be ‘builded/childed’ through her” (Genesis 16:2), she says. Abram agrees, so Sarai gives her to Abram as a wife, after Abram has lived in the land of Canaan for ten years. Abram cohabits with her, but when Hagar conceives, her mistress is lowered in her esteem. Sarai blames Abram for Hagar’s attitude, and Abram insists that Sarai deal with her maidservant as she sees fit. Sarai treats her harshly so that Hagar runs away.
An angel of the Eternal finds Hagar by a spring of water in the wilderness on the road to Shur. When the angel asks Hagar for her origin and destination, she answers, “I am running away from my mistress Sarai” (Genesis 16:8). The angel orders her to return to her mistress and submit to her harsh treatment, promising her abundant offspring. The angel foretells the fulfillment of her pregnancy: she will bear a son and name him Ishmael, the name implying, “The Eternal pays heed to your suffering” (Genesis 16:11). Regarding the child’s character, the angel says: “He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him; alongside all his kinsmen shall he dwell” (Genesis 16:12).
Hagar calls the Eternal, who spoke with her, Attah El Raw’ee, “You are God of Seeing,” as she meant, “I yet see after He sees me [ro’ee] (Genesis 16:13)! Therefore the well was named Be’er Lachai Ro’ee, “Well of the Living One Who Sees Me,” between Kadesh and Bered. Hagar bears a son to Abram. Abram names him Ishmael. Abram was 86 years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.
SIGNS OF THE COVENANT
God changes the name of Abram to Abraham.
When Abram is 99 years old, the Eternal appears to him and says, “I am El Shaddai, ‘God Almighty’; walk before Me and be blameless” (Genesis 17:1). The Eternal promises to establish His covenant between them and to make Abram exceedingly numerous. Abram throws himself down and receives from God a change of name: “No longer shall your name be Abram; rather shall it be Abraham,” the new name signifying, “father of a multitude of nations,” and “kings will come forth from you” (Genesis 17:4). God promises to maintain an everlasting covenant with future generations of Abraham’s descendants, to be their God, and to grant them the land of their sojourning, the land of Canaan, as a permanent possession.
God commands circumcision for Abraham,
the males of his household, and his male descendants.
God enjoins Abraham and his offspring throughout their generations to observe His covenant through circumcision of the male foreskin at the age of eight days: “It shall serve as a sign of the covenant between Me and you” (Genesis 17:11). It would apply to every male, whether born in the household or acquired from outside. “Thus shall My covenant be in your flesh as a permanent covenant” (Genesis 17:13). Whoever fails to circumcise the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people: “He has violated My covenant” (Genesis 17:14).
God changes the name of Sarai to Sarah
and foretells the birth of Isaac.
As for Sarai, God says to Abraham, “Do not call her Sarai; rather, Sarah shall be her name” (Genesis 17:15). God promises to bless Sarah and foretells the birth of a son by her. She will become nations, and kings will come from her. But Abraham falls upon his face and laughs, doubting that a son could be born to a 100-year-old man or a 90-year-old woman. “O that Ishmael would live before you” (Genesis 17:18)! he entreats God. God reassures Abraham that a son will be born to them, that he will name him Isaac, which means “laughter,” and that God will maintain His covenant through Isaac and his descendants.
God heeds Abraham’s prayer for Ishmael
and predicts the time of Isaac’s birth;
Abraham carries out God’s instruction for circumcision.
God will heed Abraham’s prayer regarding Ishmael: He will bless him and make him fruitful, the progenitor of twelve princes and a great nation. But “I will uphold My covenant with Isaac” (Genesis 17:21). Isaac will be born at this time next year. Thereupon God ceases speaking with Abraham and is gone from his presence.
Then Abraham circumcises Ishmael and all the other males of his household on that very day as God has instructed him. Abraham himself is 99 years old when he is circumcised, and Ishmael his son is 13 years old when he is circumcised. All of them were circumcised on that very same day.
