I’m now unapologetically behind: there’s just more to learn in each portion than you can possibly learn in a week. So at this point, I will continue at my own pace and see where I get. With luck, I’ll catch up to the calendar once we get out of the dense stories of Genesis and into the long legal tractates. Not very likely, but why not dream?
This portion, only the third one, is notable for the introduction of the First Family of Judaism (and the other Abrahamic religions): Abram, his wife Sarai, her maid Hagar, his nephew Lot, and his first son Ishmael. But more importantly than that, the title of this portion is the first reference to the undisputed focus of the Torah: Israel.
As in all portions, the title is a key word early in the prose. Presumably, the separations between portions (which sometimes, but do not always follow the “chapter” breaks we know today) were chosen with the titles in mind. In this case, “lech lecha” is the unassuming word “go” in the line “Go forth from your native land, … to the land that I will show you.” The land Abram will be shown is Israel and this simple command “go” is the foundation that the rest of the Torah will rest on. God is not just commanding Abram to leave the land of his people, but God is sending the patriarch of his Chosen People to the land that would become Israel. In these words, at the beginning of the second torah portion, is when the story of Judaism begins in earnest.
Though this is the beginning of Judaism’s story, it is also more directly the beginning of Abram’s story. This portion opens with God commanding Abram to leave the land of his father and travel to a new land where, God promises, he will make of Abram “a great nation”. Why does God choose Abram? The text isn’t clear. What we know is that he was not a young man – he was 75 and childless. His wife, Sarai (not yet Sarah), was barren. Being the father of a great nation is very tricky when you don’t have any children. It’s a long story, so I’m going to try and take it in pieces.
This first portion of Abram’s story can be divided into a few parts:
- Abram receives his promise from God and enters Canaan.
- Abram and Sarai flee to Egypt, where she pretends to be his sister.
- Abram returns to Canaan where he and Lot split the territory.
- Abram rescues Lot from the warrior-king Chedorlaomer.
- Abram receives a second covenant.
- Sarai loses patience and Abram sleeps with Hagar. Ishmael is born.
Up first: God chooses Abram. Why? Who knows!