Torah Thoughts – Lech Lecha

Genesis 12:1 & 4 – HaShem told Abram to go forth and he did so … almost. The command was “… from your na­tive land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” While Abram left his father’s house he didn’t do so completely – he took Lot with him which caused a lot of problems both in his lifetime and in that of his offspring.

12:10ff – there was a famine in the land that HaShem sent Abram to, and instead of seeking the direction of HaShem, Abram sought refuge and deliverance in Egypt. Then to compound the issue, he apparently feared for his life due to Sarai’s beauty, so he convinced Sarai to say that she was his sister. Pharaoh took Sarai to be his wife (15 & 19), Abram grew in wealth and prestige because of Sarai (16), and in the end Pharaoh and his household, though he operated in faulty knowledge, was afflicted with “many plagues” (17). Interestingly, Abram was sent off with his wife, increased possessions and apparently no repercussions (20).

Chapter 13 records one of the “issues” with Lot, who seemingly acquired wealth and possessions as did Abram. Again, Abram attempted to settle the issue without seeking the assistance of HaShem. In the long run, Abram was blessed in the outcome though it would eventually cost Lot everything. 

Lot’s decline begins in chapter 14 as King Chedorlaomer and his allies reasserted their rule over Sodom, Gomorrah, and their allies. Chedorlaomer’s group won the opening skirmishes but with the help of Abram and his allies, the Chedorlaomer group was defeated and Sodom and their allies were restored. In the process, Abram met a kindred spirit in King Melchizedek of Salem. Melchizedek reaffirmed HaShem’s blessings on Abram, and Abram, in turn, refused the blessing that the King of Sodom wanted to bestow on him for his assistance against the Chedorlaomer group. 

Chapter 15 begins with HaShem and Abram in dialogue, as HaShem attempts to calm Abram’s fear over his progeny or better yet the lack thereof. This brings to mind three sayings from Mishlei. 

The plans of the heart belong to man, but the tongue’s answer is from ADONAI.

Proverbs 16:1, TLV

The heart of man plans his course, but ADONAI directs his steps.

Proverbs 16:9, TLV

Many designs are in a man’s mind, but it is the LORD’s plan that is accomplished.

Proverbs 19:21, JPS

Understand, there is nothing wrong with making plans and trying to reason out the issues of life. That is why the Creator, Blessed be He, gave us a mind with which to think and to plan, thus fulfilling the initial command to “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it…” (Genesis 1:28). I believe Abram’s handing of the famine, the struggles with Lot and even the rescue of Lot bears this out. However, HaShem, as the creator who actually cares for His creation has plans and purposes for each of us; the key is recognizing and accepting His guiding hand. 

This brings us now to the poignant issue of his promised son in 15:2-3, where Abram is expressing both his doubts of HaShem being able to fulfill His promise as well as offering his plans to rectify the situation of an offspring, to which HaShem responds, “… none but your very own issue shall be your heir.” Sarai, too, was concerned about her inability to provide a son for Abram. The IVP Old Testament Commentary describes problem and a possible solution.

Failure to produce an heir was a major calamity for a family in the ancient world because it meant a disruption in the generational inheritance pattern and left no one to care for the couple in their old age. Thus, legal remedies were developed which allowed a man whose wife had failed to provide him with a son to impregnate a slave girl (Code of Hammurabi; Nuzi texts) or a prostitute (Lipit-Ishtar Code). The children from this relationship could then be acknowledged by the father as his heirs (Code of Hammurabi). Abram and Sarai employ the same strategy when they use the slave girl Hagar as a legal surrogate to produce an heir for the aged couple. (Note on 11:30) … Slave women or bondswomen were considered both property and legal extensions of their mistress. As a result, it would be possible for Sarai to have Hagar perform a variety of household tasks as well as to use her as a surrogate for her own barren womb. (Note on 16:1)

John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews and Mark W. Chavalas. IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament © 2000. Electronic text hypertexted and prepared by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.3

In other words, according to the traditions and rules of the Ancient Near East, Sarai’s giving of Hagar as a surrogate mother to Abram was perfectly acceptable (Genesis 16:2), while also remaining within the parameters of HaShem’s statement to Abram, “… none but your very own issue shall be your heir,” as having a son with Hagar would be of Abram’s “issue.” And while this might work for the normal couple on the street trying to ensure their lineage, it was not the plan that HaShem had for Abram. At the beginning of this parasha, HaShem told Abram that “I will make of you a great nation, And I will bless you…” (Genesis 12:2), and there is little doubt that the twelve sons of Ishmael grew into great and mighty nations. But the sons of Ishmael were not the ones that HaShem had determined to establish as those of Abram’s seed through whom He promised, “I will bless those who bless you and curse him that curses you; and all the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.” (Genesis 12:3).

What would today’s world look like had Abram chosen to fully trust HaShem and wait on the fulfillment of the promise? Closer to home, let’s imagine some choices we’ve all made in our past, stepping out trying to help the plans of HaShem when they were not going as fast or as well as we thought they should. Our God is for sure a redeeming God, and He often redeems our folly or impatience. In the end, Abram’s faith and trust in ADONAI is lifted up as an exemplar, much like the humility of Moshe. Lech Lecha is a challenge to each of us to use our knowledge and strength to accomplish the various goals and situations that come into our lives. More than that, is the challenge to rest in the knowledge that HaShem has a plan for our lives and will see it through to the end – even when we cannot see the end ourselves.

This week’s Reading is Parashat Lech Lecha
Torah: Genesis 12:1 – 17:27
Haftarah: Isaiah 40:27 – 41:16
Apostolic Writings: Hebrews 11:8-12

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