For those new to my blog, I am closing each portion with some observations I make as I read Rashi’s commentary on the portion. While I cannot properly summarize, or probably even understand, some of the subtle theological and traditional points he makes, there are many observations and stories that I can relate. Many of them are serious. Some of them I find quite funny!
Unlike modern textual criticism, Rashi was coming at the text with the belief that it was perfect. Every word and punctuation mark was critical, and the text had to be considered in the light that adding or removing any word would have to change the meaning. As so Rashi sometimes concocts fanciful explanations why a specific word means a specific thing. These don’t appear to be the minimal explanations – he was no fan of Occam’s Razor – and he is pulling some of these stories and legends from other traditional sources.
Here’s an example: one of the kings that Abram tussles with is King Shember, the king of the Zeboiim. Rashi tells that Shember was a biblical Icarus; he built a set of artificial wings which he wore that allowed him to fly.
Lots more after the break…
Continue reading Rashi on Lech-Lecha
We end Lech-Lecha on some really high notes. I was feeling for a while that the bible’s authors would be taking Abram down a peg, but I have clearly misremembered so far. As it stands, Genesis 17 ends with Abram’s head held high, he wins favor for his first son, a promise of a second son, and he only had to cut off the tip of his penis to get it! Sounds like a bargain to me.
Let’s think on that. This IS a bargain, isn’t it? Not in the sense that it’s inexpensive, but this is the third repetition of the Abraham covenant (from Genesis chapters 12 and 15), but the first that clearly stipulates that there is a cost associated. In Genesis 12, Abram’s condition was that he leave Haran and his father and journey to Canaan. In Genesis 15, God doesn’t require any conditions at all. (If anything, Abram is bargaining some conditions with God.)
More after the break.
Continue reading Lech-lecha – Abraham’s New Covenant (snip-snip)
After spending the last several chapters lifting up Sarai and Abraham, the bible then takes a very surprising turn. Sarai is a woman that was clearly one of the most beautiful of her age. Abram is a fantastic warrior-king and strategist who goes to war against impossible odds to save his kinsmen. But we discover something new: Sarai is jealous and abusive and Abram is a whipped man.
More after the break…
Continue reading Lech-Lecha – Three’s a Crowd
Hidden away between the stories of Abram’s battle prowess and his home-life woes is one of the most significant passages of the Abraham story: when God grants to Abram and his descendants the territory that will become Israel. It’s a great story of doubt and renewed faith, though it does involve the ritual slaughter of numerous innocent animals.
The story goes like this:
Continue reading Lech-Lecha – A Covenant for Land
I think I’m beginning to understand what Genesis is doing in these first few narratives about Abram: they are demonstrating that God’s decision to select his family was correct. Not only does he have an insanely beautiful wife – a woman that could clearly sail a thousand ships, if only there were ships in the deserts of Canaan – but he’s also a master warrior with a deep sense of family and clan loyalty.
The next section of the narrative depicts Abram – somewhat oddly, relative to the nomadic way that he was presented so far – as something of a masterful warrior, perhaps even a warrior king. And it does so by discussing his role in what amounted to the closest thing Genesis has to a World War.
The story goes something like this:
Continue reading Lech-Lecha – Abram: Warrior-King of Canaan
I’m abandoned all pretense now: I’m just going to go at my own pace, but still based on the Jewish liturgical cycle as far as break-points are concerned. There’s just too much to write about and I hate to skip things. (Like I did Babel, for example.)
As I wrote a bit about a few posts ago, Genesis in particular features what to a modern ear sounds like bizarre textual echos. You can see this in the duplications in Noah, in the creation story, and elsewhere. These echos could be visible stitching as multiple versions of the early bible were edited together, or they could have a specific deeper purpose, but in either case one of the most bizarre echos are in the several stories in Genesis where a patriarch disguises his wife as his sister.
Genesis 12:10 begins the first of these echos with Abram, and to make it even more exciting, it’s a DOUBLE echo!
Continue reading Lech-Lecha – Wife? Sister? What’s the difference?
Abram may be one of the most important men in three religions, but the text of the Torah says surprisingly little about him.
We know, first of all, that he is 75 when God spoke to him and commanded him to go forth to Israel. We don’t know whether God spoke to him prior to that time; if He did, it wasn’t documented. We know that his father was Terah, a man who lived to a ripe old age of 205. We also know that it was Terah, not Abram, who started the march of his family from Ur to Canaan, but they stopped part-way, in Haran. Could it be that God also spoke to Terah and commanded him on his march? Could it be that the reason Abram received his call is because Terah gave up and didn’t complete the journey. The bible, of course, doesn’t say.
Continue reading Lech-Lecha – Abram Who?
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.
Continue reading Lech-Lecha – Go! Go! Go!