FROM THE PROPHETS
Haftarah for Shabbat Lech-Lecha
Assurance for the Descendants of Abraham
Why should you doubt, O Jacob, that God is aware of your claim? Do you not know, O Israel, that the Eternal is the infinite God, Creator of the entire earth, who never tires, whose understanding is without limit? Likewise God gives strength to the weary. Even the young become exhausted and fail, but those who trust in the Eternal renew their strength, soaring on wings like eagles, running and never growing faint.
O ends of the earth, do listen! Let peoples renew their strength! Speak not, but draw near to judgment! Who has aroused our champion from the east, whose every step is triumphant, who vanquishes nations and kings, whose sword and bow make them as dust and driven straw? It is I, the Eternal, First and Last!
Far off, they see and are afraid. The ends of the earth do tremble. They approach, drawing near, each holding the other for support and assurance. Artisans compliment each other and nail their work to the ground. But you, O Israel My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, offspring of Abraham my faithful friend, I embrace you and welcome you from the far corners of the earth. I say to you: you are My servant, I have chosen you and not rejected you!
Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. My victorious right hand is all the support that you need. Your angry opponents will vanish in their shame. Though they would crush you as a worm, I, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, will help you. I shall make you a sharp threshing sledge: your fresh sharp teeth will thresh mountains to dust and render the hills like chaff. You shall winnow them so that the wind carries them away. Then shall you rejoice in the Eternal and engage in praise of the Holy One of Israel.
FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH
Tanchuma Lech-Lecha 3
“Get yourself out…”
Rabbi Abin taught: Abram in his homeland and in his father’s house can be compared to a bottle of perfume that was alone in a graveyard, where there was no one to smell its fragrance. If it was taken and carried from place to place, then its fragrance would be known throughout the world. Abram lived in the midst of idolators. The Holy One blessed be He said to him: “Get yourself out of your homeland, out of your father’s house” (Genesis 12:1), and I will make your redolent goodness known to all the world!
Genesis Rabbah 39:1
Leaving the Father’s House
“Listen, O daughter, and see,
incline your ear:
Forget your people
and your father’s house;
let the king desire your beauty,
as he is your master,
bow down to him!”
“The Eternal says to Abram:
Get yourself out of your homeland,
out of your father’s house,
to the land that I shall show you.”
Rabbi Isaac related these verses by likening the daughter and Abram to one who, in his travels, sees in every place a castle on fire. At every place he exclaims: Does this castle not have a caretaker who would protect it from being destroyed? The owner of the castle, upon seeing the traveler, identifies himself as the lord.
The world that our father Abraham observed was a world that was burning like those castles. “Does this world not have a caretaker,” exclaimed Abraham, “who would protect it from being destroyed?” When the Holy One, blessed be He, saw him, He said, “I am the Lord of the world!” “Get yourself out of your homeland, out of your father’s house…”( Genesis 12:1). “Let the King desire your beauty” (Psalms 45:12), i.e., “Let the King make you desirable in the world!” “As He is your Master, bow down to Him” (Ibid.)!
Genesis Rabbah 39:7
Honoring Father and Mother
Did Abram observe God’s commandment to honor his father and mother when he departed from his father’s house in Charan? Rabbi Isaac noted: Abram’s father Terach was 70 years old when he begat Abram (Genesis 11:26), and Abram was 75 when he left Charan (Genesis 12:4). So elderly Terach was 145 years old (70 plus 75) when Abram left, and since Terach died in Charan at the age of 205 (Genesis 11:32), he must have lived another 60 years (205 minus 145) after Abram left him. Indeed Abram worried that he might be accused of profaning God’s Name for abandoning his father in his old age.
That is why the very last words of the preceding Sedra Noach announce Terach’s death, “Terach died in Charan” (Genesis 11:32), then, with our Sedra Lech-Lecha, “The Eternal said to Abram: Get yourself out of your homeland, out of your father’s house…” (Genesis 12:1): Although Abram left Terach before Terach died, the Torah mentions Terach’s death before Abram’s departure—to teach us that even though Terach lived another 60 years, the wicked are considered dead even while they are alive. Said the Holy One blessed be He to Abram: With Terach’s death as it were, I exempt you from honoring father and mother, but only you; I do not exempt anyone else, for as long as our parents are alive, we must not forget them.
