God commands Abram “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you”. Promised that he will become a great nation, Abram leaves Haran with his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot and their entourage, and they reach the city of Shechem in Canaan. God promises this land to Abram’s descendants and Abram builds an altar to God at Beth El. A famine forces Abram and Sarai down to Egypt, where Pharaoh lusts after Sarai, thinking she is Abram’s sister. God prevents Pharaoh from touching her. Instead, Pharaoh gives Abram great wealth and expels the group to Canaan.
There the servants of Lot and Abram quarrel; the two agree to separate, with Lot choosing the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in the well-watered plains of Jordan. God reiterates the promise that the land will belong to Abram’s heirs who will number the dust of the earth.
Four kings battle five kings, and in the process capture Lot. When Abram hears of this, he musters 318 fighters, routing them near Damascus and rescuing Lot and the residents and wealth of Sodom. In gratitude, King Melchizedek of Salem (later Jerusalem) blesses Abram in the name of God Most High.
Responding to Abram’s complaint that he is still childless, God tells him to look toward heaven and count the stars: “So shall be your offspring”. God tells Abram to sacrifice a heifer, a goat, a ram, a turtle dove and a bird. Abram sleeps between the split carcasses and God tells him that his descendants will be enslaved for four hundred years but that God will liberate them with great wealth and Abram will die in peace.
Sarai takes matters into her own hands and has Abram sleep with her servant, the Egyptian handmaid Hagar. Hagar conceives and thereafter disdains her barren mistress. In response, Sarai treats her harshly; Hagar runs away. An angel tells her to return. God tells Hagar that her son, Ishmael, will become a great nation, and that she must, in the meantime, return to Abram and Sarai.
God changes Abram’s name to Abraham (father of a multitude) and Sarai’s name to Sarah (princess), ordaining the mitzvah of the brit milah, the ritual circumcision binding on all Jewish males throughout the generations. God promises that Sarah will bear a son, despite being ninety years old, and that the boy will be called Isaac. Abraham circumcises himself and all his followers.
Based on The Bedside Torah by Rabbi Bradley Artson
Questions for discussion
1- Why did Abram have to leave his land in order to become a great nation and fulfil God’s promises?
2- Lot and Abram decided to separate in order not to fight each other. Couldn’t they have found a way to leave in peace together as family?
3- Why do we need a physical sign on our bodies in order to be part of the covenant? Why only males?
Rabbi Mijael Even-David