Genesis Rabbah 39:10
Rabbi Berechia son of Rabbi Simone said in the name of Rabbi Nechemia: God’s selection of Abraham may be compared to a king who is in search of a precious gem that has fallen from his grasp. The king stops in one place and enlists the efforts of his retinue to sift through the sand in search of the gem, but the gem is not found. The king moves on and stops in a second place, enlisting the same effort, but the gem is not found. Then, in the third place that he visits, he finds the gem.
Thus said the Holy One, blessed be He: Why did I trace for you the genealogy first from Adam, then ten generations to Noah, and only then, after ten more generations, to Abraham? I was in search of the one to whom I could promise the Land, as the Levites declared before Ezra and the Israelites: “You are the Eternal God, who chose Abram and brought him out from Ur Kasdim and changed his name to Abraham; You found his heart true to You, making a covenant with him, to give him the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Jebusite, and the Girgashite, and to his descendants…” (Nehemiah 9:7-8).
Genesis Rabbah 39:11-12
The Honor of the Righteous
“The Eternal says to Abram…
‘Be a blessing,
and I shall bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I shall curse,
and all the families of the earth shall be blessed through you.’”
Rabbi Jeremiah taught: The Holy One blessed be He protects the honor of the righteous more than He protects His own honor. With respect to His own honor, God said, “Those who honor Me, I shall honor; and those who demean Me shall be held in low esteem” (I Samuel 2:30). But with respect to the righteous, He said to Abram, “I shall bless those who bless you, and I (Myself) shall curse anyone who curses you” (Genesis 12:3).
Said Rabbi Yudan: When the Eternal said to Abraham, “Be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2), He meant to designate a blessing for him in the Eighteen Benedictions (Avot, First Benediction). Rabbi Achuya said in the name of Rabbi Zeira: And your blessing (Avot) will precede Mine (Gevurot). First they will say “Shield of Abraham,” only then will they say “You, O Eternal, are Mighty!”
Fittingly, for the Eighteen Benedictions, that are part of every service, we are taught to bow at the beginning and end of the benediction which mentions the Patriarchs (Avot, First Benediction), but we do not do so for the benediction that mentions God’s power (Gevurot, Second Benediction).
“All the families of the earth
shall be blessed through you!”
Rabbi Nechemia asked: What is the “blessing” for them (“the families of the earth)? If you should say that they shall become wealthy, they are already wealthier than we are! No, the blessing will be through knowledge: When they have a problem, they will come to us for advice, and we will share our learning with them.
Genesis Rabbah 39:14
“The souls which they had made”
When Abram left for the land of Canaan,
he took his wife, his nephew, all of their property,
“and the souls which they had made in Charan.”
Rabbi Elazar observed in the name of Rabbi Yosi ben Zimra: If all the inhabitants of the world got together to create even a single simple gnat, they would not be able to instill within it a soul, yet you say, “and the souls which they had made” (Genesis 12:5)?!
These words refer to the souls whom Abraham and Sarah redeemed from idolatry. If so, why “made?” To teach us: When one brings an idolator near to the Holy One blessed be He, it is as if he has created that soul anew.
And why say, “the souls which they (in the plural) had made”? Rav Huna explained: “They” refers to both Abraham and Sarah, for Abraham redeemed the men while Sarah redeemed the women.
Genesis Rabbah 40:2
Confidence and Optimism in the Face of Adversity
“When there was a famine in the land,
Abram went down to sojourn in Egypt” to find food.
“Happy is the one whom You chasten, O Eternal,
whom You teach from Your Torah!”
Said Rabbi Pinchas in the name of Rabbi Chanin of Sepphoris, Abram’s response to adversity exemplifies the lesson found in Psalms, “Happy is the one whom You chasten, O Eternal, whom You teach from Your Torah” (Psalms 94:12). Abram might have complained, “You just promised me greatness and blessing!” but instead he accepted God’s chastening and found within himself the strength to overcome it. This incident stands as the lesson implied in Psalms: We can maintain our confidence and our optimism in the face of adversity and learn from the Torah the example of Abram.
Genesis Rabbah 40:4
In the Eyes of Her Husband
As they drew near to Egypt, Abram said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a beautiful woman” (Genesis 12:11). We assume that Abram married in his youth, like his brother Haran (cf. Genesis 11:27-30), so Abram and Sarai had already been married for many years. Yet Abram recognized his wife’s unfailing beauty notwithstanding the years that they had been married.
Genesis Rabbah 41:2
On Account of Sarai’s Words
“The Eternal afflicted Pharaoh and his household severely
on account of the matter of [d’var] Sarai, wife of Abram.”
Pharaoh treated Abram well because of Sarai, when he thought that Sarai was Abram’s sister (Genesis 12:13ff.). But the Eternal afflicted Pharaoh and his household “on account of the word of [d’var] Sarai, Abram’s wife” (Genesis 12:17), that is, because of Sarai’s words (of protest) as Abram’s wife! What were Sarai’s words of protest? Rabbi Berechia explained that all that night Sarai lay prostrate upon her face and cried out: Master of the Universe, Abraham went out from Charan with Your assurance, but I went out only in faith; Abraham went out free of prison, but I am in the midst of a prison!
Moreover, when the Holy One, blessed be He, afflicted Pharaoh and his household, it was “over the business concerning [d’var] Sarai, Abram’s wife,” that is, amid the words of protest by others over the treatment of Sarai, Abram’s wife!
Genesis Rabbah 42:5, 43:5,7
Laudations of Abram
“When he (Abram) returned
from defeating Kedorlaomer
and the kings with him,
the king of Sodom came out to meet him
in the Valley of Shaveh…”
When Abraham negotiated
with the sons of Cheth
to purchase a burial place
for his wife Sarah,
the sons of Cheth replied to him,
“Listen to us, my lord,
you are a prince of God in our midst…”
Rabbi Berechia and Rabbi Chelbo in the name of Rabbi Samuel bar Nachman: The Valley of Shaveh, which means “Joining,” was so called because there all the idolators joined together and cut down cedars to make for Abram a great raised platform and sought to enthrone him upon it. They lauded him: “Listen to us, my lord, you are a prince of God in our midst” (Genesis 23:6)! They said to him: You are our King! You are our God! But Abram responded to them: Don’t deprive the world of its true King, and don’t deprive the world of its true God!
“And Malkitzedek, king of Salem,
a kohen of El Elyon, ‘God Most High,’
brought bread and wine.
He blessed Abram with the words,
‘Blessed be Abram of El Elyon,
Acquirer of [literal meaning of Koney] heaven and earth.’”
From whom did He acquire it? Should he not have said instead, “Creator of heaven and earth?”
Rabbi Abba bar Kahana and Rabbi Isaac:
Rabbi Abba said: He was paying God a compliment, that God cared for the earth as if He had acquired It (purchased it) from another.
Rabbi Isaac said: Abraham invited in all who passed along on the road. And when they were dining with him, he would bid them recite a benediction. They would ask: Well, what should we say? He would tell them: Say, “Blessed is the God of the world, from Whom we have eaten.”
Said the Holy One, blessed be He, to him: When My Name was not known to those whom I created, you made Me known to My creations. Therefore I shall consider you as if you were a partner with Me in the creation of the world and that you, Abram, have acquired thereby a portion of heaven and earth. Thus said Malkitzedek: “Blessed be Abram…, (himself) acquirer of heaven and earth” as a partner of God in its creation!
Genesis Rabbah 44:1,4,12
Shield of Abraham
“Then came the word of the Eternal to Abram in a vision:
‘Fear not, Abram, I am your Shield (Magen);
your reward will be very great.”
“Know well that your offspring will be a stranger in a land not theirs,
and they shall serve them, and they shall oppress them, for 400 years.”
“His way is perfect [tamim];
the word of the Eternal is proven [tserufah];
He is a Shield (Magen) to all who trust in Him!”
(II Samuel 22:31; cf. Psalms 18:31, Proverbs 30:5)
God recognized that “his way,” Abraham’s way, was blameless [tamim]. It was manifest for him, as it is manifest for us, in the fact that God commands not to demand or expect perfection, but for His word to prove [tsaref] us, in the sense of refinement, for His mitzvot not to perfect us but to refine us! He thereby provides a “shield” for us, “protection for all who trust in Him!”
Indeed the commandments were given only for the purpose of refining His creations. Really, what difference could it make to the Holy One, blessed be He, whether one slaughters an animal from the neck or from the nape! With respect to Abraham, “You found his heart faithful before You” (Nehemiah 9:8) in that the Holy One, blessed be He, refined him in Nimrod’s fiery furnace (cf. Genesis Rabbah 38:13 in Sedra Summary Noach). So, “fear not, Abram, I am your Shield!”
A later Prophet confirmed for his descendants the Eternal’s word to Abram:
“And you, O Israel, My servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
offspring of My devoted Abraham,
I shall support you and gather you
from the ends of the earth;
I shall not reject you—
for I am with you!”
Rabbi Levi: Because our Father Abraham feared that among the victims of his intervention in the War of Kings (cf. Genesis 14:1-24) to rescue his nephew Lot there might have been righteous or otherwise innocent people. This may be compared to a subject of the king who, noticing a bundle of thorns in the king’s orchard, goes out of his way to remove them himself (with his own special care). But when he observes that the king is watching him, he tries to conceal himself. “Why are you trying to hide?” the king asks him. “I would have needed to hire several people to clear out my orchard of those thorns; now that you have done all that work for me, ‘your reward will be very great’” (Genesis 15:1)! Thus said the Prophet: “The (targeted) peoples shall be (no more than) burnings of lime, thorns cut up and set on fire” (Isaiah 33:12)!
Rabbi Levi, alternatively: Because our Father Abraham feared that the princes of those kings that he vanquished would assemble their armies and wage war against him. The Holy One, blessed be He, reassured him, “‘Fear not, Abram, I am your Shield” (Genesis 15:1): Just as this Shield can withstand all of the swords that may come against it, so shall you endure before all of the idolators that assemble against you, as it is I who contend against them!
The Rabbis: Because our Father Abraham feared, after he was saved from Nimrod’s fiery furnace, and after he was saved from the War of Kings, that all of his rewards were thereby used up and no reward remained for him in the future. The Holy One, blessed be He, reassured him, “‘Fear not, Abram, I am your Shield” (Genesis 15:1): Nothing that I have done for you in this world counts against the full measure of reward you deserve and which is stored up for you in the future to come. “Your reward will be very great” (Genesis 15:1)! “How abundant is the goodness that You have stored up…for those who trust in You” (Psalms 31:20)!
“’Fear not, Abram, I am your Shield…’
But Abram said,
‘What will You provide me
seeing that I am going childless?’
So the Eternal took him outside,
and He said, ‘Look at [habet] heaven…’”
Rabbi Joshua of Sichnin in the name of Rabbi Levi: “The Etermal took Abram outside [chutzah],” outside from where? Did the Eternal take Abram outside of the world?! No, “He said, ‘Look at [habet] heaven…’”—It means that He showed him the streets [chutzot] of heaven, to which wisdom alludes in “The Eternal acquired me (wisdom) before His works of old…before He made earth and streets [chutzot] (of heaven)” (Proverbs 8:22,26)!
Rabbi Judah son of Rabbi Simone in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: He brought him up over the arch of the firmament, as the words, “Look at” [habet] (Genesis 15:5), here mean, “Look down from above to below!” (Cf. Isaiah 63:15: “Look down [Habet] from heaven….”]
The Rabbis: Look down from above to below, as you are not an astrologist (who looks up from below to above) but a Prophet! For in the days of Jeremiah, the Holy One, blessed be He, warned Israel against engaging in this practice:
“Heed the word which the Eternal once spoke
concerning you, O House of Israel!
“Thus said the Eternal:
‘Do not learn the way of foreign nations,
and do not be dismayed by portents in the sky
as are the foreign nations!’”
To whom did the Eternal once speak those words?
To Abram, who was looking up from below—
“What (sign) will You provide me
that I will (not) be going childless?” (Genesis 15:2)—
whom the Eternal taught to look down from above!
“Abram then put his trust in the Eternal,
and it was considered tzedakah,
Talmud Shabbat 97a
Mechilta Beshalach 6
Genesis Rabbah 44:14
Talmud Ta’anit 27b
Faith of Leaders
“Abram laments his childless state…
The Eternal assures him that his own progeny would yet inherit him…
Abram then puts his trust in the Eternal,
and it is considered tzedakah.”
When the Holy One, blessed be He, charges Moses to enlist the Elders of Israel in their liberation from Egyptian bondage, he is to tell them: “The Eternal, the God of your fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has appeared to me…” (Exodus 3:16). But Moses answers, “Oh no, they will not believe me…” (Exodus 4:1)! Yet it is revealed to the Holy One, blessed be He, that they will believe him. As He tells Moses, “They are believers, the children of believers, even though you will not end up believing in Me!” “They are believers…,” as is written, “And the people believed” (Exodus 4:31). “The children of believers…,” as is written, “Abram then puts his trust in the Eternal” (Genesis 15:6). But you, Moses, will end up not believing, as was said, “Because you, Moses and Aaron, did not believe in Me…” (Numbers 20:12; cf. Numbers 20:1-11).
“When Israel witnessed the great power
that the Eternal wielded against Egypt (at the Sea),
the people feared the Eternal
and they believed in the Eternal
and in Moses His servant.
Then Moses and the Children of Israel
sing this Song to the Eternal…”
So great was Israel’s faith in the Eternal after crossing through the Red Sea and seeing the Egyptians lying dead upon the shores of the Sea that the Holy Spirit came over them and they produced their great Song:
“Let me sing to the Eternal, exceedingly triumphant;
horse and rider has He cast into the Sea…”
Similarly do you find that our Father Abraham inherited both a portion in this world and in the world to come by virtue of his steadfast faith in the Eternal, as we interpret:
“Abram put his trust in the Eternal
that his own progeny would yet inherit him in this world,
and He attributed his faith
as justice [tzedakah] for him in the world to come.”
The Eternal goes on to say to Abram:
“I brought you out from Ur Kasdim
to give you this Land to inherit.”
But then Abram seems to ask God for a sign:
“By what shall I know
that I shall inherit it?”
Rabbi Chiya son of Rabbi Chanina explained: Abram’s question did not reflect a lack of faith, he was not in doubt or in need of a sign to assure him of God’s promise of the Land for his descendants. Rather he was asking for the terms, the conditions, that would support their inheritance of the Land: “Master of the Universe, suppose Israel sins before You; will You do to them what You did to the Generation of the Flood (cf. Genesis 6:9-8:22) or to the Generation of the Dispersion (cf. Genesis 11:1-9)?
He answers him: “Bring Me three heifers, three goats, three rams, a turtledove, and a young dove” (Genesis 15:9), showing him thereby the animals that would be needed for the offerings of atonement.
Abram: “Yes, Master of the Universe, this will serve for atonement as long as the Temple is standing. But when the Temple is not standing, what will happen to them when they sin before You?”
He answers him: “I have already prepared for that time by placing in the Torah the order of sacrifices. Whenever they read it, I will consider them as having fulfilled the actual offering of the sacrifices and will therefore pardon them from all of their iniquities!”